One of the most annoying questions, as a “writer,” is any variation of, “What are you writing?”
The only time at which is this question is not annoying is if you are currently working on something truly brilliant, that you are 100 percent confident in, that you are thrilled, riveted, overjoyed to be in the process of writing. Which is almost never.
The constant feelings of self-doubt and crippling insecurity tend to take over any potential for positive vibes when in the process of writing. Any writer who comes forth bubbling over with enthusiasm for their own work -- in my experience -- has probably written something terrible and doesn’t know any better.
The really good stuff comes from pain, anguish and a sickening, dull ache deep inside your gut, constantly telling you that you are creating rubbish but cruelly suggesting that it might be okay, pushing you to persevere in the face of probable failure.
Writing this column over the past two years has slowly become easier as I have become accustomed to revealing various details of my life. They say that you should write what you know, and what do I know better than my own self?
Plus I’m a self-obsessed millennial, so this should be a breeze, right?
But when it comes to writing, to creating fiction, poetry, theater, that is where the difficulties lie.
I used to write plays. I used to start and abandon novels and short stories. I used to collect dozens of notebooks, gulping down the scent of their fresh blank paper and eagerly awaiting inspiration to flow forth from my pen. I haven’t written anything in nearly three years.
So, when people ask me what I’m currently writing and I tell them that I am and have been writing for a newspaper for quite some time, they will -- without fail -- follow up with an additional probe of, “Yes, but what are you writing?”
Is writing as a columnist not deemed real enough?
I often compare writing to vomiting. You know you’ll feel better as soon as you get it out. The longer you keep it in the sicker it makes you feel, but you’re terrified to start because you’re afraid of what might come out.
In that sense, I have been in a constant state of nausea for the last three years.
I have taken some time to reflect on why my inspiration to write has lost its flow, and the ebb appears to align with moving to New York.
In the most stereotypical of scenarios, I moved here hoping to be endlessly inspired, and to write my first novel. I quickly found that the suffocation, claustrophobia and mania of the city can either work in your creative favor or demise.
I looked to writers like Siri Hustvedt, who draw inspiration from the city, who create delicious novels that take place in these sticky streets, but for me it is just a big hot mess.
I was used to writing in Ireland. To me, this will forever be the best place to write.
The second most common question I am asked is exactly that: Where is the best place to write in New York?
I have tried almost everything. Quiet coffee shops, stressfully busy coffee shops. Chelsea Piers, Central Park, the High Line, a busy bar in St. Mark’s, a quiet restaurant in the East Village, a hipster space in Bushwick, a stoop in Carroll Gardens.
In Ireland, I never had to go far. I grew up in the idyllic countryside, surrounded by fresh greens, fresh air and a heavy blanket of sky. Simply looking out my bedroom window was enough.
In Dublin, I lived by the sea and would wake up with salty air flowing through my apartment. The mysticism associated with the landscape of Ireland is the thing that I am constantly trying to recreate in New York, to recreate a source of inspiration.
As I have discovered over the past few years, this cannot be done. You must succumb to the hum of the city, and find a different kind of inspiration.
Nowadays, I am trying to teach myself to squeeze words out of my un-gentrified neighborhood, ugly cement buildings and concrete parks. I’m pushing words out of sticky, dusty air and crowded hours on subway commutes.
The best place to write in New York is both nowhere and anywhere. You have to take it as it comes, embrace the nausea and let it out on paper as best you can.
Attempting to bury myself in the woodland trails of Central Park and pretend that I’m at home is futile. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
This city is anything but black and white It’s a garish, full-color screen and you can either let yourself be blinded by the light, or persevere and write.
I find it hard to digest everything that I see in one day as it’s happening around me. It’s harder than it seems to write about a city while you’re completely immersed in it. Writing about the bizarre characters, burgeoning neighborhoods, improvised live music and general chaos on the streets is impossible to do while you are indirectly a part of it.
Which is why, for me, the best place to write in New York has oddly become the subway. Either standing waiting for what feels like a hundred years for the C train, or stuck between stops late on a Sunday night.
When I’m deliriously fresh out of bed or exhausted en route home, my scrambled brain is somehow soothed by the underground tunnels and rumble of trains.
Carry a pen and paper at all times because in this city, you never know when inspiration will strike, and it rarely strikes the same spot twice.