To outsiders, artists and writers appear to conjure things out of nothing, as if a muse has knocked on the door. Perhaps that happens to a rare few. In my case, I needed to rely on diligence, perseverance, and a creative environment – a zone, so to speak.
I originally thought of this zone as a literal one where I was surrounded by curious, artistic minds. A scientist friend came to visit me in Italy when I was a teaching assistant, and noted that my friends and I spent the whole evening passionately discussing art, film and photography. And we did – every day. In that immersive environment, creativity felt nimble and expansive, and I felt inspired and supported. We were in the zone. I made a short film, took an enormous amount of photographs and wrote story after story.
Following this year of teaching, I returned to my regular work in film production, this time to a shoot in Delhi. Clocking in sixteen-plus-hour days, I fantasised about the end of the shoot when I would have the space and time to write again.
I was midpoint in a ten-year stretch of living out of a suitcase. After the film finished, I visited London for some months, then moved to Brighton where the rent was cheaper. I was giving my writer self everything I believed I needed: time, money in the bank, a cosy room in a charming city, an idea for a book. Yet I was paralysed.
I felt like a fraud for not writing. I was too solitary, and missed the surround sound of my artist cohorts. Without that environment, I feared, I would drift aimlessly and never rouse myself to write.
With funds drying up, it was time to leave and work on the next film. I hadn't written much beyond an outline and a few chapters. The story lived in my head more than the page. Then my dear uncle in London had a massive stroke. Seeing him lying on the hospital bed was devastating. Something in me snapped. I didn't have all the time in the world.
I postponed my departure from England and spent every other day at the hospital in London. In my highly fraught state, I needed to channel those emotions into something outside of myself.
I began each day in Brighton completing my chores – groceries, bills, loathsome cooking – and then wrote for the rest of the day. Each moment felt precious and not to be wasted. On the London days, my focus was my uncle. On my train ride back to Brighton at night, I would scribble down notes but not allow myself to look at what I had written the day before.
By the self-imposed pressure of day on/day off, combined with the newly realised fragility of time and, most of all, by writing daily, I had unwittingly created my own zone. By the time I left the UK, I had completed a rough draft of my book.
Nupu Press is a writer and film producer. Her blog is at www.nupupress.com