Happy June! Cicada Brood X has emerged and is causing quite a racket in my neighborhood, but I can’t say I mind it. A little white noise is good for my brain. I just finished my most recent manuscript and am now trying to catch up on some reading while ideas of my next project circle around my mind like sharks going for the kill. That’s one reason I chose this month’s quote.
“There is always, of course, that terrible three weeks, or a month, which you have to get through when you are trying to get started on a book. There is no agony like it. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off. Then you go out, you interrupt someone who is busy — Max usually, because he is so good-natured — and you say: ‘It’s awful, Max, do you know I have quite forgotten how to write — I simply can’t do it any more! I shall never write another book.’
“‘Oh yes, you will,’ Max would say consolingly. He used to say it with some anxiety at first; now his eyes stray back again to his work while he talks soothingly.
“‘But I know I won’t. I can’t think of an idea. I had an idea, but now it seems no good.’
“‘You’ll just have to get through this phase. You’ve had all this before. You said it last year. You said it the year before.’
“‘It’s different this time,’ I say, with positive assurance.
“But it wasn’t different, of course, it was just the same. You forget every time what you felt before when it comes again. Such misery and despair, such inability to do anything that will be in the least creative. And yet it seems that this particular phase of misery has got to be lived through.”
The Context: In this recollection, Agatha has just finished writing a theatrical adaptation of The Hollow. Once it was a success, she felt she really had a handle on the whole writing thing, although every time she had a bit of despair at the beginning of a new project, wondering if maybe this time would be the time she couldn’t do it.
Why I Chose It: Well, it’s majorly relatable. I think most writers know that feeling very well. You finish one project and you’re floating on that high for a while. Then you think, “I’m going to start my next one,” and you have ideas—so many ideas!—but choosing the right one and starting on it can feel like trying to push a semi uphill. And slowly the question creeps in, what if you can’t actually write another one? What if you’ve written all you had in you and you’re all out? Evidently it does’t matter how much you’ve written before (at that point, Agatha had written dozens of books), there’s always a point where a writer wonders if they can actually do it again.
But in the end, Agatha and the rest of us realize this is what we do. There are always ideas and there are always more books/stories/plays in us. We’ll get there, as long as we (and our loved ones) can survive the initial painful month of questioning everything we ever thought we knew. (Speaking of what we think we know, next month I’ll be shifting a bit and sharing what I think happened during Agatha’s mysterious disappearance, based on all the clues laid out in her autobiography. I can’t wait. I have thoughts.)
Happy May! I hope the spring weather is absolutely lovely where you are. This month, I’m focusing on how Agatha Christie viewed her writing, especially in the early days as she was establishing herself as a storyteller.
“It was by now just beginning to dawn on me that perhaps I might be a writer by profession. I was not sure of it yet. I still had an idea that writing books was only the natural successor to embroidering sofa-cushions.”
The Context: This quote is actually in the same section as the one I shared last month. (There are so many quotable pieces about writing in that section!) This was when she was still married to her first husband and had just moved to Scotswood. At that point, she had written four published novels. I’ve pointed out in previous posts that Agatha didn’t really have a strong aspiration to become a writer. In many ways, she sort of fell into it. She also talks in this section about how she had taken lessons in sculpture because, “I was a great admirer of the art — much more than of pictures — and I had a real yearning to be a sculptor myself.” But upon attempting it, she realized she didn’t have a natural capacity for it. She was also a talented pianist as a child, but had such stage fright, she struggled to perform for an audience. As an adult, she tried to compose songs, but didn’t know much about harmony and composition. Only after trying all these other artistic pursuits did she realize, “… writing seemed to be indicated as my proper trade and self-expression.”
Why I Chose It: It’s interesting to examine how people end up in specific careers, especially people who find great success and come to define a certain profession. The fact that Agatha was able to try things until she found something she was good at is definitely a privilege of the wealthier classes. Artistic endeavors were just something people in her social class did, like learning to embroider—stitched a lovely sofa-cushion, wrote an amusing story, all in a day’s work! But it also highlights her natural creativity, that she always wanted to be creating something, whether it was music or poetry or an imaginary friend.
When writing comes out of that mindset, I imagine it can take a minute to recognize it as a full profession instead of simply a hobby. And as someone who used to cross-stitch as a child, started learning and performing music at the age of nine, and loved acting and dancing, I appreciate knowing I share that craftiness and creativity with Agatha.
There is no set definition for success in a specific profession. There’s no singular moment that defines a writer as a true professional instead of a dabbler, so it’s no surprise that the realization came to Agatha slowly, a gentle dawning of the idea that, in fact, she might be a real writer, officially, professionally. As humble as she was, I think she’d be quite shocked to know that, even now, she’s one of the bestselling authors of all time. I think we can all agree she definitely found her profession.
It’s the first Wednesday of December, so it’s time for an Agatha Day! (You’ll notice I skipped November. We all needed a little break in November, given *gestures to the state of the country last month*.) This month’s quote highlights a feeling I think every creative person knows well.
“It is an odd feeling to have a book growing inside you, for perhaps six or seven years knowing that one day you will write it, knowing that it is building up all the time to what it already is. Yes, it is there already — it just has to come more clearly out of the mist. All the people are there, ready, waiting in the wings, ready to come on to the stage when their cues are called — and then, suddenly, one gets a clear and sudden command: Now!
“Now is when you are ready. Now, you know all about it. Oh, the blessing that for once one is able to do it then and there, that now is really now.”
The Context: In this quote, Agatha is talking about when she wrote Absent in the Spring, a book published under her pseudonym, Mary Westmacott. She refers to it as the book that satisfied her the most, saying she had always wanted to write it and that it had been clear in her mind—all except the background, which came to her later, after finishing Death Comes as the End.
As sometimes happens when a book has been growing inside a person, when it was finally ready, Agatha wrote it quickly—in three days, actually. She even called in sick to her job at the hospital so she could finish it. (Relatable, am I right?) She wrote until it was finished, and then collapsed and slept for an entire day. Then she woke up and ate a huge meal. (Again, so relatable to any writer!)
Why I Chose It: I think it’s incredibly revealing to learn about the book an author considered the most satisfying to write. And I know exactly the sensation she’s referring to in this quote. Like most writers, I hold a lot of ideas in my mind. Some are ready to be explored, while others need time to simmer. And so I’ll let an idea sit and develop until one day, it’s ready. It practically bursts out of me, the setting clear, the characters fully formed, the concept holding the whole idea together. It’s utterly intoxicating. Releasing a new book from inside myself is the most satisfying feeling I know, and Agatha captures that feeling so accurately here.