‘I envy the writers who know the hours that are best for them’
Kei Miller is an award-winning Jamaican poet, fiction writer, essayist and blogger. He was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica.
In 2004, he left for England to study for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and later completed a PhD in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. In 2006, his first book of poetry Kingdom of Empty Bellies was released. It was shortly followed by a collection of short stories, The Fear of Stones. He has since released several novels and collections of poetry. He currently divides his time between Jamaica and the United Kingdom.
Kei Miller – Illustration by Alan Vest
He was interviewed by the Guardian in July 2016 for their series about authors called My Writing Day.
“It seems a simple enough question – what does your writing day look like? And yet, there is a weight behind the question, something that resembles anxiety, large and gnawing. Do I even have writing days? I’m not always sure. The evidence says I must have had. Nine books in 10 years, as well as articles and essays and reviews and blogs and lectures. There is even an unwieldy PhD, something about epistolary practices throughout the Caribbean between 1900 and 2000. Ten years. About 3,652 days. Some of them – in fact, a great many of them – must have been writing days. And yet there is no pattern, no routine, no discernible shape that I can think to describe here what a “typical” writing day looks like.
By themselves, days are such neat things – divided up in their hours and their minutes like slices of a birthday cake your most fastidious aunt cut with perfect symmetry. There are writers who know the hours that are best for writing – in the quiet, undisturbed mornings, or the afternoons when everything is awake including their thoughts – and the hours that are best reserved for other things, crosswords, taking a walk, picking the children up from school, sleeping. I envy such writers.
Writing periods, when they come to me, do not come neatly. They stretch across days, from 10 at night to five in the morning, me going to sleep only when I see the sky brightening and suddenly in my head is the warning voice of an old Caribbean woman: “Don’t make tomorrow catch you looking into yesterday!” I go to sleep then, but it is a restless sleep, and I wake up just a few hours later to write again – the pattern of this new day different from the day before. I do not even have a writing space. Sometimes it is at home, in my office on the computer, but other times it is in bed on the laptop, and other times still in cafes, or in loud airport lounges.
When I write, I write furiously, maybe because there are many more days of not writing than there are of writing. There are too many distractions. I succumb to them all. And I would like to tell you that my distractions are noble – rereading the classics, diligent research. But they are not. I am distracted by bad TV shows from the US, by the top stories in the Jamaican newspapers, by Candy Crush (God did I just admit that?), by the entirety of the internet. I am a productive writer, but only the evidence assures me of this: the nine books – the spines that I wake up to count some mornings as if to be sure it wasn’t a dream, as if to remind myself that yes, this is true. This is what you do!
If most days are not filled with writing, they are filled with the thought of writing – the fixing of a sentence I haven’t even written yet, testing it on my tongue, trying to figure out its pauses or its cadence, or else the chasing of some strange idea, the way I imagine Jamaican maroons would have once chased wild hogs through the thicket. And always I want to grab hold of this idea, to wring its neck then flop it down on the table like some mad surgeon, as if to determine how many poems or stories or essays can be removed from its guts. I have a bad knee though, and seem to chase elusive and slippery things. Most days I do not grab hold of anything. Most days they slip away, grunting happily in the undergrowth. I go to bed most nights, disappointed, but I say to the sound in the bushes just beyond me, tomorrow! Tomorrow I will catch you.
I am a productive writer – I’ve said that, I know. What I am not, what I have never been, is a disciplined writer. I am only a writer who lives with a weight behind him – something large and gnawing. It is an anxiety.”