§96 A lonely and ugly experience

“It’s a horrible process … I don’t enjoy writing. It’s a lonely and ugly experience … It’s the most nightmarishly difficult thing to do … I find it very hard.”

These words are from Bruce Robinson in the Channel 4 documentary The Peculiar Memories of Bruce Robinson (1999). The documentary offers a fascinating glimpse into the mind and creative process of one of the most prolific and talented living writers. Throughout, Robinson explains his process of writing, his battles with producing and directing his written works, and his ongoing and immediate relationship with his type-writer, the page, and his words.

We are told that Robinson ‘writes all the time, even when things aren’t being produced.’ However, this is clearly not some therapeutic tinkering around the edges of dialogue or thought. Robinson’s process is an ongoing battle, and it is this that makes him a “creative artiste in the true sense of the expression.

For those with little experience of writing or the habits of writers, the idea that a life spent whiling away alone in a room with ‘wine and fags’ might not sound so terrible an existence. Especially when for some, like Robinson, they write so much. It is easy to romanticise the ‘writing life’ as a simple, leisurely and therapeutic mode of existence. For most, it is not (see note §23):

“The difference between me now and me when I’m on my own is that it’s a lot more extreme. I mean you sort of see me waddling up and down having a glass of wine and a fag … as though it’s a sort of easy process and it isn’t …

I use a typewriter simply because I can get at the paper … also I can hate the paper and anything I do wrong I can tear the bastard out, flob at it, cover it with wine and throw it in the bin.”

An explanation for why Robinson puts himself through this most unenjoyable and nightmarish of processes reveals his poetic disposition. He is one of those rare individuals who, to paraphrase Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘must write’ … ‘would die if he was forbidden to write’.

For the likes of Robinson, he hasn’t ‘chosen’ writing. Writing has chosen him. It is not just one medium amongst many he has chosen as an outlet for his artistic sensibility. Everything he does comes back to the written word. And if ever he needs reminding of this, above his typewriter is a quote from James Joyce which reads “write, damn you, what else are you good for?”

/Pete Watt


Sibley, Adrian (1999) ‘The Peculiar Memories of Bruce Robinson’, Available from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1105292/ (accessed 11 April 2019). Channel 4 / Mentorn Barraclough Carey.