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A Brief Guide to Theft: The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan

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Weight of Him

By Ethel Rohan

Visitors to my website often reach out by email or social media, particularly in response to this statement on my About page: When she writes, she’s stolen away. Some simply want to let me know that they like the strange turn of phrase. Most others are fellow writers in the early stages of their careers longing to be similarly transported. They complain they feel anything but entranced while they write, though, and worry they’re not doing it right. They fear the work will always be difficult and will never bring the mysterious, dream-like reward I and so many other writers claim to enjoy. How do you do it? I’m asked. How do you escape your thinking mind and slip inside your sub-conscious? The best answer I can offer: You write yourself into it.

In the most recent email of this kind, an emerging writer asked if I’d always felt stolen away in my writing or if that state of grace was something that came later in my career. She felt wistful to write herself into the same fugue, something that has eluded her thus far. As best I can recall (I have few childhood memories), I felt that sense of disappearing into the writing when I was a girl. Later, as a teen, I was for sure swept up by storytelling and it—like reading—proved to be a wonderful form of escapism and entertainment. Fast forward to young adulthood and beyond, I abandoned writing and turned instead to such pursuits as love, work, emigration, marriage, and motherhood. I returned to writing in my early thirties, determined to stop burying my neglected passion and to instead fully dedicate myself to crafting the best stories I could.

A creature of habit, from the outset I showed up every day to write. A daily writing practice may seem like a luxury to some—not everyone has the time and financial freedom to apply themselves to their craft with such rigid regularity—but I think it’s less about privilege and more about prioritizing. I stopped watching TV entirely and instead used that time to write. Every. Single. Day. I set a goal of 100 words, a mind trick that got me into my writing chair every morning. Just 100 words, I told myself. Invariably I wrote an average of 1,000 to 2,500 words daily. More importantly, I formed a writing habit that became as routine and vital as eating. What was slower to return was that sublime sense while writing of being caught up and carried away.

I was writing daily for a few weeks, and was deep into answering in story the pressing questions of the fictional world I’d created, deeper still into getting to know my characters and their wants, needs and obstacles, when I looked at the clock and realized almost three hours had passed, and seemingly within minutes. That’s how thoroughly make-believe had carried me away and it was the most humbling and wonderful of experiences. I would go so far as to say it felt sacred. I truly did not know where those hours had gone. It was as if I had journeyed somewhere else entirely. I get the same sense of the holy whenever I’m surprised in my writing.

I don’t plot or outline my work. I simply start with some spark—a phrase, character, object, or place—and I write word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, scene-by- scene. I start with questions and ignorance and I write myself into answers and knowingness. There is little more rewarding than those times when I write out of myself and onto the page these unexpected moments that utterly surprise me. Those are the times when I know my thinking mind has stepped aside and my sub-conscious is at work—a clear channel that brings to life something pure and true and wonderfully startling. This sense of other-worldliness and pay off is what makes all the rest of the grind, doubt, angst, and frustration worth it.

So write every chance you get make. Write your way through the struggle—both yours and the story’s—and into the mysterious and amazing. Time and again, the greatest thief of all is right there beyond the next word, waiting just for you to fly to her and get swept up.

(c) Ethel Rohan

Author photograph (c) Eva Stoyanov

About The Weight of Him:

How do you carry on, when you lose someone you love? Big Billy Brennan has suffered the greatest tragedy a parent can know – he has just lost his son. His family is reeling, and his marriage is a partnership in name alone. Billy is also obese: at nearly 30 stone, he can barely walk down the street without breaking a sweat. In his small Irish town, he can’t escape his notoriety. So Billy decides to take on the two things weighing him down – his grief, and his fat – and in doing so he’s going to try to stop the terrible plague of suicide that is haunting the youth of Ireland. The Weight of Him is an unforgettable, big-hearted novel about loss and recovery, and what can be achieved when an everyday hero finds the courage to transform his life.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Ethel Rohan’s debut novel The Weight of Him is out now from St. Martin’s Press (US) and from Atlantic Books (UK). She is also the author of two story collections, Goodnight Nobody and Cut Through the Bone, the former longlisted for The Edge Hill Prize and the latter longlisted for The Story Prize. An essayist and award-winning short story writer, her work has appeared in The New York TimesWorld Literature TodayThe Washington PostThe Stinging Fly, Banshee Lit, and elsewhere. From Dublin, she lives in San Francisco.
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