'Only try to do it yourself and you will learn how arduous is the writer's task. It dims your eyes, makes your back ache, and knits your chest and belly together. It is a terrible ordeal for the whole body.' So wrote Prior Petrus in the early C10th, in the manuscript of Liebana's 'Commentary on the Apocalypse' (no, I don't know who Liebana was either).
Petrus was of course describing (see what I did there?) the life of a scribe, who sat with quill pen and inkwell, bent over a slanting desk, copying the words of others and perhaps creating wonderful illuminations in the margin (as well as grumpy marginal comments about the physical toll of writing). But his words could equally apply to our day of computer screens at the wrong height and dodgy typing chairs liable to collapse at any moment. We often forget, to our cost, that writing involves the body as well as the mind and spirit. Do you get up from your toils every hour or so to stretch your legs and focus on something other than a screen? I know I don't - when you're in the flow, it's hard to break off, even if you need it.
This last month I've been focusing on the body and its demands and failings in a different way. On Friday 13th January (how ironic) I was given a diagnosis of cancer in both breasts. This is my second time around with breast cancer; 15 years ago I had what my husband calls 'breast cancer lite' - the primary tumour was in the armpit rather than the breast, so I only needed surgery to the armpit, radiotherapy and five years of the hormone-blocking drug Tamoxifen.
This time it's more serious, and I'm likely to have at least a single if not a double mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and more hormonal drugs. Meanwhile life has become a round of ultrasound, biopsies, CT scans, MRI scans, a bone scan, and then a repeat of all of them on different areas. I hope in the circumstances you will forgive me for entirely forgetting to write my blog last month - thank you, Wendy, for stepping in.
What has any of this to do with writing? A number of things, I think. First of all, we writers tend to live mostly in our heads, and act surprised when our neglected bodies take their revenge. Second, it is actually quite important to be physically well in order to write - a nagging pain or an inability to sit up could have quite an impact on our creativity. Thirdly, it is always good to remember that humans are physical beings and that God chose to come to us in a physical form in Jesus - without his Incarnation we would have no ministry, no teaching, no healing, no Cross and Resurrection, and dare I say no Holy Spirit.
Lastly, I think some form of suffering, mental or physical, while it may impede our writing, also grounds us and reminds us to be real, and to remember that many of our readers will be suffering too. Why was Paul given his 'thorn in the flesh'? Was it to alert him, whose thoughts tended to run away with him, that he didn't know everything and couldn't control everything?
Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything
I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also
writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New
Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English
speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at