The Writer, The Tissue Damage and Point Break: A True Story

by Gurpreet Sihat

At the start of November, I had it all planned. I had scheduled in coffee dates and weekly writer’s groups; I was booked into BAFTA’s Screenwriting Lecture series and a handful of BFI events (including a glorious 35mm screening of the Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze film Point Break for which the UK screen rights too five years to get hold of) for inspiration; and I was armed and ready for NaNoWriMo. My fridge was even stocked with Starbucks’ Caffè Americano for moments where I didn’t have the energy to make a coffee but still needed to write. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that could stop me from winning NaNoWriMo and finishing that first draft of my third novel.

Nine days into the month, I was rushed to hospital.

When I woke up that morning, I found it impossible to open my right eye. When I could finally open it, I couldn’t see anything. My doctors were busy promising me that I wouldn’t lose my eye sight and my parents were assuring me there was nothing more important than my health. But me? I had only two thoughts:

  1. Bollocks, I’m going to miss out on seeing Point Break; and
  2. What a waste of my time.

I wish I was joking. I wish there was some consideration about my health or something profound going on in my head, but there really wasn’t. Point Break and wasting my time was literally it.

Tissue damage: that was the culprit. God knows where it came from, but it was there. Far better than the shingles my optometrist was scared it might be, but still horrible enough. It was as though my life had stood still while everyone else’s was still going at full speed. I had to bow out of BAFTA’s Screenwriting Lectures, my writers’ group went on without me and all my coffee dates were cancelled.

I didn’t even see the sun for over a week. The only thing to make my eye better was to use steroid drops which gave me horrible insomnia. I wasn’t sleeping until 6am most nights (or mornings, rather) and I seldom woke up before 2pm. On the rare occasion the sun was still out when I was crawling out of bed, it was hidden behind the curtains as my eye was incredibly sensitive to light. Even now, a month into my treatment, I still struggle with the sunlight.

The doctors had banned me from technology for the first two weeks of my recovery so I spent my days alone in bed reading the Vampire Academy boxset that had arrived the morning of the brutal hospital trip but they only lasted a mere five days. The light sensitivity meant that I wasn’t able to use any screen bigger than my phone even if I did go against my promise the doctors so writing was out of the question. To top it off, I hadn’t even hit 20,000 words in my NaNoWriMo manuscript! I was positive that I’d never be able to win. Hitting 50,000 words by the 30th November was an impossibility. For all of the feelings of being a terrible writer I’d ever had, this was the time when they were the strongest.

Against all the advice from professionals and perhaps my own better judgement, I was fed up with being bed-bound and took a risk. I was half-blind and terrified I was going to do more damage to my eye but my need to see Johnny and Bodhi was far greater than the fear. I got dressed up, I put in my contact lenses, paired it with sunglasses, and I went down to the BFI to see Point Break in 35mm. I won’t lie, it hurt, but I’m glad I did it because, two days later, when the pain had subsided a little, I was feeling more myself.

I didn’t feel useless anymore. I was determined. I was fearless!

Within an hour of waking up on the 17th, I had contacted a bunch of writers and we began a week of sprints, racing towards that #1K1H (1,000 words in 1 hour) finish line. I only managed one sprint that first day, but then I was able to do two the next day and within a week I was doing three.

By the end of the week, I needed a rest. I needed a day away from screens and my writing desk. I missed the sun and I was desperate to make good on a promise to celebrate my friend’s thirtieth birthday with her. What did I do? I went to Paddington to meet a bear (if you don’t understand what I mean by that, I’m a little worried) and then hopped on a train to Brighton. Again, it hurt, but this time not as much as my adventure to see Point Break had and somehow, it gave me the drive to keep writing.

At 3am on Tuesday 28th November, I hit 50,370 words. I had been writing for ten days straight since my week-long doctor-sanctioned technology ban, tack on the nine I had achieved before the injury, and somehow I managed to blow NaNoWriMo out of the park in only 19 of 30 days.

So why am I telling you this story?

Because in the time between coming home from the hospital at 2am from the hospital watching Point Break at the BFI, my eyesight had started to improve. From complete nothingness, I could see colours and shapes. Nothing in focus, but something nonetheless.

In the hours between Point Break and my first attempt at writing, the shapes looked halfway decent, albeit blurry around the edges. But in those ten days, although my eyesight still isn’t perfect and my sensitivity to light is still there, I was writing regardless. I was writing because I wanted to write. There was no could or couldn’t about it. I never missed a dose of steroids, I never missed a day of journaling (although I did completely miss the lines on the page while writing) or finding three things at the end of each day to be grateful for, and I continued to write.

Plans always fall through. You always end up somehow falling behind even though you were on top of it all to begin with. But the trick is to not give up. Giving up is when you give into the fall and stay there.

If you can find that spark in you that’s burning to move forward, despite anything and everything being thrown at you, you WILL succeed.

If I can win NaNoWriMo in 19 days with tissue damage in my right eye, nothing is impossible. What did Audrey Hepburn say? Even the word says I’m Possible!

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