April has been quite the month. I’ve been flying high from inspirational mentoring and also experienced one of my worst episodes of PEM (post exertional malaise) for around 12 months. I should be used to these extremes by now, but they never fail to knock and shock me.
Let’s begin with the mentoring. I have gained so much from these sessions. I feel a difference in my body when I think about my writing. I no longer feel quick of breath and anxious – I feel I breathe to my stomach, pull myself up and, to quote the 2010s “own it”. I don’t feel embarrassed about trying, I don’t feel that I have to be a certain type of poet to be successful, and I have a clear sense of who I am and where I want to be. There will be hiccups and setbacks, but I’m very used to dealing with those, and having a sense of ownership means I can tackle any setbacks head on, rather than spiralling into thinking “I’m a terrible writer I should just give up”.
Writing and wellbeing
I realise this is the thing that drives me as a poet. Poetry and song lyrics have been my strength throughout my life, and the value of poetry for mental well-being cannot be underestimated. On of my goals over the next year is to develop a series of writers workshops specifically designed to manage and enhance mental well-being. Learning to stop and look, to consider emotion and to express those emotions is a powerful and valuable thing. I’m laying the groundwork through research, and you’ll find a series of articles about writing and well being on my Substack.
There is value in time spent writing
Another huge step has been to release myself from feeling I had to keep my foot in the door of the content writing industry. I genuinely enjoy content writing and spent a while mourning the loss of regular income (and goodness I still do). I also realised that the world of the kick ass copywriter is not for me. The endless round of applying for jobs I’m not really qualified for (marketing is a very different animal to writing) is quite a task and undoubtedly soul destroying especially given that the modern way seems to be to just ignore unsuccessful applicants. I ended the first quarter of the year feeling washed up and useless.
The timing of my mentoring could not have been better. I bought the sessions with money I had for my 50th birthday, intending to start in the new year. After the loss of Dad, I simply didn’t feel I’d do the sessions justice and Wendy kindly allowed me to postpone. The first session began with the magic question “what do you want from your writing”. What do I want ? When did I last even consider that? Like many people I am so bound up in meeting the needs of others that “what I want” rarely enters my head and when it does it is swiftly despatched. Wendy writes about this extensively in her latest article How to give yourself permission to write, which is well worth a read. The concept isn’t restricted to writing either – this way of thinking can be applied to anything you love to do but don’t feel able to make room for. I’m almost at the end of my mentoring month and one of the overarching results is that I feel confident enough in my own work to give it priority and protect my creative time.
Commercial ventures as a writer
I do however still need to generate some income. The few hours of content writing I could do was never going to make me rich, but it did bring a little extra cash our way. Part of my new found confidence in my own work means I am refocused a couple of commercial ventures. I have written, designed and printed a series of botanical greetings cards, inspired by the language of flowers and illustrated by Maggie Cameron. Learning about dots per inch, printing quality, bleed boxes and other terms I never knew I’d need to understand has been quite a challenge, but I’ve done it and am really pleased with the results. The cards are available from me, and our fabulous local florist Nettie of the Gorge.
I’ve also relaunched my Bespoke Poetry service. Spending time researching what others offer, finding where my work and style will fit has taken a little time, but it’s been time well spent. I had my first external order this week, and I loved creating something that will be part of such an important day. I feel like one of those people I read about in magazines who find a new life after 50.
This month marks ten years since my diagnosis with M.E. I am astonished at where I am now. It’s really hard, I’m still pretty poorly most of the time. Writing has given me an identity, and a reason to keep seeking a place in the world. Creating workshops to support others, and writing work that connects with people gives me a sense of value that felt impossible when I first fell ill. Here’s to keeping going.
I leave you with these beautiful words about Dust. It’s a year since we successfully crowdfunded the project. I’m proud of this book for so many reasons, and none more important than responses like this.