In praise of understanding

I’ve had so many kind responses to my last post – it’s very much appreciated and heartening to know how many people want me to keep writing. The critical voice is strong (does that sound a bit Star Wars?) and the downside of increased socialising means she has so many more things to pick to belittle me about. Tools and tricks are there to be used though and I’m going back to basics in terms of managing my mental health. One of these days I’ll learn to take care before it reaches this point. 

Writing is a big part of this of course. Other than gardening and cooking it’s the only thing I know – the only thing I feel right doing. I wish I felt more certain about my skills, but I guess, unlike gardening and cooking, writing is incredibly subjective. I know if I’ve cared for a plant well, because it blooms, sets seed and continues its life. I know if I’ve cooked a meal well because it pleases my taste buds – and hopefully those of others. I deal with failures in gardening by learning how to do it right next time, I deal with failure in cooking by learning how to do it right next time. I don’t feel torn up, distraught or as though I never want to cook or garden again. Why so? 

The simple fact is that it’s really hard to know if my failures are because I’ve made a colossal mistake, or just because I’ve not tickled the metaphorical tastebuds of the editors or competition judges. There’s no-one saying – “oh it’s so close but a bit under seasoned” or “what the blazes made you put chilli oil in the rice pudding?”. It’s a simple thanks but no thanks and on you go. This, of course, is no fault of the many long-suffering lit mag editors. Many decline work in the kindest, fullest way possible. A few give what reads as a very formulaic response, but hey, these are busy, unpaid people wading through a colossal amount of work to find the perfect fit for their magazine. 

I’ve realised I need to wean myself off the dopamine rush of having work accepted. I love the thrill of opening that email, expecting rejection and reading that my work will be published. I love shouting about it all over the socials and getting the flurry of interest and interaction. It feels nice. It feels like I’m worth something. And it’s as addictive as all the other addictive things. 

I planned today as a poetry day. This is a luxury I rarely afford, and something I usually crave, like a warm bath, or a hot buttered toast. A poetry day usually makes me feel better. Today – oh how I wanted to roll over and ignore the alarm, How I wanted there to be some ad hoc freelance work that was just too good to miss. I felt scared. I felt as though I was setting myself up for more failure and more sadness. Today I sat and looked at my work and wondered why the heck I actually do this? Is it to make people like me? Is it to give myself status? Is it to justify my place in the world? Yes. Of course it is. But writing can’t only be about these things. It can’t only be about making myself feel better about not being who I feel I should be. For me, writing has to be about making a difference. It has to be about forging a connection and showing a way for people to feel less alone. It has to have a purpose beyond my personal vanity. 

So this feels like a point of maturity. I intend to step away from the submissions treadmill for a while and work with the work I have produced over the last few years. I’ve spent time today looking at the themes in my work (sadly there isn’t a strong theme of fluffy bunnies) and intend to spend a little more time with the poems, redrafting and wrestling them into a series of pamphlets, before approaching some of the people who showed interest in being a mentor to me and my work.  Above all, I’ll spend more time reading and listening to poetry, more time absorbing and enjoying, and less time listening to that critical voice. Honest. 

On being an amateur

Amateur comes from the Latin amator ‘lover’, from amare ‘to love’ – one who does something for love. The modern definition is less wonderful, describing an amateur as a person who is incompetent or inept at a particular activity. Curious how it is no longer enough to do something just because you love to do it. The response I hear most when I tell people I write is “ooh are you going to be the next JK Rowling” –I scuttle away from the subject, and feel ashamed that no, I haven’t made a great deal of money from having work published, nor do I expect to. Those who know me know that making pots of cash has never been a driver for anything I do – I’m not an aspirational type of person and have no wish to be anything other than happy. I make a little money from writing, but that is lowly stuff like online copy for cabinet makers or theme parks. I love doing it and do it well but it isn’t flashy or shiny, and it is simply a means of paying for the weekly shop. I am a tiny bit thrilled to be writing for a living though, however meagre.

Why am I telling you this? I feel like I lost my way a little last year. I focused on publication, to validate, and confirm that my work is ok – and that is still true. Nonetheless, the literary world feels still feels like one I can’t be part of, as though I’m knocking the door, but there’s a secret knock that I’ll never quite know.  I’m not sure I’ll ever want to perform my work or read it at literary festivals – the thought terrifies me, getting anywhere is a nightmare because of M.E. and, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel like me. Is this sour grapes? I don’t think so. I’m a behind the scenes sort of person. I like the limelight, but from a safe distance, and in a safe environment. Online communication works for me, because I can choose the time, the format – I’m in control, and I don’t have to worry about the impact of my health.

©kam

This feeling of being a perpetual outsider has got me down. It has also made me ask myself why I write. It’s not just for myself, it’s because I want people to read what I’ve written, and to enjoy it. I wrote a tiny script for an online course Staying in and Writing it out and got lovely feedback. I made people smile and giggle and that felt great. I think the conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m going to stop taking all so very seriously. I don’t mean the work; I mean the whole circus of creating a career out of something I love. I’m not a corporate soul, I really don’t like working with others (apologies to all the folk who suffered this over the years) and I just don’t seem to fit. In short, I have decided to continue to be an amateur, to continue to be a person who does something for the love of it, and to embrace the freedom and joy that that brings. The thrill of publication will always be a wonderful, but I don’t want it to be my end goal. I want to write stuff I love.

https://theoatmeal.com/

On that note, I’ve decided I’m going to put more of my work on this blog you can read poems, short stories, including a new one called Pica and earlier work too as well as the pieces I’ve had published – it means I can’t submit so much, but the most frustrating thing is having work tied up in the system and not being able to share it. I love writing, I love people enjoying what I’ve written and we have the wonders of the internet, so why not? I’m including a bit about process too and as ever I love to get your feedback and comments. I’ll try to add a new piece at least every week.

Hope all is well, hope you’re safe and I hope my odd little stories and peculiar poems bring you a smile in these oddest of times.

Kathryn xx