has been a difficult month. Various events have conspired to create a wave of minor panic attacks and underlying swell of anxiety that I’ve been free of for some time. These patches will come and go, and I’m better equipped to meet them head on and use all those techniques like counting things and managed breathing to jerk my brain from its doom-filled track. These techniques don’t always work, and it’s fair to say that living with this kind of intense anxiety is exhausting (and scary).
I’ve also been more active socially – by which I mean I’ve been to my mom’s for socially distanced egg and chips – and I’ve realised that this takes a lot more energy than I think. When we were in full lockdown my days felt more my own. As soon as I began to see other people, or to venture out of the house ( a slightly disappointing trip to Ellesmere) I get trapped in a cycle of preparation and recovery that means where I once had seven days in a week, I’m suddenly down to three. Being of a perfectionist persuasion, I’ve been trying to maintain seven days’ worth of activity, so where day to day things like cooking and cleaning were nicely spread out, I’ve ended up exhausted and unable to take on any freelance work, and certainly unable to write.
This is the reality I suppose. M.E. doesn’t go away and I feel like I’ve got to learn my baseline all over again. Combine this with leaden skies and the general terror of the times and it’s no wonder my brain has been on high alert. I haven’t written a single thing this month and I’ve missed it terribly. Even my journal is patchy, just scraps of thoughts and the odd drawing.
Wallowing is not my style though (I prefer tear-filled rage) so as August begins, so does another set of resolutions – to make time, to ease up on the cleaning obsession, to ask for help and to write. I’ll see how I get on.
August also brings a new publication, which is a bit of a big deal to me – Popshot magazine is notoriously hard to get into (I only discovered this after I submitted or I’d never have tried) so having a poem published as part of their Freedom issue is incredible. I’ll do a proper post about it next week, but if you are venturing into the shops you’ll be able to buy a copy in WHSmith – if anyone does please take a photo of it and send it to me – it’s my first piece of print out in the wild as it were.
That’s it for now – here’s to a better August for all of us. Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask and be lovely.
Ah, there is a phrase about being careful what you wish for. The good news is I’m not waiting to see if I’ve made it on to the Primers mentoring programme. The bad news is I haven’t been chosen. I’m sad, of course. No other words really. I’ve consoled myself by looking at the shortlisted candidates, many of whom who have an astonishing body of published work, as well as solid careers in the writing world. I’m in awe of the quality of their work, and a tiny bit embarrassed that I thought I might have a chance. My conclusion? Well there’s only one. I’m just not ready. I’m more ready than I was this time last year, but not ready or good enough. Yet.
That “yet” is the key. I have a slither of belief that I can do this. I’ve never felt like this about anything, at least not enough to keep trying despite the knock-backs. I’m making myself more vulnerable by being so public, but there’s no point seeking plaudits for success if I’m not prepared to share the failures. I’m having a day to lick my wounds, then tomorrow it’s back to it. Planning submissions, competitions and how to continue to develop and learn. One of the best things about this blog is that it is way to track how I’ve changed and developed, and I’m happy that I’m mostly going forward. Or sideways. Whichever direction, at least I’m moving.
I’ve been wondering about this since I took this photograph. Other than the obvious barriers such as my health, or a massive fluffy cat what stops me writing? Why is it that I will happily knuckle down to paid work but flit about finding things to tidy when I want to tackle something creative?
It’s fear. Fear of failure. Judgment. The unknown. With my work for blogs and the like I know what’s expected (mostly) and I know I can do it. Creative work is a different beast. I know what’s expected, but I also know that the most joyful moment as a reader is finding something I don’t expect. I have to find out what that is and quite frankly it’s a puzzle.
When I’m stuck I read. Read and read and read. Then I get it. I just need to tell the story. I’m learning how I work. It takes a while for my story to germinate and grow and that those first seed leaves will fade and be forgotten once the story has bloomed. I need to know what story I’m truly telling before I know how to tell it.
I’ll tackle the other barriers another day. Once the cat’s moved.
As ever, please like share and subscribe. My progress is slow and I’m very impatient! The ongoing support I receive really does make a difference.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
It may be a shock to discover I’m not a massive fan of martial arts films so this quote is new to me. It worked so well for me today I thought I’d share it with you.
I’m trudging through the last part of my OCA module. Attitude is everything of course and I was aware I needed to approach my work in a positive way but I didn’t know what to do. When I found myself cleaning behind radiators, I figured I needed to stop avoidance tactics and face up to this last section. I flicked through Short Circuit and fell upon an essay by Claire Wigfall who talks in detail about how she creates her characters. I tried her technique and what do you know it’s worked. I’ve got a story rumbling around and characters that I want to find out about.
Character is what I am good at, what I enjoy reading and what I enjoy writing. People fascinate and terrify and I have an eye and ear for the details and oddities that make a person unique.
I realised what’s happened. I’ve been guided to try so many different styles (magical realism or sci-fi for example) and as a result I’ve lost sight of my characters. My initial thought was that I’d wasted the last few months. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ve realised that an interesting story can only ever be built on an interesting, rounded character. No amount of quirky imaginative details will make up for a character that is laden with stereotypes. I knew this but I had become distracted by trying out new techniques and styles. I’m frustrated that I have wasted a bit of time but I’m happy that I’ve come back to such a basic truth.
Which brings me back to the wise words at the beginning of this post.
I’ve been less ill this week. To give context, this means I’ve been able to get up, dress, perhaps make toast and generally function. I pushed myself on Wednesday to spend time with some dear friends (the type who wouldn’t mind if I was in my pyjamas when they visited), and whilst my body is complaining, my mind is delighted. Having a bit of the outside world brought in has been so good.
There has been progress with writing too. This week has seen a submission to shooterlitmag.com, and an entry to the Yeovil short story competition . I’m hoping to spend the rest of the week working on my Crow stories, a more involved piece for The Bridport Prize.
The two things I find most difficult are focusing on one project at a time, and actually finishing a piece. I always feel my short stories tail off rather unsatisfactorily. This might come from my own dislike of neat endings in fiction, or it might be because I keep flitting around. Sometimes I just get bored, which must indicate that I need a new idea, or at least a new angle on an old idea. Experimenting with point of view helps me with this. Poetry seems easier, perhaps because the shape and aim seem to make themselves clear as I write. A good short story seems frustratingly out of reach. Any tips are welcome!
I hated redrafting my work. When I first started studying with OCA, it took me so long to get a piece completed, that I couldn’t bear to begin pulling it apart.It felt so personal. Luckily I had a very patient tutor for my Writing Skills course, who gently helped me see past my ego, and focus on what I was trying to achieve. The most valuable thing I learnt from my first course is that the first draft of anything is just a sketch, a whoosh of ideas tumbling on to the page. Picking through the ideas, taking away what’s unnecessary, or getting rid of whatever insidious obsession is creeping in to my work this week, is the best part. It’s the crafting bit. It’s also bloomin’ hard work.
I sat with a piece yesterday, which had grown from one of my middle of the night jottings. I honestly thought it couldn’t be improved (ha!), but kind of knew it needed to be. Just changing one word made the whole thing grow legs, as it were, and suddenly this short poem came to life. It’s an odd thing, it almost feels as though I have to step aside from myself, and really look at what I’m trying to say. Redrafting captures that excitement, and makes it into something that is exciting to read.
Today needs to be a rest day. This is frustrating,but necessary. Brain fog produces crazy, rubbish work.