If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might know that I’ve started a number of projects, novels and ideas which didn’t quite pan out the way I thought they would. I become enthusiastic and excited by something, but somehow ‘real life’ intervenes and the way I approach my work falters.
Collage by Richard Curtner.
The past few months have been a wake up call. This is mostly because I have changed the way I approach writing – as a habit, as something essential to my life. I started writing again, properly, in 2009. This has been five and a half years of learning, writing, getting stuck, and starting again.
Mostly, these five years have been about self discovery, growing, and learning lessons. I found I wasn’t ready to write a complete novel at these periods in my life – I was too easily distracted by other events and work. I found myself flailing around, panicking about money and what to do to support myself. I don’t regret the learning curve or the work I did during this time – I have learnt a lot about pitching, working with others, being an editor and editing other people’s writing.
I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2011, and came away with a half finished, messy manuscript of 52,000 odd words and promised myself to edit it and get it done. That never happened: the sheer energy and elation that came with NaNoWriMo drained away. I wanted to give my characters a good ending, but instead found myself dithering. Doing a two year creative writing course with the Open University in 2009-2011 helped me to find my feet with fiction, lifewriting and scriptwriting but I found after it was over that my work life lacked structure.
Collage by Richard Curtner.
Course environments give us three things – structure, feedback and deadlines. When you are a beginner writer, just starting out, you find that those three things are more complicated than they look – and that you need to have the motivation to set these things up for yourself. NaNoWriMo was an extreme version of this. It gave me the kick I needed to start writing again after a summer of little writing after the course finished.
My second experience with NaNoWriMo, in 2012, was a disaster. I wrote 50,000 words, I got it done, but every word felt as though I was forcing something; that I’d rather do anything else except this. In hindsight, I feel that I was dealing with a bad bout of apathy and depression. Forcing myself to write in this way may have done more harm than good when it came to what I truly needed – the chance to establish a habit, rather than an annual free-for-all.
I worked hard over the next two years with Deaf Unity as their editor, and gained valuable experience. Yet I couldn’t get the balance right, and couldn’t find the enthusiasm for my own work, starting short stories, getting excited about new book projects that never truly took off, and feeling self doubt creep in. I constantly questioned myself and became riddled with anxiety over whether what I was doing was worth it.
Through all this, I kept blogging and writing in my journal. I kept taking photos and reading. These past five years I’ve read some incredible books, and have more than made up for the lack of reading in my University years. Maybe a good book needs incubation time. Maybe I had to come to a crisis point before I realised that something had to change. The saddest thing is that sometimes in periods of grief and depression, we realise what is most important to us and how we want to live.
Collage by Richard Curtner.
These past few months have sharpened my focus. When I hit 30 in December, I quietly decided that the coming year would mark the decade that took all those lessons and pains, all those difficult decisions and fears, and transform them into possibility, action and hope. I’ve written every day for the past three months, establishing the habit that I meant to start all those years ago. It is still early days, but I feel that writing each day is something I now look forward to, is now something I need to do to give myself perspective and insight.
With perspective, I realise that what marks the writers who are in it for life is that they always, without fail, start again. When things are not going their way, when the work seems difficult and your head is not in the right place, there is always the opportunity to begin again. Overcoming fear and anxiety by just realising that you can always approach life and writing differently.
For me, starting again has meant three months of working through that self doubt, apathy and fear – furiously writing through each, getting down into the core. It has meant dealing with the many things that have dropped by the wayside and finding workable habits that I enjoy. For me, writing means looking after myself and then being strong enough to give writing back to the world. I’ve begun researching and writing my new novel, and hope that the summer months will be full of this new challenge. It is a world I’m excited about, and look forward to sharing.
‘Introspective souls are often tormented by their passionate visions. This is because visionaries see what shall be and wake up to what is. However, if you couldn’t see a glimpse of the city lights while stranded in the forest, how would you ever know to walk in that direction? Sometimes, your vision can’t be put into action, until you gather the learning experiences along your journey first.’ – Shannon L. Alder.