‘Failing is not the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to success.’
Elli Stassinopoulos (mother of Arianna Huffington)
The urge to just sit and write is so often met with equal tenacity by the ability to procrastinate. Today I intended to sit down and write for a good part of the day. And now, as the clock clicks over to 5.26pm on a Sunday afternoon, I have barely a word on the page.
Other things just kept getting in the way. Cleaning up after last night’s birthday celebrations, digging out the numbers from the detritus of my late father’s paper-work so I can tick his tax return off my to do list, folding the overflowing mounds of clean washing (I am so tired of the eternal hunt for matching socks and clean undies) and nursing a slightly heavy head from one too many glasses of Veuve.
But you know what? Regardless of the fact that I really should be making a start on dinner or getting my stuff organised for work tomorrow, I am sitting here at my desk, my fingers dancing across the keyboard as I am damn well not going to let the sun go down on another day without accessing the writer that lies within.
Have you ever had an itch you’ve just had to scratch? Well that’s kind of what it feels like to be a writer. It’s there, always hovering, begging for attention. And the more you ignore it, the greater the desire to scratch. And once you actually relent and scratch, it can be quite hard to stop. It can be addictive.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as sitting back and re-reading the words that have landed on the page. Sometimes when I read them, I almost can’t remember actually writing it. When you get into the flow, the words tumble out so fast that you just need to let them come out of you. Kind of like a giant cathartic purge. Yet at other times, it’s like drawing blood from a stone. I type a sentence then delete two. The inner censor can truly be a writer’s worst enemy. But it’s like anything you do. The more that you do it, the better you become. Or so I’ve been told.
I have recently completed a six week writing course with the wonderful Australian author Dianne Blacklock https://dianneblacklock.com at the NSW Writer’s Centre in Rozelle. I came out pumped and rearing to go, filled with the ‘how to’ and ‘what not to do’s’. I was going to stop procrastinating, bite the bullet and write my bloody novel! But have I? In a word, no.
I have been reading copious blogs on how to write, leafed through my much loved copies of Fiona’s McIntosh’s ‘How To Write Your Block-buster’ https://www.fionamcintosh.com/blog/how-to-write-your-blockbuster-a-practical-guide and Dani Shapiro’s ‘Still Writing’ http://danishapiro.com/books/still-writing and signed up for two online writing classes, James Patterson’s Masterclass and Liz Gilbert’s Creativity Workshop. They are all fascinating and full of vital tips and perspectives for writing my novel but reading how to do it isn’t exactly doing it, is it? I am also booked into Fiona’s five day writing masterclass in Adelaide this coming September (so excited!) You would think that immersing myself amongst such writerly talent the words would be cascading from me. But no. They’re not. So what’s stopping me? In a word, FEAR.
Fear is such a peculiar thing. Liz Gilbert tells us to embrace it. She says to tell it to hop in the back seat and that while it is welcome to come on the writing journey with us, it most definitely doesn’t get to drive or choose the direction we are going. She suggests that we write a letter to fear acknowledging its presence but letting it know that whatever happens, we’re going to write anyway. I’ve tried writing to fear but to be honest, I felt a bit silly doing it…so I didn’t. In the past fear has told me that I have no talent or ability, it has mocked me when I called myself a writer for the very first time a year ago and it was probably laughing hysterically when I started my Facebook writer page the other week www.facebook.com/shelleygardnerwriter
On the last night of my course with the fabulous Di and nine talented writers, we critiqued each other’s work (oh ok, we also had champagne and a little party!) I received some lovely feedback and while I still have a long way to go, their comments gave me hope that I actually CAN do this, that I really AM a writer. One of the nicest things said on the night (thanks Maxine) was that it was the kind of book she would love to take on holiday. And then Di agreed BAM! That just blew me away as that is exactly the type of book I am trying to write.
The equally fabulous Lisa Heidke http://lisaheidke.com , whose course I was lucky enough to attend at the Australian Writer’s Centre late last year, also kindly offered to have a look at my opening chapters for me. I received her email the final day of Di’s course, just as the panic had started to build about what people would think of my opening chapters. As I read her words, I let out a little squeal and did a happy dance! I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing some of her comments but she said she was ‘hooked’ by my story and that I ‘captured setting very well’. Lisa said I had ‘created my main character beautifully’ and that I should go to the class with my head held high. I was beyond stoked.
Yet despite all this, I am still sitting here, almost three weeks later, paralysed. I know that nobody can push me through the fear, the procrastination. Only I can do that. I have to do that if I am ever going to finish my novel. But it’s hard. Really hard. I thought if other people believed that I could do it then I would do it. But it is slowly dawning on me that I have to believe that I can do it. I want to finish my book more than anything. No one can write it for me (come on Di, Lisa, you know you want to write it for me???)
I started writing this blog post just after 5pm on Sunday May 15th. It is now just gone 8.46pm on Monday May 23rd. Good ol’ procrastination at its finest! My meditation teacher, Susan Piver http://susanpiver.com , who is also happens to be a NY Times best-selling author, tells us to practice loving kindness towards ourselves when we get stuck. She says to create a guilt-free zone as beating yourself up about something won’t get it done, it will just make you miserable. And she’s right. As I post links to great author articles and share cute writer quotes on my FB pages and even as I offer support to other emerging writers, one thought keeps popping into my head. I feel like a fraud. I am a writer who isn’t writing, although there is nothing I more desperately want to do. And that makes me feel guilty…and miserable.
But I need to change my perspective if I am ever going to do this. It may have taken me eight days to get this post written but I did get it written. There is something infinitely ‘doable’ about writing a blog post. It seems so small and contained compared to writing a novel. It seems possible. Maybe I have just hit the nail on the head. I am perhaps not just fearful but overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the ninety odd thousand words I still have ahead of me, overwhelmed by weaving together all the pieces of the puzzle that lay before me, overwhelmed by the re-writes that are to come. As I have written this post, various thoughts have popped into my head and the thought that is screaming the loudest right at this moment is to keep it small. Keep it doable. Don’t think of the 90,000 words. Just think of 500. Write those 500 words.
So this is my pledge to myself. I will write 500 words by this time next week, Monday May 30th. Immediately my inner critic is screaming ‘God you’re going to be a hundred by the time you write this thing’ but I have told it to shush! If I set an unrealistic goal I will write Nothing. Nada. Niente. Better I write 500 words than no words. And maybe the next week I will write another 500. And maybe without realising it, I will be writing again, the words will be flowing again. I will let you know how I go. And if you too are struggling to actually sit and write, maybe you would like to write 500 words too. Hey, maybe we could start a FB group? The 500 club! It’s ok, only joking….I think.
Till next week.