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Tag: not writing

Feeling the love, baby

Heartstone I love writing. Yeah, I know, that seems obvious given the nature of this blog. But I forget sometimes, a lot of times recently. I get tangled up in all the associated ‘shoulds’ and they suffocate the wants, the love.

Language is a brilliant thing. Firstly you’ve got the words, millions of them, all with formal meanings and implied meanings and the depth of meaning that comes from usage – and sounds and rhythms and shapes on the page. And then you get to join them together in some many different ways to express every shade of thought and feeling. Love it, love it, love it.

I’ve been preoccupied with ‘works in progress’, or rather not in progress or creeping along slowly emitting that damp smell of… what? What is the right word? Failure? No, too hopeless, too easy. What’s it like? Like a mustiness that attaches to something that’s been in a cupboard for too long. You know it’s there. It’s whining quietly, like a dying puppy. Yes, really, that pathetic. I think it’s probably guilt. Yes, the damp smell of guilt. I’m picking that word from the box because if I keep looking I could be here for hours. I’ll pencil it in, like you do when you’re trying something in a crossword.

So, proper writing is not getting done and, when I pick up a pen or stroke a keyboard, a big wall of ‘you should be doing something proper’ rises up before me. I don’t have headspace right now for the sweep of my stories, so my shoulders droop and I move away. But that’s madness! Does a painter stop sketching, doodling, playing with colour because he can’t fit a canvas in his caravan? (I could muck about with lots more whimsical examples here, but that would be self indulgent because I think you get the idea.)

What have got done are a couple of Incandescent-of-Cambridge letters, some birthday messages to lovely friends and a couple of articles for the parish magazine. All fun and satisfying – how I imagine a gardener feeling when they talk about getting their hands in the earth. I’m feeling the love and I’m going to open the cupboard, feed the puppy, knock down the wall and generally frolic in a sandbox of mixed metaphors.

Colouring between the lines

11698522_10153006448063333_4658290866483854477_nI’ve been sucked in by the new craze for adult colouring. It’s so soothing. Someone else has drawn all the patterns, created neatness and order, left pretty spaces for me to fill with colour. Some of the books even colour in some of the picture for you, providing clodhopping hints as to how you should proceed. Mindfulness they call it, though it is, of course, utterly mindless.
And while I’ve been colouring in between someone else’s lines, I’ve created nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing. And – when I’m not soothed by the de-stressing activity of colouring in – I’m quite angry about this. I’m angry with myself and I’m angry with all the tossers who drew the lines.
We spend our whole childhood and, maybe, most of our lives, being commended for being Good. We agonise over the Right Thing to do, the Right Thing to wear, The Right Thing to say… Not being Good is Bad. Where’s the space to just be?
I don’t draw my own pictures because I’m no good at drawing. It doesn’t come out right. It looks bad. And I’ve not been writing because I’ve been busy being neat and good and colouring between the lines.
If you’re reading this then you will have noticed the huge gap between this post and the last. There have been other starts and mis-starts. This might be another. The only thing I can tell you is that what follows may not be neat. I’m going off piste.

My head is full of pre-fiction

In my head right now is a crowd of people clamoring for attention. No, I am not going public about some kind of personality disorder, well not a medically documented one anyway. What I mean is that my mind has presented a number of character outlines to me, some have names and some don’t, all are ghostly in their half-formed state, drifting and hard to bring properly into focus. All seem to be trying to say something. All have their own point of view on the world. Most are holding on to an unresolved pain that seeks expression and resolution. Not one has properly defined physical features.

This last point seems to chime with an idea that has been suggested to me: they are not fictional characters – not yet at least – they are parts of mind is not a tangle of fictional story lines. These strands that I am struggling to unknot are not plots. It’s the raw material for fiction, but not yet fiction.

What difference does it make? It means that I’ve been handling things all wrong. I’ve been thinking about how to tell the story, how to find the right words, the right structure. All wrong. Too early. That’s why it’s been sending me mad. I’m still digging out the clay, shearing the sheep, whatever metaphor for pre-art that suits you. I need to slow down. I can’t finish before I start. I’m lucky; this is one piece of pre-writing research for which I don’t need to travel too far.


Bloody hell! I had already reached the conclusion that writing seems a lot less fun and a lot harder since I started studying it. Now I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the same can be said of reading.
Recently I have found myself starting books and immediately finding fault with them. Didn’t I used to get pulled on by simple narrative? Wasn’t I a woman who finished the books she started, rather than letting them languish in the company of dust bunnies under the bed? (Apart from that Zadie Smith book, but that was an exception.) I even finished Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and I hated that. (Before you squawk, I’m odd. I think Dickens is like chewing sawdust – broke my English teacher’s heart when I told him that.)
Anyhow, this new critical eye/ear/sense is a pain. I started one book and rejected it because I could see what the writer was doing and felt manipulated. I heard the first page of a new novel, purchased by a publisher at HUGE expense, on an arts review programme. Poncey and self-consciously writerly. “Zeitgeisty” as the lovely CF would say. An interesting idea that might be fabulous in the hands of Margaret Atwood, but I suspect has been bought for the film rights. I’ll have to wait for it to hit the multiplex because the style of page one tickled only my gag reflex. Every novel or story I start, I question the point of view, I doubt the characterisation, I’m on the look out for lazy tricks and turns of phrase – handy reflections that enable physical descriptions (I know it works, but now it appears in italics in my head), dust motes in the air – this is my favourite, I plan to write a thesis on the use of the dust mote in English language fiction, one day.
And does this new found critical faculty help my own writing? Does it buggery. I’m paralysed by insecurity and indecision. Close third, multiple or first person? Too much telling? Present tense, ever? Is she sympathetic? Is he a shallow stereotype? They got published and couldn’t get it ‘right’! What hope do I have?!

Pith helmets of their own

Pith helmets “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” Cyril Connolly
I don’t have a pram in the hall, but I do have a dozen pith helmets. These are my enemy. Or so I tell myself. I don’t write, I say, because, as Virginia Woolf complains in A Room of One’s Own, we women never have half an hour that we can call our own. There’s the school run (twice a day), meal times (three times a day, if you count packed lunches), washing (four times a week), home work (once a week), fighting about time spent playing computer games (seven times plus a week), cleaning (depends if I’m wearing my glasses or not). That’s the bare minimum of the Mummying. Then there’s being a wife/partner/home maker/lover (hah). And then the professional working woman, which goes alongside being a functional member of society with clean hair on your head and no hair any where else. And friends, everyone likes to have friends. And friendships for your child – these need to be enabled and cultivated through play dates and the PTA and joint trips to amusements.
However, its not all this that is the problem. It’s not the physical time that’s the problem. Anyone can find half and hour, even an hour, to put pen to paper. It’s the absence of space in my head that’s the problem. In just the few moments after I woke up this morning, I covered: how do you make an explorer themed cake, green like a jungle or yellow like a sandy island, or is that too piratey? What does it mean if the school don’t realise that my son is better at ICT than art? Will he be ok in a class without his best friend next year? Can I get that tea cosy finished before we go on holiday? When should I start packing? How much can I advance plan the school winter fair to avoid organisation clashing with course assignments in November? Should I wait for feedback from my client on case studies on the Mental Capacity Act or have a go at making them up? Is there any milk left for breakfast? Is there enough in the bank account to pay for the shopping? And do I have enough pith helmets?
This stream of thoughts and worries carries on all day. Where is the room in my brain for creative writing, creative thinking, for my story? It’s in there, but crammed at the back under all this other stuff (a bit like the hoover in the cupboard under our stairs). Perhaps therein lies the answer: worry less and get on with it. Whenever I need to hoover (note need not want), I have to dig the thing out of the cupboard. Every time I do it, I think about how much the cupboard needs tidying. And then I shove the hoover back in. I need to stop thinking about some things in order to make some space for my writing. (Is there a mixed metaphor in there? I don’t know. I don’t care! Hah!)
So, as of Sunday I am going to practise ignoring the debris in my head in order to find some space to write. Why Sunday? Because on Saturday I will be running my child’s birthday party and it will be a birthday party to go down in the annals of birthday parties (the annals that exclude entry to any parent who can afford to pay for a circus or Justin Fletcher). There will be home sewn party bags containing educational toys and a book on explorers created by me, jungle food, handmade bunting, inflatable jungle animals, codes to break, games to develop explorer skills and, oh yes, little explorers in pith helmets. Is it maybe possible that I’m directing my creative energies in the wrong direction?

Pregnant pause

lava lamp You know those days when it has to rain and doesn’t. People say ‘It feels like rain’ but nothing happens. The sky is heavy and colourless, the air clammy. Nothing can be right again until it has rained. That’s what it’s like inside my head. Not writing makes me miserable. But writing is hard and the process of doing it makes me miserable sometimes. Creative writing is not my job, so many people’s response to my pained complaint that I haven’t written with a look that says ‘And?’ Why should it matter? It’s only a hobby after all. Try knitting or, better still, join a gym. I said this to the lovely CF and she said: ‘Don’t they think you’d choose something easier if it was just a hobby? Tap dancing is a hobby.’ (Personally, I found tap dancing very hard when I attempted it aged 13.) Writing is a compulsion. When it goes well it can be satisfying, but still you have to get over the hurdle of believing that it’s going well. How can you tell? It never seems to come out quite as well as you thought it possibly might. There is always something you can improve. You put it down and pick it up an hour, a week, a year later and realise all the things that are wrong with it – and how utterly shit you are as a writer. But you keep picking it up and you keep trying something new because you must. Although sometimes, the hurdle of insecurity is so enormous that you can’t get over it. In fact you are paralysed by the certainty that any attempt to do so will bring pain and humiliation (not unlike my attempt at running the 200m hurdles at school sports day). This blog in itself is an exercise in overcoming the critic in my head who says: ‘They’ll laugh. You’ll reveal how crap you are. You have nothing to say. And you’ll say it badly. You know your command of grammar can be shaky. And all those clichés.’ My critic has a lot to say for himself and never knows when to shut up. If I can do this to fight the bastard perhaps it will build my muscles and help me to get him on the ropes (cliché alert).