Pouncing Pressure, Hidden Hijack

I’ve been re-listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Podcasts this week, to ready me for five nights away on my own to catch up on writing my novel a little, with the novelty of no interruptions.  The thought of the time away is really a big deal when you’re a woman, a mother and a writer who works at home.  The first, second and last descriptors there are, in my experience, extremely difficult to manage alongside the act of writing a big piece rather than dipping in and out of smaller ones.  An excellent article in Harper’s Bazaar covers the issues I’m nodding at here and I suggest anyone navigating an unapologetically modern relationship or considering the messages they’re giving younger generations about gender roles reads the piece for comfort and fire-stoking.  It’s an absolute cracker.

But back to the Magic Lessons.  Every single episode feels freshly relevant.  Yesterday I did my own version of a homework task Gilbert sets a podcast guest in order to help balance an internal dialogue which often poleaxed ambition.  You can listen to the podcast here.  Reflecting on the task of stepping aside from the locked mind to exchange letters with both Fear and Curiosity, I was prompted to shine a light on my own fears because they’re currently presenting the biggest hurdle to productivity during my time away.

As a sidenote, a horrible irony here is that I really didn’t feel the weight of these fears until I booked some time away.  The act of booking the time, hell, the audaciousness of booking the time in some folks’ eyes, set off an epic domino chain in my head about pressure.  I didn’t realise the domino chain was happening until it was halfway through and heading towards an elaborate helter-skelter set of turns before stretching into middle distance further than my terrified eyes could see.  Think the domino chain in Collateral Beauty scaled up by a hundred and you’re there.dchtbc 2016 1

In a nutshell, the pressure-fear, wee darling that it is, has pretty much been whispering  self-loathing into my lugholes since I got my Airbnb e-receipt.  Here’s a fragment for your delectation;

‘Five nights away, huh?  That’s brave.  Or stupid.  Especially as you’ve had some really shit feedback on the novel recently.  Do you not think if you were going to have finished the novel you’d have done it by now?  I mean, you don’t even really have a good story, do you?  And you keep changing direction.  And you’re still not doing it the way you want it to, are you?  Because that way is shit and you know it. Your blindspot’s massive.  But yeah.  Have a great week away.’

Swim, swim, swimming I went.  Swimming into a pool of mindcrap.

That’s the thing about creativity.  It makes light and dark and balance must be imposed.

Despite the mindcrap, there was another voice in my head, quite possibly it’s the voice of leftover drugs from my teens but I guess that’s valid too.

The other voice says go and write.  And go and enjoy.  And lighten up, sweetheart.  You’re doing great.  Oh, and, most importantly….?  For the love of fuck write the book you want, the way you want it written, because evidently you care so much more about that than anyone else’s feedback.  How do I know that?  I know that because when you think about the book you want to write, you smile.  And that’s the thing.  Write a smiling book that you one-day-kinda-soon finish and to fuck with whether it ever gets published, read or respected by anyone else.  It’s either that or you’re carrying that baby everywhere while you try to write one that your heart isn’t in and one day realising the one you love isn’t there anymore – it just turned to regret.  It waited too long.

Writing that, I can hear the other voice more clearly.  It doesn’t belong to 16 year old me at a rave in Arbroath on MDMA.  It belongs to me AND Liz Gilbert, one of the woman in the USA right now making the world a better place against all the odds.  I dare say she’s scared and brave all at the same time.  How inspiring.

#FuckDominos

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52and40/29 Realignment

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I’ve been waking for weeks feeling badly misaligned.  We had builders in, next door have builders in, two houses adjacent had builders in.  With all the banging, shouting and stress there’s been little chance for creativity; each time I transported to inner space interruptions brought me clattering back.  In parallel, feeling predated a notch too far when I moved around in workout clothes for running and yoga, I switched to just walking.

Muted, twice over, my connections to peace.

‘Sad’, as the predator in chief himself would say.

Fuck that.  Comeback time.

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52and40/25 Regenerative Circuits

 

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The hardest bit of writing for me isn’t finding ideas or receiving rejections. Both of those are plentiful for me at this stage.  Both of those are great teachers too – to be appreciated and understood just as the nice, easy bits are.

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For me, the hardest bit’s waiting for feedback.  The no-woman’s land of yay or nay.

The Isle of Maybe.

I’m a feedback junkie – reacting to feedback is my fuel for the next thing.

I guess I need to cultivate a better relationship with my own feedback, for the between bits.

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52and40/23 The Selfsame Well

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A friend died recently.  She was my writing teacher first (and my first writing teacher).

I can trace roads from everything I’ve had published in the last two years to Helen, her guidance at every way-marker.  Even with this map I’m disorientated; floundering in comprehending such a special woman being gone.

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In grief, all roads lead inevitably to my Mum.  Every funeral a little her funeral, too.  Profound losses only comforted by the extreme gratitude for having shared some of the world with extraordinary people’s smiles and stories.

Joy and sorrow, innit?

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Writes and Wrongs

 

Until recently, whatever writing works I’ve had in progress were allowed to swim around my mind as they pleased.  From poetry to commentary to short stories and – the biggie – the possible first novel, I’m usually working on between 5 and 12 pieces at any one time.  Some months I finish several pieces and get to submitting – a great feeling.  Other months it’s just a case of nurturing, editing and thinking.  Every month though?  Ideas and inspiration everywhere.  Up character details crop in the fridge when I’m making a shopping list.  Over scenes go with my gaze when I’m staring at hills and listening to a podcast.  Down it’ll all go on a page when there’s opportunity.  And when there wasn’t opportunity?  Those ideas and inspirations kind of bottlenecked in a holding pen that became increasingly cramped.  Whenever I could, I’d lift out my clearest thoughts and liberate them in emails to myself so my inbox could be a holding pen too, perhaps a safer one in terms of things not getting lost.  Then it became impossible to deny that my inbox was becoming a mind boggling place to rock up in, too.  Ideas and inspiration everywhere are great but were they becoming too abundant?

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All in all, the confusion of real world and fictitious worlds was becoming at best distracting and at worst, confusingly destructive.

At around the same time I noticed the failing holding pens, I finished a 5 month series of workshops for writers with big works in progress at Edinburgh University.  Lead by writing tuition supremo Helen Lamb, myself and another eleven students attempted to further nurture stories into the world.  Feedback was the order of the day.  A lot of the feedback that changed my work came from listening to other writers consider and adapt their work.  It was an incredibly valuable process but my lack of mental organisation lead to something of a creative meltdown when the workshops ended; the feedback pushed more ideas into the holding pens with the consequence of  my brain starting to forget everything I needed to remember to run my real world, i.e., the shopping list, kids’ schedules,  getting to the dentist, etc.

Then, much worse than the forgetting of fairy liquid or fillings, my writing started to suffer.  I’d sit down to type and find the conduit thoughts normally came through blocked.  Coffee and music coaxed a few paragraphs onto the page here and there but cognitive disorder made it hard to tell if they were any good or not.  Cue much deleting, restarting and a whole load of Word documents being saved with bizarre titles and not a lot of content.  More holding pens, damnit.  More doing of a thing that was clear in its intent to not yield good results.  An invite to insanity, some say.

This was a terrifying situation to have arrived at after going through the long process of establishing a consistent writing habit over the last two years.  The part of my brain that likes to catastrophise was whispering this was the beginning of the end.  ‘See?  You can’t handle it when the pace picks up’, it said, showing itself to be a callous little bastard with no vision, once again.

The part of my brain that believes everything’s possible kicked in about a fortnight later, thank fuck.  ‘You can do this’, it said, and, ‘you just have no idea how, yet’.  I had a little weep fuelled by relief and terror, picked myself up and asked for wisdom from more experienced writer friends about how they’d schooled their thoughts on world-building into forward moving productivity.

How had they dealt with creating worlds within a world?

With regards the novel there was a strong consensus in the advice: partition time for writing and world creation and stick to a plan as much as possible.  For short stories, the feel was to let them happen as you work and worry less about what comes and goes – they always work out in the end (or hit the bin with rare regret) – this tallies with my experience too, hurrah.  The rest of the time?  Be in the real world.  Stop taking the imagined world everywhere – keep it the fuck out of the fridge, especially; give yourself some headspace that isn’t a holding pen for anything, otherwise you’ll drown in your spiralling imagination and hold off new ideas from entering.  The truths of creativity are riddled with paradoxes, I find.

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I initially thought methods around disciplined partitioning were unrealistic for my messy, non-linear brain and kicked against them a bit.  I’m a difficult mum, wife and friend, at those times of frowny adult-tantrumming.  Pity those who encounter me when I’m not in flow.  But, like any muscle used repeatedly, I’ve found the energy within getting stronger for a more disciplined course, with practice.  I’ve stopped the hotch-potch method I was engaged in before of skipping from one part of the novel to another, sending ripples of change in every which direction that were hard to keep track of.  Now, instead, I’m making extensive notes in a planning spreadsheet to stop impulse from wreaking havoc.  I ultimately still don’t know if it’ll end in a book but, by fuck, I’m keeping on with the keeping on and definitely learning in the process.

So far, touch wood, the new method’s working.  When I sit down to write the novel now there’s a new energy – the story’s evolving according to a plan and still offers room for  spontaneity of the unreckless variety.  In the name of Clearing40 clarity and minimalist joy, I’ve taken things a step further, too. For at least a while I’ve called a stop to feedback and discussing the novel in detail while it and my process are shape-shifting.  This might sound counter-intuitive but the meltdown’s reminded me how easily influenced I am and that this plasticity is simultaneously a good and bad thing.  Yet, with 5 months of feedback from twelve folk in the bag for that particular piece of work, I feel confident in thinking I’ve more than enough to chew on already.

There comes a point when, like with all things involving change, from haircuts to house moves to what to make for tea, I think we have to draw a line and own the process; sit with all the contributions, stop subconsciously taking suggestions and move forward making the thing into our own thing.  Then…?  Hello, cathartic relief and onward journey.  Mistakes will be made, sure, but I find them more constructive in motion than stasis.

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Of Mice and Men

Internalised misogyny’s kinda like the rat who lived in our back garden. Every now and then it poked its head out of a small hole in the dry stane dyke and scared the living shit out of me (but thrilled the dog).

For soooooooo long I believed the rat was simply a large mouse.  Then, faced with faecal evidence to the contrary, I spent some time simply telling myself the rat was a large mouse and willing away  memories of the enormo-shits by the bird feed in the shed.  Denial can be a really handy part of adjusting to an unpleasant reality, can’t it?

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I did not want the rat to be as big a problem as it was – so I simplified it away and mentally minimised it to make it easier to think about.  La la la la la la.

Meantime, the rat had babies and I grew unable to continue deluding myself that the big pink semi-ropes intermittently hanging out the wee wall in the garden were anything other than rat tails.  Then, the sight of a rat climbing the 7ft clematis trellis turned out to be a moment even Instagram filters & wine couldn’t soften.

We are now minus a shed and a rat colony.  We found out the rats were living under the decrepit, old, rotting shed (very low air miles to the bird food) so it was time for the lot to go.

I’ve talked a lot about the rat now and not so much about internalised misogyny, haven’t I?  If you’d like to read me talking about internalised misogyny for reals, I’m chuffed as a rat in a slop bucket to say you can do just that on Bella Caledonia this festive season.

Slainte!

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52and40/9 (Shop) Local Hero

I’m dreaming of a non-line Christmas

Just like the ones we used to know

Where purses jingle

And footsteps mingle

And we all go shopping in the snow.

I’m also dreaming of a socio-political re-org for Scotland which ejects a Daily Mail state of mind for the rest of time.  And a plan for my big writing project more cohesive than, ‘yes, I might need to change the whole thing again.  Hmmmm.’

Clarity will come.  Meantime, the thing to fill the void with is art, air, light and laughter. And non-line shopping.

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More info on #52and40 here.