I feel a cold lurking in my chest today, but for once I’m not wearing layer upon layer of wool. It’s the sort of Spring day that knocks Autumn off its throne. Spring’s irrepressible life-force and beauty is moste welcome after this long, wet Winter. Much of October absconded to some distant memory of warmth and lusciousness. In fact, the garden still thinks it’s September, and some of the deciduous trees are only just coming into leaf now. It truly has been that dark and dank.
But today the garden is swarming with butterflies, there are giant rhododendrons flowering, roses budding, and jasmine swooning on the fence. I picked some of the jasmine, as well as some bearded iris, (the scented kind), and I’ve been working in the soft sunshine of the morning.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about writing (and creating in general), lately. I notice shifts within myself over time, and find I need to process those shifts at different points.
And I read a blog post by Amie McNee, (who I follow on the Instagrin). McNee’s IG feed is full of encouragement for writers, and generous, good-humoured (and honest) insights about her own writing efforts. And I really saw so much of my own experience (as I’m sure many can) in her aptly titled post, ‘Who the fuck am I to think that I could write a book?”.
Despite quietly making a living for the (best part) of 20 years from writing stuff (at times any old stuff), I am still reticent about to whom I confess my book dreams. Which sounds a bit coy when I’m writing about it here. But here is different. It’s my safe space.
And I’m guarded (as well as quite fiercely protective) about who I talk to about my writing, (and here I refer again to McNee’s post for all the reasons why. She says it better than me, anyway).
A conversation in a workplace recently reminded me of why I tend to only tell a trusted handful of people.
There were three of us in the room, and a colleague was talking excitedly about the work of fiction they’ve started writing. They were describing their daily routine, which was quite comical because they have to juggle all manner of humans, creatures, and timetables in order to carve out that writing time. But their enthusiasm was infectious, and they looked so happy to be finally writing the book that’s been following them about for years.
At the end of the conversation the colleague had to rush off somewhere, and there were only two of us left in the room. My companion rolls their eyes at me and says, “everyone’s a writer, these days, and there’s so much tatt being published”. Somehow I wasn’t surprised to hear such a jibe from this person. It’s why I’ve never told them about my own projects.
But I also thought it was possibly telling…so I asked them, “have you never considered doing some writing, yourself?”
They looked taken aback. Then they flushed slightly, “well I’ve done a bit. I was always good at it, and I think I have a decent book in me”.
Ah. The case of the Savage Spectator. Because it’s one thing to watch others do what you always wanted to do, it’s quite another to tear apart their efforts just because you fear your own vulnerability. I understand that when it comes to detractors, it’s often about them, and how they feel about their own creative lives.
Still, the Savage Spectator often thinks they could make something better than anyone else, and maybe they truly could. But they don’t usually follow through, or stick at it. Instead they turn on the efforts of others. But of course, this only reinforces (and in fact, proves) their fears about doing anything themselves.
That quote about “daring greatly’, by Theodore Roosevelt comes to mind. well, I’m with Teddy.
If you draw the attention of a savage spectator, take it as a sign that you’re heading in the right direction. And then forgoodnesssakes…ignore their thwarted commentary and keep on creating, or doing whatever it is you do.
This all got me thinking about the sense of embarrassment and shame that I used to carry about writing. And how this (with a lot of work) has thankfully shifted, (mostly, but not completely). But I’m also glad that I trust my instincts about with whom I share this part of me, because it truly feels as though I’m protecting a vulnerable child. And so I only tell a few people.
But writing is, for the most part, a joy. It’s the closest I come to the suspended time and breath of childhood play. It’s not fraught with expectations about the results. I write for the pleasure of writing and to get thoroughly lost in a world of my own creating. Where I can design everything I imagine, down to the last teapot. Even the editing feels that way.
And I don’t sit down with an attitude of perfectionism (death) or the feeling that it needs to be “amazing”, (anathema). Because, truly, that’s nonsense. It just needs to get written – whatever is in there. Then you can make it better, later.
It’s not as though I never look at what I’ve written and say to myself “you may get arrested for crimes against writing for that paragraph”. But then I tell myself not to be my own Savage Spectator. And that there’s always time for plodding through it all later. But for now, just get on that broom and let it fly!
If there are a couple of days in which I don’t write, I actually begin to go mad. I grind my teeth, I’m anxious and irritable, and probably not very good company. I’m distracted, forgetful, and weepy. I keep walking into rooms and wondering what I went in there for. I feel a vague sense of guilt and anxiety, as in a dream where you’ve left your baby sitting alone in a railway station, while you inexplicably go off somewhere else, and then wonder where you put the baby.
In short, I feel utterly lost. Then I remember why.
And so I keep writing.
Of course, I would love to be able to offer something of value, to even just a few souls. Eventually. Maybe. But then, maybe it doesn’t have even have to be in the form of writing. The writing itself just needs to be, because of some aching drive in me, and because stories themselves need to be.
Well, I feel that they do, anyway.
I have more words when they’re on a page than I do in the flesh, (unless you know me very well indeed. And then I’m about as bubbly as they come). Writing is my most clear pathway into the world. Besides my garden, and my conversations with herbs ; )
In fact, being in my garden and the natural world are closely entwined with the writing. I think this is why, these past few years, as I’ve moved further away from city rhythms (that always jarred with this country mouse), I’ve leaned closer into that old, true self.
That self that I kept pushing out of the way for years in order to be sensible, or out of a sense of shame, or a fear of criticism. Because I thought it was irresponsible to those I love to be this way. But that’s just a load of rubbish, (we all know that, don’t we?).
So that’s where I’m at. Although it’s possibly not a very interesting story, but maybe it could be helpful to anyone who may be feeling any self-doubts about creating. Because, you know, just do it…it’s never too late*. While we still draw breath, and all that.
The Romantic in me believes that the world desperately needs art and beauty and magic and healing. Now more than ever. I will never stop believing that.
I have a project that I’ve completed, but it’s taught me that I really don’t like writing historical fiction. It surprised me (I had a lot of surprises writing that one) to learn that I love to write fantasy, as well as magical realism. This from an avowed lit fiction woman! One who came so late to the fantasy genre, (I never used to enjoy it much). Growing up, I devoured Hugo, Cervantes, and Dickens. The Brontes, Hardy and Shakespeare. Wilkie Collins and George Eliot. Flaubert and DH Laurence. You get the picture.
So anyway, I’ve taken elements from that older project that I wanted to use and I’ve teased them out. I’ve kept one character, but now it’s an entirely new story and setting. Merlin has even played a role in this book as my moste wycked muse. In fact, it was Merlin, along with a very specific image that popped into my head that triggered the whole thing in the first place.
I’m deeply immersed in the story now, so much so that I may need to spend even more time there.
But right now, I’m going to sit out amongst my budding foxgloves, in the sunshine with my cup of tea and a book.
I wish you all the loveliest of days, and thanks for bearing with me thus far! xxx
*Never. Too. Late. Jo reminded me of that, as well.