On Writing, Pleasure, and the Savage Spectator.

ginghamspring
Brewing tea and making a batch of salsa verde, (we are addicted, chez Rapunzel’s).

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?”.

Yep.

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.

jasminegingham
my notebook for my current project. Filled with character details, plot notes and plans. My addiction to Paperblanks journals is notorious.

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.

12 thoughts on “On Writing, Pleasure, and the Savage Spectator.

  1. I sympathise with so much of this. And I’m endlessly delighted to think you are working on a project … no, say it bravely, wildly, lusciously : you are writing a book! … because I adore your writing. Sincerely I do. I adore the way you see the world and shape it into words, stories. There is good medicine in them.

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    1. Heheheee! Oh Sarah, you made me laugh at myself! Here I am calling it a “project”. You caught me out…it’s time for me to be a bit braver and just call it a book, fugoodnesssake! Goes to show you, I still have some issues to work on! And thankyou for your loveliest of words. xxx

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  2. I so love how you write here, and the very thought of you writing magical realism – my favouritist favourite – well, where do I pre-order?
    Thanks for this post. It gave me something I didn’t know I needed. Xx

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  3. “the savage spectator”…brilliant! i’ve seen a LOT of that…i’m an un-savage spectator—no criticism of others’ works in progress, just a striking lack of ability to get my own creative moments out there. i am the queen of Start-Not- Finish Town…i often say that my literary medium of choice is poetry because i’m too lazy to write an actual book or even story. in fairness, that’s not really true. or not entirely true. i write poetry because i can’t help it, because it’s the way i think (in images), because i’m in love with language, because it straddles a line betwixt visual art and written art, because it is the language of my soul…but the lazy thing is true too. i think.

    i’m pretty excited to think that one day we might get to read a book you have written. and by pretty excited, i mean WILDY ANTICIPATORY. i can’t wait to get my copy of “tatterdemalion” this december; but waiting to read your book would be even more fraught. and that it might be magical realism? i’ve never quite stopped suspecting that it really exists in reality…BRING IT ON.

    chez moi, the leaves are turning, the weather has (finally!) turned cool. i have purple chrysanthemums in bloom, which makes me happy. woolens and velvets and suedes and boots are being worn, and basking in the sun is now a pleasure instead of purgatorial. my time of the year has arrived at last…

    oh, and yes—it’s never too late. for anything…

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    1. I do relate to having many false starts with things. And there are certain things I’m definitely a spectator in, (a lot of things, actually). I actually love the idea of you writing poetry. And I can imagine you doing so, because you have a gorgeous way with imagery and language. I truly hope you do write more.

      Tatterdemalion! Oh yes. Thankyou for the reminder!

      And I’m quite embarrassed now at your lovely and encouraging words. Eeek.

      I’m very happy to hear that autumn has finally made it to your part of the world. And even though I’m only just emerging from under layers of wool, (and quite enjoying feeling warm again, for the first time since March), your writing about Autumn textiles makes me sad to see all that scrumptious attire assigned to the back of my wardrobe.
      Enjoy! xxx

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  4. never. ever. too late. ever. true story.

    so much of what you write here speaks to me….it makes me wistful, actually,because i’ve got a brand new set of matching baggage attached to writing that has sort of sucked the joy out of it a bit. so i’m trying to unload that odious luggage by just pootling about in notebooks, scribbling random jots and characters and, not surprisingly, descriptions of tea pots.

    but, ’tis also a seasonal thing for me and now that the weather is turning, so are my thoughts more often to the story burbling away on my mental back-burner.

    oh, the Savage Spectator!! ye gods!! knowing how to recognize such a beast is almost as disappointing and off-putting as being an unwitting victim. so much so, i hate to tell *anyone* *anything*. i’m getting to the point whereupon the subject of writing comes up and i promptly change it. except among my Nearest and Dearest in the digi-verse.

    i’m beyond delighted that you’re beavering away at a new project…and even more delighted to know that it’s magical realism (slight bias here but so what?). it’s my very best favourite both to read and write. 🙂

    much love to you! xoxoxoxo

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    1. Ah, Mel, I have found that same thing – acquiring new luggage, just when the old has been sent on its way. And personally, I have found descriptions of teapots to be surprisingly therapeutic in this instance
      : )

      I’m with you utterly on the seasonal thing. I’m writing more now, before the hot, dry season hits. And when it does I’m just going to potter about with words, without pressure, or guilt. Because I’m anticipating the fallow period that accompanies Summer for me. I shall be thinking of you often in your increasingly cooler climes, immersed in your story worlds.

      And somehow I’m not surprised that so many kindreds love magical realism. To me it makes a lot of sense in how we look at the world.
      Lots of love, dear heart. xxx

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  5. ‘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.’

    This quote makes me heart sing!!
    Thank you for this beaufiful honest piece of writing. ❤️ Excited to see where you’re headed.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, and for your lovely comment Amie. Your words have frequently given me inspiration, as well as a boost of morale, just when I’ve needed one : ) I think you remind many of us who are scribbling away that however lonely writing can be, we’re not alone in that experience. So thankyou for that.

      Wishing you the very best with your own writing! xxx

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