You have to find something that you love enough to be able to take risks, jump over the hurdles and break through the brick walls that are always going to be placed in front of you. If you don’t have that kind of feeling for what it is you’re doing, you’ll stop at the first giant hurdle. George Lucas
I ask you - who would sign up for the writing life?
Most days it feels nuts and I often think I'm the only person in the world doing it. And there are hurdles, many many of them, and as Mr. Lucas says, if you don't love it enough to beat down the bricks and leap over like Superman, well, it's a tough road.
I often think one of the hardest things of all about writing is self belief. You have to keep bolstering yourself up every day, because writing is done alone - it's just you - and you don't have a cheer leading squad in the living room encouraging you to keep going, well done, rah rah! You have to find that inner grit, that fortitude to keep going in the midst of all the rejections (they are part of the territory), all of the self doubts (I'm no good at this), the lack of money (can I afford to feed the cat this week? Of course but it means no beer money), the confidence-shaking thoughts of not being able to write anything that anyone will ever want to read (I am going to hide this under a rock).
The list goes on and on.
Fiona Kidman nails it in her memoir Beside the Dark Pool, ‘So you want to be a writer. Well, you must learn to live with yourself, however difficult that might be at times, because you’re on your own in this job; you need to make space in your life, settle on your priorities. A writer’s life is not spent in an ivory tower. Learn to accept that life is full of interruptions. You have children? Yes, of course, many of us do. Write for fifteen minutes a day – it’s better than nothing at all. No, I agree, this is not about craft and style but it’s about how to survive, which is the best I can tell you right now. Can I guarantee this recipe for success? No, of course not. Nothing is certain.’
Writing requires tenacity, true grit, persistence, determination. Be all of these things. You'll get there.
Allowing yourself time and permission to write, and acknowledging that it takes courage to do so, is something we'll talk about in my 'Feel the fear' Workshop on 4 August.
In her fabulous book 'Writing Down the Bones' Natalie Goldberg says,
Sit down with the least expectation of yourself; say, "I am free to write the worst junk in the world." ... If every time you sat down, you expected something great, writing would always be a great disappointment. Plus that expectation would also keep you from writing.
It took me a long time to understand this, years in fact. I could see no point in sitting down to write if: A. I was not going to produce something worthy of an award and
B. what I wrote would not be published.
I was also waiting for someone to say to me, 'You are A Writer! I give you permission to go forth and write!'
Those things didn't happen back then so, needless to say, I produced very little and was always disappointed. I beat myself up about what I believed to be a lack of talent and my inability to produce anything of note, and so eventually, I gave up and wrote nothing for about five years.
Phew. Thank heavens I got over that crap. In a way, I had to, because I was going ever-so-majorly-mad. I needed to write and create. I wasn't allowing myself to write and that wasn't good for me.
I was not giving myself permission.
I knew I could write but I didn't think it was worth it. It seemed fanciful, impractical, a waste of time because it would not earn me money. Besides, I didn't want to be alone at home, in my bathrobe and slippers, scribbling away in a notebook when everyone else was out doing stuff and having fun. Not that the cat was bad company, it's just that the writing life made me feel out of step with everyone and everything, and that was more important to me for a very long time.
Cue the crisis. It was bound to come, It was inevitable.
The advice I give to writers in my workshops is: 'Allow yourself to write and give yourself permission to write the worst rubbish in the world.'
And only you can do that. As author Dani Shapiro says, If you’re waiting for the green light, the go ahead, the reassuring wand to tap your shoulder and anoint you as a writer, you’d better pull out your thermos and folding chair because you’re going to be waiting for a good long while.
Warm up your creativity, come along to my 'Feel the fear and write it in anyway workshop' Saturday 4 August, Whangaparaoa Library, Auckland and you can bring your own dragon if you like. The Library doesn't mind.
Protect your writing time like a Hungarian Horntail protects its egg. Breathe fire, flap your wings, and bellow loudly.
You know how it is. When you sit down to write, people interrupt you. All you want is to take hold of that precious writing time, the hour that you have every other day to create, enjoy your wordsmithing, and get some work done on that writing project.
Other people in the house know that this is your time. You wrote on the whiteboard thing in the kitchen where everybody scribbles down what's needed at the grocery store and you used block letters in black: I WRITE TUES, FRI and SUN from 4pm - 530pm. DO NOT BOTHER ME.
And yet here they are, yapping at your door like tiny terriers. 'Mum, I need clean underwear.' 'Darling can I bother you for just one sec?' 'Hey flatmate, I need to get in there and grab a book off the shelf.'
You feel unsupported. People are not respecting the one or two hours that you have clearly established as your writing time, a part of your day where you don't want to be disturbed for anything except if the roof is falling in, and even then if you're deep into your work, you may not notice that calamity.
How do you protect your writing time from incursion by those distractors? These people, dogs, telephones, roof falling-ins are making it hard for you to write.
So what do you do?
Get ruthless, get mean, don't give in to those relentless knocks on the door requesting underwear, books, or can-I-bring-you-a-cup-of-tea-and-you-can-tell-me-what-you're-writing-abouts, the scratchings of the cat or dog, or inane requests for books that are really just feeble attempts to attract your attention.
As J.K. Rowling said, "Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.”
In my workshop, 'Feel the fear and write it anyway' we'll talk about those times when others don't recognise and respect our writing time, and we'll find ways to set the boundaries and guard our fledgling projects.
Join me for a real fire-breathing dragon workshop session. We'll make like Horntails.
Feel the Fear and Write it Anyway! (find out more)
Saturday 4 August 2018, 10.30am - 1.30pm
Whangaparaoa Library, Whangaparaoa, Auckland
In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway said, "You just have to go on when it is worst and most helpless - there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is go straight on through to the end of the damn thing."
It's a kind of despair and melancholy that I can certainly relate to - being in the thick of a project, having made good, promising progress, and then boof! It all falls to pieces, I have a crisis of confidence, I hear my internal gremlin saying, 'Call yourself a writer? What tripe! This writing is terrible. You'll never finish this load of drivel and why would you?'
Oh and isn't that the worst thing a gremlin can say to you? 'You'll never finish ...'? I find beginnings and endings very challenging, and I agree with wise Ernest when he says you just have to plough on and get there somehow.
Good advice but how do we do that when our confidence takes a hit, we lose our writerly bravado, our ability to sit down and work industriously? When we shrink into our shells, cannot look in the mirror and call ourselves 'a writer' without laughing or crying, cannot sit down in front of our computer or pad of paper without wanting to scream, or get up and have another cup of coffee or wipe the condensation off the window with an old towel or just go and sit alone on a hard wooden chair and say to the universe, 'What's it all for?' in an anguished tone.
Come to the 'feel the fear and write it anyway workshop' and we'll sort this out once and for all.
We'll boost our self confidence, find ways to keep climbing the mountain when the end seems like a distant gorilla in the mist. We'll do better at treating ourselves gently when the despair hits and patting ourselves on the back when we achieve.