June 11, 2013
It just occurred to me, why I'm mentally ill. I like how I don't dress that reality up, too.
I'm reading The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova (author of International Bestseller The Historian) and this passage here is the thread that has started my thoughts a-weaving:
“It was not illness to let another person – or a belief, or a place – take over your heart. But if you gave away your mind to one of those things, relinquished your ability to make decisions, it would, in the end, render you sick – that is, if your doing that wasn't already a sign of your condition.”
I have a lot in my head. If the things contained in my grey matter were transformed into a three-storey house, I would without a doubt be one of the people on reality shows to do with hoarding. They'd probably have to film through windows and send in fibre optic cameras on account of not being able to gain access.
I read regularly and on account of having studied Social Sciences, focussing on philosophy and politics for my degree, I have many questions wandering my neural pathways. I also have hundreds of random thoughts and feelings. I have dreams and ideas, stories and scraps, fantasies of other lives; a pile of broken hearts for characters that I've psychologically loved and died over (Robb Stark, anyone?) during my fictional adventures.
I guess most people pick a few things and drown the rest out. I'm not special for having all of this, plus more, crammed – suppressed – in my bottomless memory. But what sets me apart from most people is the same thing Kostova has described: stories have taken over my heart and I have given away my mind to them.
I came to this conclusion at 1am this morning, laying awake after a midnight stint of writing because my brain wouldn't let me rest until 500 words, no matter how bad, had been pulled into existence. The fact that I turfed myself out of bed at midnight to make a coffee and then go into another room to write instead of sleeping is indicative of me giving myself up to writing.
Before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keys), I blind myself to reality and embody the story. Kind of like Will Graham from Hannibal but without the corpses. I tend to work forward too, then rewind whereas Will traces everything back to profile people. But that's besides the point. What I mean is that I erase everything around me and then superimpose the fictional world I'm building on the remains and become the main character.
I experience everything I design for them, because I am them. I am walking through their environment. I have quit being Sam and become …
Writers do this, they must do. Some must do. It's a beautiful way of building an authentic world. I draw particular attention to my personal approach however because I give myself up completely. I did it the other day, during a stroll, and when I came back to the world around me, I was in a different place without any memory to tell me that I had arrived there. And then I quickly assessed which version was real: the place I'd returned from or the place I'd returned to.
Part of me wants this 'slipping' to calm down so that I may become grounded and lead something of a normal(ish) life. A bigger part of me is prepared to give up even more to be lost. I believe the only thing that prevents me from going the way of Robert Oliver, Kostova's suffering artist, is that I'm not 100% dedicated to writing. I'm not at that stage, yet.
And if I get there? I'll have a choice to make, I guess. What do I want more? Complete immersion or not? Do I want to give away that last bit of myself to the thing I'm obsessed with? Or, can I find a balance. Can I develop a way to be immersed and valued at the same time for being devoured by all of the things that are held in my brain.
Who will look at me and see a person in need of support, patience and love for life. I think those will be the things I need, the things I need now in fact, in order to survive the mental illness I now recognise as twin to my obsessions.
Photo by Paul G
May 6, 2013
I think change is a beautiful thing. I’d hate to be stuck in the same pattern and denied variation.
March 19, 2013
February 10, 2013
I'm a scatty writer. I have around 150 words on a sheet of paper at the moment, a piece of flash fiction under construction for a competition. My bid to fulfil a promise to myself this year: get some fiction published. Anywhere.
I'm not lacking in opportunities.
What gets at me is that when it comes to sitting down to write, I dedicate myself wholeheartedly to doing so. But then I end up doing this – distracting myself with some other medium – instead of focussing on the goal.
It's no mystery and nothing to worry about. What I'm doing is simultaneously discovering and destroying the self-imposed myth that writers sit down and write, like a river cuts a path and flows, unrelenting. Now when I get into a groove, the words come quick, but most of the time I start off doing something I imagine to be the staple of most writers: staring into space.
It's my bread-and-butter, watching everything and nothing in my peripherals whilst fragments of what I'm writing float about and join up, decide they're not right for each other and break up. Between those thoughts are other things: this post; which vinyl album I'd next like to invest in; whether I've messed up a quest on Skyrim; how can I connect two elements of a story to make them symbiotic; I'll email about that short course to give me a leg up; what should I write for this bit now that I can't identify anymore rogue thoughts.
And whilst all of that is drifting and colliding, the story I'm working on is fermenting. I don't believe that procrastinating (as I am now) is detrimental to my writing. I think, without it, I'd write a lot more crap than usual.
It's a trick though, to find the balance between procrastinating and doing nothing.
I blame a lot of my inactivity on my health. It's true: some days are just nasty and those are the days where I need to pea-bug in order recover and prevent myself from getting worse. That sort of behaviour becomes tattooed onto me and results in days where I 100% believe that I can't lift a pencil, that doing so will be pointless because whatever I put down on the page will be empty and worthless.
'Pea-bugs', by the way, are what I used to call wood lice when I was a kid because they curl up and look like peas when threatened.
No writing is worthless. All writing, whether it grows and is sent out into the adult world of scary, discerning readers or is screwed up and tossed away after five minutes, has value. It has value because of the effort it contains, the thoughts that have happened around it and the decisions that have been made about its future. These are all essential processes with which, at least for me, writing would be dead without.
I welcome distraction but am vigilant against despair. One stops me from being too serious whilst the other makes me so serious, it disables me.
If there is one thing I can do, it's find a pencil and a sheet of paper, and commit acts of words. That ability is open to the elements of life, like everything else, which is why I always take the time to follow a stray thought, avoid the issue at hand and spend some time exploring so that the creative brain in me can bubble unconsciously.
Watching a kettle boil doesn't make it boil any quicker or better.
September 26, 2012
Writing is easy.
All you do is put one word in front of the other.
August 14, 2012
Danuta Kean, Mslexia's Guest Editor, has no need for a hammer. Her recent article on how women cope with working, parenting, earning enough to get by and then finding the time to write should be read by anyone who thinks writing is easy but most of all, by those who profit from writers, especially women writers who weild their pens. But something bothers me.
A significant demographic of writers female, male, gender neutral, transient – the lot – are missing. And as a disabled writer, I'm missing too.
Most of my readers know I was diagnosed with Fibromylgia / M.E. / CFS a couple of years back but have lived with it for over four. I'm lucky to have not been confined to a wheelchair like some people who live with the condition, but I have my regular share of days confined to bed because it's too painful to move and exhausting to breathe.
I read Danuta's article, thrust my fist in the air … and then slowly drew it back down as pain ricocheted from my elbow, down my arm to my fingers, and back up to my shoulder and into the blades of my back. The pain touched every bit of my arm on its journey: nerve, muscle, ligament, joint, bone.
If women feel guilty for not coping as well as they should, then I, along with every other writer out there who lives with ill health, feel twice as guilt-ridden. Not all of us can break through and earn our way.
Kudos to those who do storm the path by the way. You're an inspiration.
I haven't written for days because I'm riddled by my condition. How do I cope with that? I don't. I shut everything off and forget about writing and finishing my novel. I would trade a hectic lifestyle and all-nighters for the briefest of feature articles if it meant I could slip in an hour or so of writing, free from pain and sickness. It feels as much of a dream as my novel does.
So I want to know, if you're like me, how do you cope? How do you get through the day with your illness? How do you react to being told not to let it beat you when you feel like a thousand leagues of shit has been beaten from you?
Women writers are pulling it off one way or another and I reckon they deserve proper recognition and space for that, but so do all of the writers out there, published or unpublished – famous or not – who live with long-term physical and mental illness.
At least recognise us.
I want to continue typing after I'm done here but the pain and the tiredness and the effort is too much for me today. Maybe tomorrow it will be better, for all of us.
February 18, 2012
Finish reading A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
- Finish the draft of my short story in preparation for either the Mslexia 2012 Short Story Competition or the Bristol Prize
- Complete the first wristwarmer I’m knitting and begin the second one
- Complete sock 1/2 that I’m knitting
- Write the next post to continue the ‘Creativity for Agoraphobiac’ series
- Draft ideas for my novella
- Redraft Scene 2, Chapter 6 of Trace
My yoga practice Write letters to friends
- All of the above without exhausting myself
Update: It’s almost 5 pm and I’ve barely touched the list. Some of this will have to be moved to tomorrow.
Update 2: Getting there. I’ve decided to pick three more I know I can accomplish by the end of the day. Number 11 obviously isn’t one of them…
Update 3: So picking three was a bit adventurous. Moral of the story: be realistic about what you can achieve in one day. I’ll do more tomorrow.
January 16, 2012
I am totally avoiding a body of writing at the moment.
Lordy it’s been a while since I was here; look at all of this dust. But dust is cool because once you get past the yuck-factor of it being mostly composed of your dead skin, you realise you can write in it. Make smiley faces.
I didn’t do too bad last year, did I? I kept up with this blog at least until I got into a serious relationship with my MA and then forgot my password to the account. It’s taken me about a week to get access again.
I did extremely well on my MA by the way. A distinction. Who would have thought!
For someone who was repeatedly told as a child that I was retarded, that I was never going to amount to anything, that I’d spend my life stacking cans of beans at the Co-op, and then being punished and / or ridiculed for the slightest whiff of intelligent thought, I think I’ve done well.
Fucking brilliant I’d say. And I don’t often swear in my blog. That’s how proud I am. That’s how wrong everyone has ever been about me.
Anyway, that’s enough of my triumphant har-har for the moment.
I don’t think I got round to fulfilling all of my tasks for 2011 and considering it’s now 2012, to hell with them; I have a lot more to be getting on with.
With roughly a third of my novel composed as a draft, it’s time to resume our intense love affair. I took a break after finishing in August, intending to start again in October but ended up falling ill. I guess there’s only so many months I can get away with reasonable health before my exhausted body and unhinged mind find a weak spot and bring me tumbling back to earth with a prolonged and painful thud.
I’m still recovering.
Now is the time of the novel. As such, I won’t be on here as often as I was in my glory days last year, but I will be focusing on my tumblr blog instead. I set this up to act as a companion for my novel as I go through the motions, a place to explore the ideas and techniques specific to this project.
I’m thinking of starting another soon to serve the same function for a Novella I’d like to write but this is all still being thought through very carefully. Updates will be included on here if there are any.
I guess I’ll occasionally return here to rant about something, explore a profound moment or feeling, or reflect on the books that I’ve been reading. I hope none of my followers are disappointed. And yes, I know there are quite a few more of you than when I last looked.
Welcome. I hope you are all well.
For those who have ventured from Tiny Buddha, I will also be making more contributions to the site in the near future, but again with less ferocity as before.
Sometimes it’s nice to take a back seat for a while and concentrate on other things so that you can refresh, find yourself, and prevent the inevitable decay of an over-worked ambition or hobby. I know I’ve mentioned it here before, but I’ll say it again: there’s no need to be ‘on’ all the time, neither is there anything to be gained from being so.
Now. Back to the body of writing that I’m avoiding…
June 26, 2011
I can see this becoming a waypoint for all the moments when I shit myself because of what I’m doing.
My next task, probably one of the most important (which makes it all the more terrifying because if I mess this up, the novel caves), is to write a book within the book, not to illustrate the act of writing but to illuminate the act of reading.
My fear of writing this book is a form of transference, I think; an act of rebellion to displace the obligation to write a novel and claim it as mine, my own body of work. So in creating a fictional text that will secretly exist, will in all probability never be read, is a covert move.
I keep seeing a shape in my mind that reminds me of a type of screen saver. I want to say it’s doughnut-shaped but it has no centre or hole that would mark the boundaries of a centre that could be plunged into; it’s not a solid shape but a mass which moves and draws out from itself in a constant motion so that the thread at which it pulls creates an endless folding, a flowing of itself over and over, with no end and no beginning.
To write the novel is to write the book within the novel, the book that is a catalyst, a deference, a plot to avoid (a void?), and to keep hidden a personal motive in its writing; the horror of finding my own reading practices numb, devoid? There’s that void again.
Surface anxieties would present the image of an idiot, a bad reader, a poor thinker, a delusional dreamer. Beneath would be the hermit, the arrogant. How far do I want to go? Deeper?
At my subterranean best, I’m famished. I will risk the daylight to eat. Another part of me, one that I’d want to lock away, is waiting with those blank pages and the chance to write that book. Only that part of me knows what to say.
Writing demands that we connect with things that we don’t understand or know, things that are concealed in the everyday, the things we pay least attention to. The things that sit on the periphery.
Why else would the mundane scare us more than the mysterious?
June 20, 2011
I have nothing to say.
This was a stock phrase I dug out whenever I was scared of having my voice rejected, my thoughts and ideas trashed. Writing is not an easy practice. It’s hard on the brain and body but it’s also hard on the nerves. Writing scares the crap out of me. Why?
What if one day I really do have nothing to say?
I’ve got into the habit of calling myself ‘a writer’ which seemed like a great idea to begin with, only now there’s a need to prove it. Even though I’ve written a healthy number of articles for Tiny Buddha and had a piece of flash fiction displayed at The Horsebridge in Whitstable, I’m still considered ‘unpublished’ and few people take unpublished writers seriously. Unless they’re familiar with writing and publishing, people look disappointed when I tell them that I’m yet to be published. Working on my first literary novel isn’t good enough to illustrate how serious I am, it would seem.
I first encountered my fear of writing when I started my undergrad in Social Sciences. The degree needed me to write and I felt confident that I could, on an academic level at least. My grades for my first year were good but the kick in the privates came when I got my first essay back. The tutors agreed that I needed to learn how to ‘write’ an essay.
My A Levels were all exam-based and I’d never been tutored in essays, or any form of writing for that matter, before them. Getting that essay back made me feel a part of something but at the same time, it made me worry that whatever I committed to paper from then on would be judged and scrutinised.
Fast forward a few years to the first year of my MA Creative Writing degree; I took a wild module and chose a creative approach to an academic question. I wrote to the best of my ability at the time and as dreadful as this sounds, I wrote from the heart. I believed that what I was writing was worth reading.
The feedback from the second marker was bordering on cruel. Each criticism felt like they were there, smacking me in the face as I read. I accepted that my grammar wasn’t of a good standard – I’ve never been taught it after all – but their remarks about my own creative explorations of the question and the material I engaged with were heavy blows.
Now I was scared that my ideas were rubbish and not worth writing about.
I’m pleased to say that I’ve come a long way since then but the fear of writing remains with me. Nothing is worse than sitting down and knowing I have to write and not being able to produce anything, or worse, producing crap.
I lie awake at night wondering if I’m doing the right thing, trying to write this novel. I worry about the holes in my plot. I worry about my narrative drive being more of a narrative sleeping pill. I get scared because I’ve been given the thumbs-up and encouraged, and now all I can think of is failing. What if my writing is a mask and behind it is a sea of nothingness?
What if I have nothing to say? What if what I have to say means nothing?
I’m lucky. Forgive me for being a bit smug here but I’m lucky because I love writing and part of me knows that I have an ability to say the right thing to a reader, enough to make them swoon.
I say ‘writing and fear’ because they go hand-in-hand. They’re made for one another and I wouldn’t have it any other way because writing makes me question my fears about it. I learn from other writers like Chekhov and Tolstoy (and my patient tutor) not to run away from my fear but to walk into it and see what happens.
It’s through fear of writing that I come to understand my processes, the things that make me go back again and again to try harder, try something new.
I didn’t want to be too specific about my fears because that in itself is terrifying; I wanted instead to admit that writing scares me and show that … sometimes it’s okay to be jumpy and not know the right words or idea to make something complete.
A bit like this post. I’ll no doubt revisit this topic again in the future when I can find the courage.