After yesterday’s pity party, let’s have some good/interesting news for a change.
I am writing a thing.
I am writing a book.
I have been writing it for a few weeks now. I was not sure how I felt about the fact that I was writing a book.
I’m still not sure about it to be honest.
All my life I have wanted to be a writer. I have attempted to write quite a few books/stories/poems. The books never got past the first few pages. The stories and poems were pretty dreadful. It’s all very well wanting to be a writer, but the difference between wanting to be one and being one is doing it, and I never thought I was any good at doing it.
I’m still not sure about it to be honest.
The one thing I am sure about is that I can write my blog. My blog has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. It has, over the last eight years, taught me how to write in my own voice. It has taught me that I have a platform where I can be heard, and it is me; not me who is a mummy or me who is a wife, or me who is the crazy lady at school. It’s me in all those guises, and none. It’s me when I’m feeling my power and me when I’m feeling vulnerable, and it’s taught me that it’s OK to be those things, and OK to say those things, and I’m still me, and nobody really wants to kill and eat me for it. I am so grateful for this. How I write here is pretty much how I think, but with more punctuation. My blog has saved my sanity, made me some excellent friends and given me some top restaurant recommendations, so – you know. It’s been all win for me.
Writing a blog and writing a book are different creatures though. A book needs structure. The blog, like my mind, pretty much flits wherever it wants to go. It’s why this blog never had a theme, except the theme of what it is like to live in my head. I never felt I had a story I wanted to tell badly enough to fill a book. The bones weren’t there.
They are now. Now I’m wrestling them into a recognisable skeleton. I’m not sure if it’s going to come out as a beautiful skeleton or a mutated botch with knuckles that scrape the floor, but it will be a skeleton. Then I will put flesh on it, and hopefully it won’t all fall off.
All the time I’m writing, I’m learning, which is hard work, and also interesting. Here is what I am learning:
I am learning to trust my gut. It does not matter how other people write, what other people write about, what other people like or don’t like. If I think about/listen to that stuff I write nothing. It paralyses me. So, I trust my gut and I write what I write, and it is my own thing entirely. I am not writing someone else’s book. I am not writing for someone else. I am writing for me.
Just because I am writing for me doesn’t mean I like/am happy with what I am writing. Mostly I feel it is not very good. I feel this as I write it. I feel this when I read things back to myself. I feel this as I plan forward. Just because I am not happy with it, I have learned, doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t write it. This seems weird, but I am O.K. with weird. I have allowed myself to believe that it might be better than I think. I am a pretty fierce critic of myself. I have allowed myself to believe that even if it’s not very good there may be things I have written in this first book that might turn into a much better second book.
I am learning that I must pace myself. I am averaging about 2000 words a day and this seems like slow progress to me, but it absolutely takes it out of me like nothing else I’ve ever written. I am battered by those two thousand words. Some days I hit a purple patch and get to four thousand. This is epic, but also uber exhausting. I am allowing myself to go at my own pace. If it takes me the rest of my life to write it, so be it.
I am learning that it is hard to leave my own voice behind. This book is not about me. It is not the voice of a 43 year old woman. It could be, as someone said to me when we were talking about it earlier. He is right. It could be, but the fact is that it isn’t. This isn’t that book. The voice of the book seems alien to me. I am unsure about whether this is because it is not very good (my self critic tells me this), or because it is different. It may be both. It doesn’t really matter. It is what it is, and I keep writing anyway. I feel like I am writing in my posh phone voice. I am writing anyway.
I am learning that I am really grateful for all the life I have lived so far and all the books I have read so far, because they all add to the book in ways that make it richer. I am allowing myself to be inspired by bits of art work, old memories, poems, books totally unrelated to what I am writing about, songs, anything I find inspiring and can add to the patchwork in some way, or that acts as a springboard. I am keeping notebooks full of inane jottings to keep track of things. They will never be auctioned off as my juvenilia at Sotheby’s, but I haven’t quite resorted to filling them with my world famous doodle of a cat’s bottom yet. I’m sure the time will come.
I am learning not to go back and edit what I have already written. I started doing this, and realised I was spending a lot of time changing the word ‘and’ for the word ‘also’ and then back again, and thinking this was writing. This is not writing. This is procrastinating. Now I plough on, editing only when I get really, really stuck and don’t want to walk away from the writing process yet. I just write, reams and reams of stuff that will probably end up ruthlessly slashed on the first edit. Who knows? I think I am writing a book. I may be writing a haiku. I just keep writing.
I am learning that I need breaks from writing. I cannot write for hours and hours. I need life to sustain me. I need to let my subconscious percolate through knotty problems I run up against. I need to arse about on Pinterest. I thought I could sit in an office for four hours at a time and bang out words. I was wrong about that. I do a lot of noodling about, but I keep writing, and the word count keeps rising.
Most importantly I am learning to call myself a writer. It’s really hard. I feel like a total fraud when I call myself a writer, even though, even before the book, it is the one consistent thing I do nearly every day of my life and apart from reading and eating biscuits, the one thing I have never given up on entirely.
I have been reading Amanda Palmer’s ‘The Art of Asking’. It’s good. It has a lot to say to me at the moment. I know this because it is making me feel very uncomfortable in places. It is about, as the title suggests, being able to ask for things we need, and being OK about being given them. This is not as easy as it sounds. The word shame, crops up a lot. I identify with that. Interestingly it intersects nicely with Jon Ronson’s book which I just finished: ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.’
Basically, I feel ashamed of saying I am a writer, because I am ashamed that someone will find me out and make me feel vulnerable about it. I feel ashamed of saying I am a writer because I am not a published writer. I feel ashamed about calling myself a writer because it isn’t a ‘proper job.’
I feel ashamed about saying I am a writer when I think about my friend Gavin, who writes real books and gets paid for them, and my friend Toby who is the most kick arse performance poet I know. These people are real writers. They write amazing things, and they’re brave enough to let other people look at them. I don’t feel like I can compare myself to them. I am literally not worthy.
I still feel all those things by the way. But here’s what I know.
I am absolutely going to write this book. I am writing the mother flipping hell out of this book already. I will finish it.
I am a writer. There is nothing to find out. I write every day. It sustains me. It makes me less nuts. It is who I am. I wish I had always been this sure about it. I don’t care if I never get published (this genuinely surprised me), I just want to write a book. When I have written a book I will dance on the table with joy, even though it might be the worst book in the world. It will be my worst book in the world. I don’t care if it isn’t a proper job. I haven’t had a proper job for nearly 17 years and I’m doing quite well considering. I hate proper jobs and I am very, very bad at them. This is probably because I am a writer. I wish I had known this back then when I was beating myself up for being the world’s worst employee.
As for the asking bit.
I am asking myself to carry on writing regardless. I am asking myself to answer; ‘I am a writer’ when people ask me what I do. I am asking myself to stop apologising to myself for saying; ‘I am a writer.’ I am asking myself to let go of some of that shame.
I am asking you to bear with me while I do this. Blogging may be even more sporadic than usual. I am asking you to not get too excited if getting excited about such things is your bag. It is going to be months in the making, and may never see the light of day.
I am asking you to cheer me on, quite quietly, you know. Just in case.