Creative Writing

Catching a Breather

I’ve been most remiss in powering on with these somewhat abstract posts and in the process probably broken all the rules, both written and unwritten, of blogging. So I thought today would be a good day to stop, take a breather from the frantic pace of NaNoWriMo and blow the cobwebs off the blog.

I’ve been camping out in the experience of Twitter for the last few months, soaking it up, figuring it out and meeting some fantastically creative and inspirational people from across the globe, making what I hope will be mutually beneficial connections. It’s been a blast and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m an introspective isolationist by nature so pushing myself out into social networking has been painful, all the more so when, on joining my Facebook High School group recently I was asked “who are you exactly?” Humbling stuff indeed and a testament perhaps, to what Adolf Coors IV meant when he said, “We wouldn’t worry so much about what others think about us if we thought about how seldom they do.”

I initially signed up for Twitter in 2007, wrote a couple of inane comments, felt totally uncomfortable and could see no point to it, promptly deleting the account. As a result I missed a wonderful opportunity to Twitter my way along a 10,000 mile road trip which took me through 21 states, from New York to Vancouver, BC via Missouri and back, travelling the length of I 40, the old Route 66, in the dead of winter. Who knew I would encounter a foot of snow in Flagstaff, AZ yet be sweating in a T-shirt in Longmont, CO in February? I wish I could go back and do it again, just for the fun of trying to encapsulate the experience 140 characters at a time.

I have no idea what took me back to Twitter other than perhaps curiosity to see how it had developed. At first I found myself paralysed by worry about whether I actually had anything of relevance to say. Perhaps many people arrive at this point sooner or later. In my case, it started with questioning the validity of my thoughts, building to a crescendo of self-doubt, and the inevitable 3:00am conclusion that I had absolutely nothing to say that anyone would want to hear —that there was just the white-noise of vacuity going on in my head. Hopefully I’m beyond that stage now although I’m not entirely sure such doubts will ever completely disappear.

Of one thing I am certain, I have the unquestionable ability to prevaricate and never more so than with the things I have allegedly always wanted to do, yet at the same time being a vociferous advocate of the adage that says, if you really want something badly enough, then you just get out there and darned well go for it.

Such is my skill in this, my specialist subject, that upon taking stock of my life and the opportunities not taken, it was glaringly obvious my most polished ability was that of producing reasons why I wasn’t writing —too busy, not focused enough or not confident enough — to write my magnum opus. You know the one? The one good novel we tell ourselves we’ve all got inside us.

I’ve used them so much that these reasons have simply become a set of old and worn-out excuses for not getting my life into gear and getting on with it. For not exploring the possibilities and rising to this most personal challenge.

Writing is not new to me, I’ve written everything from face-down-on-the-keyboard ISO manuals to sermons—yes, sermons —pretty good ones as it happens. I’ve written technical manuals, reports, dissertations, essays, discussion papers, business and marketing plans, proposals, web content and PR copy. Yet creative writing, my supposed heart’s desire, I have skirted cautiously around, run up to a couple of times and backed away. The fence too high, the going to hard, the competition too fierce— I don’t have an MFA, I’d tell myself and when the creative kids were taking English Lit and discussing Louis MacNeice, I was drilling languages, economic theory and statistics into my recalcitrant brain and taking a shot at the glass ceiling. I came up with every excuse in the book. I’ve been so scared of the failure to achieve my holy grail, that the risk of the challenge was too great even to give it a shot.

Taking my own advice is a tough pill to swallow, particularly when it involves pushing through the barriers of my comfort zone and laying my fragile ego bare to the critical eye and tongue of others. Watching what I believe to be elegant prose dispassionately dissected by instructors and writing groups, feeling my self-belief shrivelling under the withering glare of public exposure, sometimes I find the urge to wallow in self-pity overwhelming. That my command of grammar is more sketchy than I thought and my language is littered with clichés, has been and continues to be, a tortuous discovery which on a bad day can undermine even my most steely determination.

Yet I persevere, even if a little battered. I have pulled out the ten-year old outlines, three in fact, and the collection of shorts all written when I thought I had all the time in the world to waste, and I am currently blowing the dust off them to see if there’s a story to tell. New ideas are starting to perculate and my learning curve is steep, almost vertical somedays. I learn something new every day about my writing and about myself.

I signed myself up for NaNoWriMo 2009 and “won” by 13th day. I am glad to have taken the challenge. In some corners of Twitterverse, I saw a little anti-nano snobbery suggesting serious writers didn’t do nano and decrying both its validity and relevancy. Yet I have also seen many, many expressions of support and encouragement from writers, coaches, agents, editors and publishers. This is a debate, I think, which will run as long as some of this year’s nano novels. I am thankful to have taken part, if nothing else than for the sheer discipline of turning up for work everyday and the experience of the highs and lows that come with the territory.

Don’t worry publishers, I will not be knocking on your door this December with my hot little nano novel clutched feverishly in my hand — but next December, well, who knows—maybe one of those outlines will prove to have what it takes?