Word by Word

ANNE LAMOTT – Bird by Bird

“I worry that Jesus drinks himself to sleep when he hears me talk like this.”

Much can be read from this line that comes from the book on writing and life advice by Anne Lamott.

1: Her mention of Jesus makes one think that she is religiously-inclined, that it is a significant part of her life, or that it plays a pivotal role in her daily decisions. From what I have read, that would be correct.

2: The fact that Jesus himself would become an alcoholic based on the things she says, kind of paints the picture of an insanely articulate yet unhinged, hilarious writer whose bark is worse than her bite, and who manages to make the darkest of themes, like even death, humorous.

From what I have read, that would also be correct.

Lamott has a wicked sense of humour. From the outset, I could tell that I would like her. Her witty, sharp, insightful remarks and views on the world, ability to poke fun at herself and allow us to see and hear all her very real insecurities and jealousies about being a human, and about being a writer, made me immediately sympathetic to her story. She’s honest and real about the struggles in a writer’s world, and let’s face it, trying to get into it in the first place, yet despite her stark frankness in the matter, suggesting that only a small number get to go on Letterman, she has put together this book in an effort to encourage and help aspiring writers, as she has often done in her writing workshops.

“The best thing about being an artist, instead of a madman or someone who writes letters to the editor, is that you get to engage in satisfying work. Even if you never publish your work, you have something important to pour yourself into.”

This book made me laugh, and it made me cry. It gave me some good hard advice, as well as some awesome little snippets and ideas on what I can do in my writing life to just generally be better at it.

So let’s begin Anne’s writing class. (I usually call writers by their surnames in my reviews but after reading this book I feel like I know her so well).

SET THE MOOD

“I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it…”

I got quite a few good tips from Anne on ways to improve my writing environment. Firstly, it seems simple, but using some kind of external trigger, like a candle, and the act of lighting it, when done repeatedly over time it can serve as a kind of switch for your writing conscious to kick in. This excited me because for my birthday I got given this beautiful candle in a glass jar, and the wick actually crackles as it burns (I actually picked the candle for myself and my parents paid, but same thing). As if I didn’t need further reason to get it, the lady behind the counter said “when the house is quiet, light it and listen to it crackle as you read a book.”

Um, what about write a book? God if she knew. So that will be my thing, the candle, in particular this most awesome-nest of awesome candles, the wicker-crackling candle.

And speaking of the conscious mind. The rational mind is probably our worst enemy. Second guessing ourselves, reading over what we’ve written, trying too hard, sticking to plans and not letting things flow – this all obstructs the natural story-telling and writing process. She says that characters are created in our unconscious mind, the area in which we have no control over, so it would come to reason that we should relax a little, try to listen to our intuition more, and just let the unconscious do its thing. She uses the metaphor of broccoli for her intuition, but whatever ‘voice’ it is that you can’t control within, as long as it works for you. I love the metaphor and vision of the butterfly, and it has significance for me on many levels, and with its random yet gentle fluttering, I’ve decided to watch this creature in my mind’s eye and follow where it leads me. Just as a green vegetable will work for Anne, a transformative insect will work for me.

Preparation-wise, Anne has index cards placed pretty much all over the place at her house, in her car, she even takes them with her on walks in case an idea, thought or inspiration strikes her. I have to say, when I’ve had a great thought and not had the necessary pen/paper/mobile to capture it, I whole-heartedly agree with Anne when she says:

“That is one of the worst feelings I can think of, to have had a wonderful moment or insight or vision or phrase, to know you had it, and then to lose it.”

There’s nothing wrong with needing a prompt to remember things. Being a mother herself, she offers a great insight into one reason you may need these cards in your life, something that despite my uber-organisation, I can totally relate with:

“When a child comes out of your body, it arrives with about a fifth of your brain clutched in its little hand, like those babies born clutching IUDs.”

There will be bad days. You will have writers block, which she says is less about being ‘stuck,’ and more about ‘filling up again.’ She tells her students to try to write at least a page of something, anything, dreams or streams of consciousness or memories, every day, and that on bad days to try and do this just to keep their fingers from becoming arthritic. And in the event of being ‘empty,’ to go out and fill up again.

“Writer’s block is going to happen to you. You will read what little you’ve written lately and see with absolute clarity that it is total dog shit.”

HOW TO WRITE

E.L. Doctorow once said “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” It was interesting to find this quote in Lamott’s book, because I had just finished reading Loon Lake before getting Bird by Bird, and it was in fact this precise Doctorow quote, reading it literally before his death, that rang very true for me.

I didn’t do a whole lot of research, or any writer’s workshops, or join any online writing groups when I first started on my book. I just went into it, with a handful of characters, some strong themes, and a round-a-bout destination in mind. I knew A, I knew somewhere E was going to come in, but then I didn’t know anything in between, just a rough Y and a hazy Z. It’s always comforting when you read that someone you aspire to, such as a successful writer, does the same thing you do, or confirms something you’ve always thought to be true. I never really thought of a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to write, I think we all just do what works for us, but this above metaphor that applies not just to writing, but to life, rang so true to me. Because from my A, B C and D sprang forward, and just by writing scene by scene, character by character, a whole story formed, and I surprised myself on multiple occasions.

You don’t need to see the path to your destination, nor even see your destination at all. Anne talks about ‘Short Assignments,’ and when you struggle in your writing to just think of getting one memory, one scene, one exchange out in front of you, enough that would fill up a one-inch frame. Focusing on one thing at a time is far less overwhelming than worrying about how your protagonist is going to confront the bad guy three chapters away.

“Your plot will fall into place as, one day at a time, you listen to your characters carefully, and watch them move around doing and saying things and bumping into each other.”

Writing can be a very difficult experience, something she admits for herself and for most writers she knows. Getting by is to write a shitty first draft. In this stage anything goes, even phrases like:

“Well so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?”

You just need to get anything down, no matter what it is. Her friend said:

“the first draft is the down draft – you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up….And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”

 “Vonnegut said, ‘When I write, I feel like an armless legless man with a crayon in his mouth.’”

This is so comforting.

You can even liken your writing to your dreams – the way one absurd scene just flows into another, so too must your writing be “vivid and continuous.” In discovering plot, Anne says her characters know where they are going, she just needs to stay with them long enough. She needs to care for them, polish them, and then suddenly they will show her the way. Another way to think of it is this:

“they need me to write it down for them because their handwriting is so bad.”

What about me then? I need my characters to do everything for me because my handwriting beats that of a doctors!

In writing, you need to revoke all control you have. You may be focusing on the fence, but the yellow sparkling flower in the corner of your mind-frame starts to sparkle and all of a sudden, it’s stolen the show. You must explore that.

“If you stop trying to control your mind so much, you’ll have intuitive hunches about what this or that character is all about. It is hard to stop controlling, but you can do it.”

Anne says that when she starts writing she wants to fill the page with witty insights so that the world will see how smart she is. Whoops. Where I fall into step with the favourable Doctorow quote, so too do I have to begrudgingly agree that I sing along with this writing flaw. But as you write, you want your characters to act out the drama of humankind, which doesn’t include your witty and ground-breaking life insights.

“…the purpose of most great writing seems to be to reveal in an ethical light who we are.”

FUNNY STORIES

Anne made me LOL so hard, that in my re-reading of notes I was still laughing out loud. Oh geez.

The two below cases in point I think really paint a great picture of the dual character-traits she encompasses. Take the story of when readers were surprised to hear that she didn’t love to garden like one of the characters in her book, that she had in fact been researching it heavily and ‘winging’ it instead:

“’You don’t love to garden?’ they’d ask incredulously, and I’d shake my head and not mention that what I love are cut flowers, because this sounds so violent and decadent, like when Salvador Dali said his favourite animal was fillet of sole.”

Oh my fucking lord. I love it.

(I was on a swearing frenzy following Loon Lake, so screw it let’s go).

(Let’s not make much of the fact that one quote on my calendar once said ‘Swearing exposes weakness not strength.’)

A second moment, where she is talking about paying attention to the world around you and using religious metaphors in doing so, displays the heavy theme of God in her life, while also reminding us that she doesn’t give a shit:

“There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness, a sign that God is implicit in all of creation. Or maybe you are not predisposed to see the world sacramentally, to see everything as an outward and visible sign of inward, invisible grace. This does not mean that you are worthless Philistine scum.”

Her chapter on jealousy is refreshing. If a writing friend of hers is successful with writing, sometimes she wants –

“for him to wake up one morning with a pain in his prostate, because I don’t care how rich and successful someone is, if you wake up having to call your doctor and ask for a finger massage, it’s going to be a long day.”

These images are so clear and paint such a humorous picture, and the fact that she does it all, making it appear so effortless, makes you realise how great of a writer she really is.

I can re-type countless funny moments and stories of hers, but I just need to do one more, I promise. I love the following mental picture. When researching for the name of the ‘wire thing’ used for wines, she called a winery to try and found out its proper name. The receptionist there didn’t know the name of it either so she transferred her to:

“a two-thousand year old monk. Or at least this is how he sounded, faint, reedy, out of breath, like Noah after a brisk walk.

And he was so glad I’d called. He actually said so, and he sounded like he was. I have secretly believed ever since that he had somehow stayed alive just long enough to be there for my phone call, and that after he answered my question, he hung up, smiled, and keeled over.”

Oh God. I love it!

Okay, back to the serious writing stuff (clears throat). Writing can be hard (duh Fred). Even for published professionals such as herself, there is still a lot of staring at clocks, staring at blank screens, and yawning. Making phone calls and distracting oneself with other tasks other than writing, is very normal. Sometimes voices would continuously harp at her, and she’s use a tactic a hypnotist once suggested to her, to imagine all the voices as mice, and to one by one drop them into a jar, turn the volume on the jar up and then down, and watch them claw at her as she then muted them. It’s interesting she mentioned this, since I have a kind of different picture, just something I use for when someone I can’t stand is driving me insane in my head. I imagine them as a ball, and with a baseball bat (for some reason it’s baseball, maybe because the ball appears to go very far during that game) I strike it so hard and so out of view that they are no longer seen, or heard.

Perhaps slightly violent, but it does the trick. You can use that for yourself, tell me how you go.

Anne talks of the publishing fantasy, and how it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. She mentions the early draft process, and when she gets her friends to initially provide her feedback on her work. When she doesn’t hear from them by the next day, she starts to think –

“… about all the things I don’t like about either of them, how much in fact I hate them both, how it is no wonder neither of them has many friends.”

When she gets to sending her writing to her editor and agent, her thoughts are equally as insane and hilarious, if not more so. She convinces herself that they are in cahoots, laughing their arses off over her book, now proclaimed the worst book ever written.

“At one point your editor is laughing so hard that she has to take some digitalis, and your agent ruptures a blood vessel in his throat.”

But it doesn’t stop there. On the date of publication, the blow to the ego comes when your phone ISN’T ringing off the hook, and the 5 people that turn up at your book signings, as well as the review that likens your book to dog poo, just makes it all seem not worth it. Additionally, dealing with people who ask “have you written anything I might have heard of?” while others claim they read everything and yet do not know your name, leaves little to be desired in the world of publication.

She makes the process sound quite shit. She is a great writer after all.

SAD STORIES

Just as I laughed, so too did I cry.

The sad moments made me tear up, quite bad, punching me hard in the heart. Perhaps some of the saddest material came in her section on ‘Letters,’ where she suggested that if you’re stuck in your writing, write an informal letter to someone you know. This has not only been a beautiful present to the person in question in her own life, but has captured a moment of time that will never be forgotten.

The three letters she speaks of are the ones she wrote to her Dad, her best friend, and the couple of a boy who passed. The first two ended up being published books, with both her Dad and best friend getting to read her book dedicated to them, before they passed. It was especially hard for me to read the part of her Dad dying, since I have someone in the immediate family who died from the same thing that struck her Dad. It was shocking, and frightening, to say the least. The fact that she got to write something for her Dad and he read it, and it got published, is heartbreakingly bittersweet.

I was almost crying my eyes out at her third example of an informal letter. A couple she knew had lost their son at 5 months of age. He had been called ‘Cloud Boy’ by his mother’s friends: because he had been resuscitated at birth, he was neither here, nor there. She wrote a piece about him and it was broadcast on radio, and the fact that I had earlier been very cranky with baby girl, just broke my heart. My note on this read:

‘Makes me feel guilty for getting upset earlier at baby girl –big hug later :)’

Page 205, has quite frankly the best story of giving, EVER. It is so painfully moving and inspiring, that I cannot will myself to re-tell it here, in fear of butchering it to death. So just do yourself a favour and get the book and read the damn thing, especially page 205.

Finally, the following poem is one she re-tells, as having thought of it in regards to a student of hers who wasn’t doing so well in his writing. Its fragility is touching.

“Above me, wind does its best

to blow leaves off

the aspen tree a month too soon.

No use wind. All you succeed

in doing is making music, the noise

of failure growing beautiful.”

LIFE

The title of Anne’s book Bird by Bird comes from one of the best stories, in my opinion, to come out of the book (apart from page 205). It is so relevant to life, that I’ve found myself quoting and muttering it ever since I finished reading it.

Anne tells of the story of when her older brother had a report due on birds the next day, which he had had 3 months to write. Close to tears, surrounded by bird info, and overwhelmed by the hugeness of the task, his Dad had put his arm around him and said “Bird by bird buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Now I find that I’ll be doing something and I just go ‘bird by bird.’ Some passer-by may think it means I’m collecting the aviary kind, but the significance is just so great, I can’t help but to say it out loud.

She discusses libel, which is one of the most memorable and humorous lessons in the book. If you must make someone horrible from your life a character in one of your books (God help me, I threaten every twerp I meet in my mind with ‘oh you wait ‘til I make the world hate you in my novels, mwa ha ha!’) change all their traits so they can’t sue you, and make them impossible to trace and identify from the people in their life… and of course give them a little penis so they won’t come forward even if they’re suss on you.

It’s Okay. Anne says this every so often, and always with a capital ‘O.’ There is some significance, and I’ve been trying to work out what… suggesting that Okay is a state of being, holding much importance, it all goes back to being alright…. You got me, I’m not sure. But just remember all you writers out there, it will all be Okay.

She talks about all the great things about being a writer, which hey, we all knew already, right? (And if you didn’t, what kind of masochist are you?) Even though she says that publishing is in fact, a fantasy, telling her students that in writing “… devotion and commitment will be their own reward,” she also says:

“But the fact of publication is the acknowledgement from the community that you did your writing right. You acquire a rank that you never lose.”

Writers “get to stay home and still be public.”

Something I’ve always believed: you get the best of both worlds. I did come to question myself, as I have on so many occasions: why do I do it? Why write? Why do I feel the pull, the need, the obsessive urge to get everything down on paper? I journal passionately, having captured my entire pregnancy, the first year of baby girl’s life, and I have since continued, picking up from where I left off years ago and beginning to journal all of my life again.

There are many reasons. First, so we are not lost. One day we will die, and all that will remain of Hubbie and I, which our children will be able to hold onto, are photos, memories, and this. My journals. My journals will give them a view into our worlds like no one else can. Despite our absence, our stories that we’ve passed on to them, and my words, will still be alive.

This is something that I find so magical. That I can be reading ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ written by Shakespeare, and laughing out loud over the lines he wrote hundreds of years ago. That is amazing, that is inspiring, that kind of life-transcendence, for a story to be living and making people feel long after you’re gone.

Of course, I love to write. It is almost an obsessive urge in me, where I need to get stuff down. Additionally, I have a tremendous story in me that just needs to be told. I believe so whole-heartedly that it will resonate with people out there, that I simply must do whatever it takes to get it heard. I will try.

I don’t always love to write. But I always have to do it.

“But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes. And this is another reason to write: people need us, to mirror for them and for each other without distortion…”

The world will always need writers. Stories have existed from the beginning of time, and will always be a necessity. You don’t have to write just for yourself: “Risk freeing someone else.” Make someone else’s day, help someone going through the troubles in their life, by telling them your story.

One of the greatest things her father taught her was to pay attention. And that in itself is beautiful. Going somewhere with a sense of purpose, noting things down, whether because you’re going to review it later (a restaurant you’ve been to, or a book you’re reading) or simply to capture the details for a written piece, either fictional or personal.

“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore.”

In closing, this is a tremendously inspiring and informative book, one all writers should read, published or not. I’m not sure whether it is better than Stephen King’s ‘On Writing:” that I would need to read again, since his I read during my writing book process, and Anne’s one came much later in the game. But both are equally entertaining in their own way, and really, we should be grabbing ALL the advice that successful writers send out to us, and not question it! Take it, absorb it, memorise it, and then with your arms full run for the hills.

I want you all to take these two quotes I present from Anne’s book, and use it to fuel your story, your passion, and your purpose.

“All of us can sing the same song, and there will still be four billion different renditions.”

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”

And now run.

Please let me know your thoughts on Bird by Bird in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you. 😊

The best song EVER for Valentine’s Day

It’s that time of year where you might be looking for Somebody to Love, or asking the Universe ‘where is the Love of my Life‘?

Red roses and heart-shaped gifts bombard you wherever you go. Save Me you think, from this commercial madness. It’s a Crazy Little Thing called Love and you feel like you need to Play the Game, watching happy couples and saying ‘I Want to Break Free from this madness.’

It’s a Hard Life, walking around in a kind of Bohemian Rhapsody, wanting something more, but feeling like it’s all kind of a Bicycle Race to the finish line. But you are solo, Another One Bites the Dust, and you shout ‘I want it all!’ (before realising I’m Going Slightly Mad because everyone just stopped and stared at you).

But on this day, you must understand, there is no US, versus THEM. Loved-up couples versus stunning singles. United, We are the Champions, and it is A Kind of Magic to realise that love pulses through us all, whether we are in romantic relationships or not.

This is the good part, so Don’t Stop Me Now.

Love is all for all, despite what the brochures and hotel deals and restaurant specials tell you today. You need to Spread Your Wings and see that love is for everyone to enjoy… sure it can be between two people in a relationship who love each other, but that is not where it stops.

It’s between parent and child.

Between siblings.

Between friends.

Between work colleagues.

Between a girl and her grandparents.

Between cousins.

Between you and your pet.

It is everywhere for us to feel, and appreciate, and celebrate.

And therefore I present to you, the best most appropriate and loving Valentine’s Day song for ALL…

You’re my best friend.

I love this song so much, because you can interpret it into any way you wish today.

Happy Valentine’s Day. 💕

“You’re my sunshine

And I want you to know that my feelings are true

I really love you

You’re my best friend.”

 

Life Rules by SmikG #2 About always moving and celebrating your small wins

Keep this list handy…

#2 Celebrate the small things. Forget that which does not serve you. Keep moving and looking forward, no matter how small your steps may be.

gaelle-marcel-gIj7RJPAkJA-unsplash

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Explanation: I’ve had a new approach of late, and didn’t realise how much I had implemented it, until I saw it happening in each part of my life.

I have been trying to eat healthier and more naturally, using healthier sweet alternatives when I feel I need them, instead of any processed forms of sugar.

I am generally a healthy eater. And I am highly realistic about what I can and can’t do. Each time I make the right choice for a meal I give myself a quiet pat on the back.

And each time I indulge in something considered ‘naughty’… I still enjoy the snack fully. I let myself appreciate each bite. Then I forget all about it, while reminding myself that I am being normal.

Be kind to yourself when you are trying, when you are learning. If you can’t forgive yourself and move on for not making the ‘appropriate’ healthy choice, then how do you expect others to forgive you for anything?

I am very realistic about these things. I don’t believe in limitation and diets. If you focus on those words, well no one is inspired to do better for their bodies. But focusing on health, vitality, energy and enjoyment, with treats when your body truly wants it, not just because you reach for it by habit… that is important.

Likewise with movement, and exercise. I am not doing near enough what I wish I could do. But I have a health app on my phone. It tracks my steps, my sleep, and my daily movement.

Some days I hit my target. Other days I smash it. Some I am not even close.

And still I move on, telling myself that each step, regardless of when and where it falls, brings me closer to health.

And then… there’s books. My love. ♥ The online book club I am part of reminds me on a daily basis how much I am not reading. Readers post books they are reading over the weekend, discuss their favourite authors, and what didn’t work in that last outback romance they just read in a 6 hour free block…

And I sit there bemoaning the fact that I have so much to write.

Hubbie reminds me of this. “You are writing a book! They aren’t!”

Sure. He is right. But still I try. A page here and there, a chapter a night, sometimes…

Then there are all those book reviews I have to do. And like I said, ALL that writing. Sure, I don’t have to write those reviews… but I promised myself when I started all this that I would, and if I break my promise to myself, what chance do others have to depend on me?

Harsh yes. Hard definitely. But one day I will be more caught up, when word by word, bit by bit I reach a stage I consider socially acceptable for a writer to be ‘behind’… LOL.

And despite all this… I keep moving forward. I don’t stand still. I may only do the tiniest thing every day, but I am still doing something. I am still, moving forward.

It’s the only way to go.

Note rule number 2!

Rainbow after the rain

I have been seeing a lot of rainbows lately.

It’s made me think of them, their meaning and emergence in our atmosphere, and specifically, the metaphor we can use for them.

I saw a rainbow out our lounge room window just the other morning before dropping off baby girl at school. We were eating breakfast, and amidst the grey skies and falling drops outside, I spied one half of a rainbow, across the water:

IMAG9391

But that wasn’t the first one I saw that week, and it would not be the last. It was only when driving home from school later that day, amidst wispy rain, that we saw one again.

As I explained to baby girl what had to happen in order for there to be a rainbow… something struck me, in my casual explanation.

“There has to be rain, and sunshine,” I told her. “And then a rainbow will appear.”

I was immediately flung deep into my whirlpool of deep thoughts, as I often am, tuned in to my surroundings as I am constantly used to taking mental notes… life as a writer, empath, or both.

There has to be rain, and sunshine, for a rainbow to appear.

Huh. Even life was teaching us lessons.

The proper definition of the rainbow occurrence is something like this:

  • It is a natural spectrum that occurs in the sky after rain falls.
  • As sun shines onto falling rain drops, it causes reflection and refraction.
  • The rain drops act like tiny prisms, bending in the sunlight to be reflected back to us as the band of colours that we see as a rainbow.
  • This is why the rainbow is always directly opposite the sun.

Hmm, I pondered. There has to be the presence of both rain, and sunshine.

And if you were looking at it from a non-geological perspective, not focusing on the fact that the planet needs both rain, and water to replenish and renew, to grow and keep things living…

Well, most people tend to regard rain, in their every day life, as a nuisance. Bad.

And they tend to think of sunshine, as a welcoming smile on their face… Good.

And just like the rainbow to the left of my vision as I drove along in the rain, it dawned on me.

Even Mother Nature says there has to be the presence, of both good, and bad, in order for something beautiful and miraculous to occur.

Because that’s what they were, right? Miracles? Considered a sign of good luck in many cultures, with the pot of gold at the end of it the answer to all of life’s problems…

And so on this last weekend, in amidst grey skies and endlessly rainy days, and coincidentally or not, the Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year where we receive the least amount of sunlight…

We also received rainbows. A sign from Mother Nature, that despite this cold Winter, a respite is coming?

That despite the long and hard days, the hours of sunlight per day will be increasing soon?

That sometimes, bad things have to happen, before we get good things coming to us?

Maybe, the raindrops falling from the sky are the horrible hardships we endure, where we question life and the world and ourselves..

And the sun is our effort and determination to not give up, to keep pressing on, and to see it out no matter what. Our Hope.

And our rainbow, is our reward at the end of it all. Glorious, multi-faceted, a glow that takes over our whole life sky. But we had to go through rain, then sun, to see it through.

So remember… the presence of both good, and bad. In order to see a hue of miracles. 🌈

Think of that next time you’re going through a hard patch… you may just find your pot of gold… but it’s important to keep that sunny disposition, even through the rain.

annie-spratt-156492-unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Writing critique

You will not believe the weakness that just arose in me.

The fear. The unbridled dread.

Creeping, creeping. Slowly up through my body. Heat swarming over my face. Sickness dropping in my stomach.

I felt damp.

I felt hot.

I couldn’t. But I wanted to. But I then I couldn’t.

And my finger was held poised, over the button of my laptop, waiting, waiting, hesitating on every sharp intake of breath, to open up…

THE FILE.

The file, of writing criticism.

The file, from the tutor of my online writing course, that contained her very specific and educated, observations and critique of the first 3000 words of my novel.

I held my breath as I quickly ran over her comments. Click here. Click there.

Let out a short rush of air. No don’t relax yet.

Hold on some more. Yep I expected that.

Oh crap. Why didn’t I pick that up?

Okay… okay…

Last comments…

WHOOSH!

Out the air came tumbling. Like an earth embankment crumbling to the ground, and the water in the dam before it rushing forward in furious pressure.

That wasn’t so bad.

Oh wait. There is still audio feedback to be listened to.

Breathe in…

daria-nepriakhina-297141-unsplash

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

 

 

How I handled f%$king writing rejection and lived to tell the tale.

Step 1: Stare at the computer in horror. Do this for as long as you have to, to let it really SINK IN.

pim-chu-245596-unsplash

Photo by Pim Chu on Unsplash

Step 2: Physically express yourself. Scream. Cry. YELL. Do all 3 and then some. If you are going to throw something across the room make sure you don’t have any strong attachment to the item, it is not heavy/sharp/strong, and also, you don’t care about your flooring/it is virtually unbreakable.

Step 3: Keep crying and telling yourself self-defeating words. Things like:

“I’m a failure.”

“I am shit.”

“I am a shit writer AND I’m just plain shit.”

“I can’t fucking write.”

“I got rejected for a fucking writing course…”

And so on. If you have come this far you are doing well. Your self-loathing is working brilliantly.

Step 4: Wallow in self-pity. Pick someone who has to put up with you (i.e partner, parent, sibling) and tell them how shit you are. Cry as you are doing so. Tell them all your sorrows, including that time in grade 4 when you walked into a pole at school and your canteen partner laughed their head off at you. Go on.

Step 5: More than likely you have just been yelled at and scolded by your loved one. Go off and sulk for about 37 minutes.

I’ll wait…

Step 6: Ok you’re back. Now I want you to ask yourself…

“Are you going to let this beat you?”

That just jarred you didn’t it? You expected me to tell you to go cut some onions and rub them over your eyelids after all that self-hatred and the pity party you just attended with yourself as the star D-grade celebrity.

But SmikG is getting glass half-full right now and she is gonna whoop your ass.

Sit down! You’re not going anywhere.

Step 7: Ask yourself some more questions. Things like:

“Are you going to let one individual/organisation dictate what you can do?

“Will you someone else control your belief of yourself?”

“Is this one incident going to make you stop writing? Really? This ONE thing?”

At this stage, you may want to wallow in some more self-defeating talk for a couple more moments. Go on, whimper. Sniffle. Get some Kleenex super soft tissues, from the Aloe Vera range you weak piece of shit.

Step 8: “Are you REALLY going to let this get you down?”

“You know… you’re not that shit.”

“You’re actually, not bad.”

NOW we’re talking.

Step 9: Time to recall some famous writer stories.

jkrowling

J.K Rowling. An unemployed and poor single mother goes from her Harry Potter manuscript being rejected 12 times before finally getting picked up… but even so, her editor encourages her to get a teaching job as it is unlikely she will earn much from writing children’s books.

She is now worth over 1 billion dollars (read, BILLION) with her name to one of the best-selling series in the world with 450 million copies SOLD.

stephen king

Stephen King. Rejected his own story, Carrie, only to find his wife had taken it out of the garbage with the note for him to finish it. It was rejected over 30 times, but was eventually picked up and even turned into a movie.

He has over 50 novels to his name, has written hundreds of short stories, and remains one of the great fiction writers of this generation.

drseuss

Dr Seuss. He had been rejected 27 times, and was literally on his way home to burn the manuscript when he bumped into an old friend. When he spoke of his woes from “a book no one will publish” his friend (also a children’s editor… how “co in-chi-den-che” – see the Tomei-Downey Jr. movie Only You for reference!♥ ) he read it and it was published.

He went on to write over 60 children’s books and remains a classic children’s writer through the ages.

Step 10: Woah. Now we are feeling just a little bit invincible. Almost like the way we felt when we first ventured into the writing world with fear and trepidation, hovering over the keyboard as we posed those first few words.

But we need something else.

Inject some creativity in your life… in the form of, MUSIC.

My fave go-to: Something loud and pumping, ROCK is real good.

Queen, for example.

OffbeatUniformEuropeanfiresalamander-small

Prince doing his Beautiful Ones where he screeches at the end is also uplifting in a very RAW way.

Or you know, on the other spectrum we can go ‘alternative/new wave rock’ and play something like INXS’ Need You Tonight… you know the story, of how Andrew Farriss famously made the taxi driver who was meant to take him to the airport, wait an hour as he wrote the riff to the song? He then passed it onto Michael, who quickly penned the words to what would become the song… incredible.

You need to surround yourself with genius. Genius thoughts. Genius inspiration. Genius creativity.

Step 11: Ok, we are HERE. Perhaps you feel so unstoppable, so charged, the muse starting to move within you, that something you scribble on toilet paper while passing a bowel movement (why do you have a pen in there?) can be considered LEGENDARY.

“What am I going to do next?”

“What course will I look at?”

“What can I learn from this?”

Start work-shopping ideas to get around your initial rejection.

Step 12: Start with this quote by Albert Einstein: “Failure is success in progress.”

NEXT, sit at your computer.

And start writing.

🙂

 

 

 

Your passion and your loved ones may not hold hands

Hey writers.

Not ‘aspiring’ writers, or ‘published’ writers, ‘wannabe’ writers or ‘successful’ writers…

Just, writers.

I have something I need to share. It’s important.

No doubt it is something we all, as ‘writers’ of the world, have had to face.

Many will be facing it right now.

And if you haven’t already, you’ll be sure to come across it in your writing life.

At some stage, you would have told some of your loved ones, be it your friends or family, that you wish to write.

You want to write. You do, write.

Even if they have already known it for most of your life, even if it is an assumed thing, writing being your background passion and all… no doubt there will have been a moment where you have said out loud “I am doing this.”

I AM GOING TO TRY MAKE A LIFE OUT OF IT.

You are nervous. You are excited. Hell, maybe even like me, you hold off telling most people out of intense fear of their reaction, and only share your personal news with a total of 10 people over a 5 year period.

And when you share that news with your nearest and dearest…

Excited in the prospect of them being sooo happy in you having discovered your life’s purpose, and have chosen to share something so intimate with them…

Relieved to have released a deep-seeded fear…

What do they do?

NOTHING. You tell them, and –

(crickets chirping).

Yup.

There is something you need to realise on this writing journey. And more widely, something everyone needs to realise as they go through life and discover what it is that drives them crazy-happy with a passionate fury.

It is a thing I myself have had to wrap my head around and come to terms with.

The people you love, may not necessarily love your hobby.

They may actually, not think very much of it.

They won’t hate it. But, it might be something of ‘meh.’

Just, MEH.

This can come across as seriously disappointing, especially for someone like me, who has held off on expressing this hobby and passion of mine, to loved and near and dear ones, for years and years and years simply out of fear.

And then, when the moment came… often I realised, it was a bigger thing for me, than it was for them.

And that is ok.

There may be a whole bevy of reasons why your loved ones and your passion aren’t immediate besties… or for that fact, EVER AFTER besties.

Your loved ones may be really busy.

Your loved ones may not know much about your passion.

Your loved ones may find it suddenly difficult to comprehend your sudden discovery at said-passion, and this in turn may highlight some difficult and unanswerable questions for them… those being, what are their passions? What are they doing in their life?

How are they turning their flame on in the routine of life?

Humans are a fascinating and extremely complex breed, and so you can be assured that all of the possible answers will not even begin to fill the paragraphs of this post.

You will notice I have not mentioned a fairly common reason for lack of excitement at the realisation of your passions… and that is jealousy. I have omitted it because real loved ones will not be jealous. They may exude mixed feelings, because of the sudden need to reflect on their own lives. But they will not be envious. They will not see red simply at your long and topsy-turvy journey to getting to your own pre-determined successful, “I’ve made it” destination.

Jealous people are shit people. They are not your loves ones. Keep them at arms length.

They can go f%*k themselves. You need a strong and supportive circle, so get rid of that crap immediately.

Safe to say, you will realise very quickly and easily, who YOUR circle is.

And as is my case, I’ve realised that my circle don’t necessarily have to start a book club for me.

And why should they? I am the only star in my life… as they are the solo star in theirs.

We all have different shit going on. We need to look humbly around us and realise that.

It’s not personal.

It’s just, LIFE.

Your loved ones and your hobby don’t need to get along. They don’t need to go on long walks together. They don’t need to watch a movie. They don’t need to see each other, scream out in delight and exclaim “it’s been so long since I saw you!” before enveloping one another in a giant hug.

As long as they nod some kind of acknowledgement to each other when they pass… that’s cool.

That’s to be accepted.

Our passion isn’t necessarily anyone else’s. And whether you have held off for 5, 10 or 20 years to tell anyone, it won’t be anymore impressive than if you decided yesterday during brekkie you wanted to be a writer after finding 7 grammatical errors in the local paper.

You need to let go of the idea that your loved ones will be as excited for you, as you are excited for you.

In many cases, this won’t be the fact.

And that’s normal.

We can still love our hobbies…. and we can still love our friends…

But we’ll just make sure we see them on alternating weekends 😉

(Note the below is idealistic, yet highly unrealistic!)

alexis-brown-82988-unsplash

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

 

 

Failing at reading

I’d like to show you something:

screenshot-2017-02-27-17-01-26

Other than not knowing how to screenshot, if you look even closer, you will see that on my Goodreads account, I started reading Sense and Sensibility…

in (shock horror) February of 2015.

2 freaking years ago.

Not even I realised how bad I was until logging in to update my progress.

It’s taken me over 600 days to finish a book, which though slightly hard to engage with at first, I grew to love, with Austen teasing me throughout about what, and how, certain things were going to play out.

It’s not that I don’t read. I love it, so so much. I wish I had more time for it. But, things happened last year, and though I turned to the book, time and time again, reading chapters here, chapters there, the fact that we had a massive life overhaul, what with Sea changing and all, meant that there were so many other things to take care of, and that still need taking care of… that taking time out to enjoy a very fave pastime of mine, just felt selfish.

This here my friends, is a lesson in failure. Observe the following 2016 reading challenge I participated in last year:

screenshot-2017-02-27-17-02-54

Have a look at that, really, have a good look at that.

I pledged to read 10 books. Not much I thought. 10 books a year, equated to just under one book a month. That didn’t seem at all impossible, but as mentioned above, Sea change, and all I ended up reading was 2 books.

2 books.

2 books!

And during that time I was about half way through Austen’s book too.

I don’t feel oddly embarrassed. A little ashamed, maybe, because you know, being a Writer and all, and wanting to write for a living, well you feel a bit pathetic when your main bread and butter, the act of reading to help you write – you fail miserably at.

I failed miserably, I know.

I have excuses. I have reasons. Do I need to justify them to anyone? To make people believe that I am a legitimate writer, that I am worthy of the “Writer” title?

No. My online writing presence is enough. I am a busy person. I have a life. And sometimes, things don’t go to plan.

Many times, things don’t go to plan.

It doesn’t mean however, that we shouldn’t plan, or strive towards certain goals.

The lesson here is this.

Firstly, don’t feel bad for taking time out to read, if it is something you love to do – writing-related or not. We should all give ourselves a break now and then, even if it is while waiting in line to pay a bill, on your lunch break at work, or late at night when the house is quiet. For a creative mind, it is necessary.

Second, shit happens. It almost always does. So if your well-tuned ideas and visions don’t turn out the way you’d like – don’t despair. Don’t use it as a reason to give up.

Never use ANY thing as a reason to give up.

Just say “oh well,” and move on. Or my favourite “PLOT TWIST!” and then see what scene the chapter of your life will play out for you next.

I’m already thinking of what I will read next. And I think the well overdue “Girl on a Train” book that I borrowed off Hubbie’s cousin, LAST YEAR, is definitely next in line…

(If you’d like to be Goodreads friends and have an account of your own, my profile name is Smikg…)

 

When you are a writer…

and you’ve been sitting at your computer for a while, and inspiration is lacking in your head, and your fingers don’t hit at the keypad properly, words like remainding suddenly appear to be gramattically correct, until the red line appears under remainding, and you highlight it and you go ‘oh that’s right, it’s remaining.’ And then you question whether it’s two ts, or ms or ls in gramattically, and which is meant to go where, and you refuse to put the comma between the t and s even though the spellcheck is going bezerk, but you tell the spellcheck that it’s not a possessive its a plural so suck that, then you ask yourself ‘how does one spell bezerk?’ And begin a google chase over its origins and find out it is actually a word in the dictionary and is spelt berserk, and does not have a z making it all rap/hipster. Then you wonder why you even thought it was urban, the term berserk, and remember that urban dictionary website that you once checked out telling you about all the street lingo, and discover the term ‘procaffenating’ which pretty much means “But first, coffee” but less poshy. Then you realise the computer has gone all red line on you again, and instead of writing your novel you have been googling and procrastinating with terms like procaffenating and have just come upon the term ‘jeanjerking,’ and seriously now it is time to go.

Writer vs. Non

A Non-writer when they are sick:

“I have so much snot, I don’t know where all this flem is coming from.”

A writer when they are sick:

“I have so much snot, it’s like a snot factory is up in there, producing mass amounts as directed by C.E.O Mr Flu. And as Mr Flu reaches the peak of his reign, the snot is being churned out as the workers go into overtime. But then an insider overturns Mr Flu, and there is no choice but for Mr Flu to gradually sack workers, therefore affecting the amount of snot produced, until the factory comes to a point where there are no more workers and no more snot, and of course no more C.E.O Mr Flu.”

Hubbie: “You’re funny.”