Lookey! I got another mention! Congratulations to everyone else who was successful and to everyone else, don’t give up. 😀
At 59 years of age, I thought I knew myself pretty well. I knew what I liked to do, what I liked to eat, where I liked to go and what I liked to wear. I knew my own taste in music, movies and books – didn’t I? Well, no. I still have things to learn about myself. The thing I’ve learned most recently is that I need to be given permission to do – or not do – certain things.
I’m not talking about my working life. If I’m in a library or teaching a class and I see something that needs addressing, I just go ahead and do it. I don’t ask anyone if I’m allowed to and, most of the time, I don’t even ask if there is a correct procedure for getting it done. If it needs doing, I dive in. It seems I’m not as dynamic in my personal life.
I first became aware of my need to be told that something is OK for me to do about five years ago. I was working my way through a book – and I use that term deliberately – and really wasn’t enjoying it. In fact, I thought it was dreadful. But I’d started it which, in my head, meant I had made a commitment to it and so I ploughed on. Ten pages. Twenty. When I finally reached thirtieth page I realised that it had taken me two days to get that far. I looked at the final page number. Three hundred and how many? At this rate it as going to take me weeks to finish and I had so many other books I wanted to read. That was my ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. Life is too short to waste on books I’m not enjoying. (Please note, I don’t say ‘bad’ books. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of other people who do.)
In the first fifty-four years of my life I had only given up on a handful of books and usually felt guilty about it. No more. I gave myself permission to stop reading a book if, after thirty pages, I wasn’t involved with the story or the character. I was allowed to say ‘no thank you, not for me’ and move on. I even created a shelf on my Goodreads account called ‘surrendered’. There still aren’t many books on that list, but there is something liberating about knowing there could be more.
That was a huge step for me and, for a long time, that was as far as it went. Every now and then I have felt a little prickle of an idea in the back of my head, but not slowed down for long enough to take it out and look at it. In the last few weeks, I have. It is this idea of giving myself permission. Instead of saying that something might be a good idea, or maybe I should try, I have started to actively give myself permission to do – or not do – things. I’m sure lots of people have already discovered the power of permission, but it feels very new and quite astonishing to me.
It started because I knew I had to take better control of my life. I couldn’t carry on sitting around and waiting for it to happen. I didn’t feel able to engage with my creative writing and not writing was making me feel guilty, so I decided to start keeping a journal. I’ve tried having a diary in the past and never made it last for longer than a week. This time I set myself a few goals, including writing in my ‘One Line A Day’ five year diary in the evenings and sitting down to write in a free-form journal in the morning if I had the time. I also resolved to remove the word ‘fail’ from my vocabulary (at least where it applies to me) and not to beat myself up if there were days when I didn’t achieve all my goals.
The idea of ‘permission’ appeared in my journal less than a week after I started writing in it on a regular basis. I said I was giving myself permission not to self edit the words I put on paper. I was already managing to do it in my journals, why not apply the same to my fiction work? Two days later I was giving myself permission to not give up on something just because it seemed difficult. On the same page I also gave myself permission to quit something if it was not moving me forward in a positive way.
A few days later I was giving myself permission not to go to a full day conference that I was booked on. I’d been told I wouldn’t be getting much more work in that field so why waste an unpaid day on something I didn’t particularly want to do? I gave myself permission to refuse to take on any more work in August because I had already agreed to do fifty percent more than my contract. These may be decisions that come easily to other people but I have always found it tortuous.
Finding the inner voice that gives me permission to do things – or not do them as the case may be – has been liberating. I look forward to more discussions with that voice and making more positive decisions about my life. With permission, of course.
This week I have been wondering why I avoid doing some things and leave others to the very last-minute. It’s not a new phenomenon. My homework was usually handed in on time, but had often been completed early in the morning of the day it was due. When we go on holiday I can still be found wandering the house in my underwear, putting bits and pieces into the cases, five minutes before we are due to leave home.
At the moment, some of the things on my To Do / Should Have Been Done By Now list include:
- Housework: I’m not a fan. I don’t usually clean until I reach the point where I would be embarrassed if a friend unexpectedly knocked on the door for a coffee. I’m now at the ‘do I really want to walk around here barefoot?’ stage. I know – disgusting! There are two obvious answers as to why things have reached this state of affairs. (a) Why would I dust a book when I could be reading it and (b) I’m bone idle.
- Putting the Christmas decorations into the loft. Don’t get me wrong – Christmas was taken down in our house at the appropriate time, but it is all still sat in the front bedroom awaiting attention. Do I not wish to go into the loft? Am I trying to make the festive period last a bit longer? I’ve no idea, but all those boxes and bags have got to go. Also – see answers to point 1 above.
- This blog post. According to my self-imposed schedule, it should have been on-line by Sunday at the latest. I had several ideas in my head, but none of them had inspired me to leap to my keyboard. Also – see answers to point 1 above.
- My current WIP. I am so close to the end. With a bit of concerted effort I could probably have it finished before the weekend. I know where it’s going, I know what I want to happen, I even know the last line. But, instead of writing, I’m editing what has gone before – polishing, cutting, tweaking, juggling. I know that writing is rewriting but, seriously, shouldn’t I get to the end first? And the answers to point 1 above may have something to do with it.
I was recently talking with a friend about my reluctance to get to the end of my story. I said maybe I was afraid to send it out into the world because, all the while it stays with me, no one has rejected it. A bit like the Lotto ticket you keep in your handbag for weeks because, until you check the numbers there is still the possibility that it’s a winner. She is a psychologist and had a slightly different take on it. She believes that often the thing we are most scared of is success: of getting the thing that we want more than anything else. Because, what do we have to dream about if we get our heart’s desire? Will we still be the same person if we reach our goal? What will people expect of us once we are successful?
None of us like rejection, but I do think she may have a point. There is a huge difference between being an unpublished, unagented writer and being a published author with a book to promote. Is fear of taking that next step stopping me from writing? That sounds really big-headed. After all, statistically I’m far more likely to be rejected than accepted by an agent or publisher.
Perhaps the truth is a combination of fear of failure and fear of success. And, then too, there are just too many books for this bone-idle wannabe author to read before she puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and writes ‘The End’.
Some time ago I received this book as a gift. As with so many of the books in my To Be Read heap, it has taken a while to get to it. I am finding it to be an intriguing read. Many of the tales are familiar, but some have a bit of a twist and some I’ve not read before.
I am also finding it fairly frustrating. This is a collection of fairy tales collected in the 1850s by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth in northern Bavaria. As with the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, they were spoken tales, recorded verbatim. Unlike Grimm and Perrault, they have been left unvarnished and unpolished and this is the root of my frustration. I want to know more!
I don’t know if it is the reader or the writer in me that is making me shout at the book. Things like, “What was he called?”, “Why didn’t she…?” and “Why tell me all about the knife in the tree that will let the sister know if he is well or ill and then never mention it again?”
Sometimes the lack of logic or any source of motivation irritates me as reader. Quite often I want to know more detail about the who, what, why, where, when and how of things. I know that traditionally fairy tales are very bare-boned, but some of these tales are only a page and a half long and have plenty of room for more information.
On the other hand, I’m finding them quite inspirational. All the questions I’m asking myself led onto more questions and, sometimes, answers. And one or two of those answers may be the beginning of a new story or two. I had already started working on a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin before I picked up The Turnip Princess. Maybe there will be more fairy tale inspired stories in my writing future. Watch this space?
This week I have been feeling a bit grumpy. It started last Saturday when, just as I was getting ready for bed, my wife discovered bulging walls and dripping water in the kitchen. Cue late night telephone calls to insurance company and British Gas (who maintain our hot and cold water systems). Also cue switching the off the water supply (after filling the kettle and a couple of buckets) and turning off the boiler. The electrical controls were in the same wall as the leak, as was the plug for the fridge freezer. Eleven o’clock saw two short, middle age women trying to re-position a large electrical appliance until the (surprisingly short) cable could go into another socket.
On Sunday the very nice man from Dyno-rod (on behalf of BG) came and found the source of the leak – the hot water tank in the airing cupboard. He managed to isolate it and restore running cold water to some parts of the house – all appropriate places, thank heavens. Since then we have had no central heating and only cold water from the taps. Hence, me being in a grump.
This morning, lying in bed under a warm duvet with extra heat generated by two dogs and one of the cats, I finished reading ‘My Name’s Not Friday’ by Jon Walter. It reminded me a little of ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ by Solomon Northup, but with a lot less violence and a lot more religion. It was a good read. I put the book on my bedside cabinet and pulled my chilly hand back under the covers, tugging them up over my slightly icy nose, and had a serious word with myself.
I am not the first person not to have central heating. We certainly didn’t have it when I was a child. When I had my first home, heating was from a very dodgy gas fire and only in one room. Later, we only put the heat on when we could afford it. Now I am lucky enough to have the luxury of heat at the touch of a button and hot water whenever I turn the tap. Samuel and Solomon would have been delighted to have any sort of soft mattress or warm blanket during most of their stories. The idea of a full larder and a well stocked fridge-freezer would have been miraculous and heaven-sent. The freedom to visit any of those wonderful things without permission was a prospect only to be dreamed of.
You only have to turn on the news to see people who struggle to live their lives without things we in the western world consider to be basic – running water, fresh food, warm shelter. I walk the dogs and have time to enjoy the spring bulbs showing their faces to the sun without scanning the sky for planes carrying bombs or searching behind every hedge for aggressors with guns or knives.
So today I have given myself a swift kick up the mental backside, thrown on an extra layer and got on with things. It’s much easier to keep warm when you are doing something than when you are sat on your bum feeling sorry for yourself. With luck, this time tomorrow we will have heat and hot water back on tap but, if we don’t, I’m determined not to let Grumpy Kim back in.
A while ago Judith Heneghan posted something on Twitter – I can’t remember exactly what it was now – but it made me really miss being at college and studying for my MA. It wasn’t just the brilliant friends I’d made or the totally supportive critiques they gave. It wasn’t even the lectures and speakers. It was all of those, plus the driving impetus of having to produce some words every week and doing so as part of a writing community. I sent a tweet back, suggesting she set up a group or forum where graduates of Winchester’s Writing for Children MA could get in touch and maybe even meet up every once in a while. We both thought it was a great idea but, between the University and the Writing Festival, she couldn’t contribute more than support, encouragement and a few email addresses.
That’s how it started. I set up a closed Facebook group and called it Ex-Machina (EX-MA CHildren In Absentia) – probably not the best name, but it was all I could come up with at short notice. There seem to be some quite unusual groups with the same name. Oops! I added all the people I knew on Facebook who had completed the course and emailed the people Judith had suggested. A couple of posts later we are up to 16 members without really trying.
So – did you graduate from the University of Winchester with an MA in Writing for Children? Would you like to be in touch with other people who did the same course? If you are on Facebook, please ask to join us. If you avoid social media, please contact me via this blog and I’ll add you to an irregular email update.
I hope to make contact with some more of you over the coming months. Writing doesn’t need to be a solitary occupation.
… where does the time go?
I have received a notification from WordPress congratulating me on two years of blogging. Intellectually I know this to be correct – I started my blog as part of the Publishing Project module of the MA course. Emotionally, sometimes it feels like just last month and other times it’s more like a decade.
However long it’s been, I feel like a bit of a fraud. ‘Keep up the good blogging’ the notification said, making me study my fingers and shuffle my feet in shame. I’ve hardly been near my blog this year. The poor thing is fading away from lack of content and pining for attention.