My people brought me down the mountain. I was shod with dirty, cap-split walking boots, no longer fit for purpose; my backpack was weighty, sharp corners jabbed my spine through bulging material, and my ancient head was numb, paralysed.
The Snowdon Railway ran alongside our path. A train chugged past. Its passengers gazed through smudgy windows. I couldn’t afford such luxury, and my people didn’t need it. We’d trekked for hours with few rests.
Thick clouds were nauseating, but as we descended, the air became fresher and the sky clearer. My woman, my adventurous love, would have exclaimed how beautifully green and perfect the view was. I’d conquered another peak from her list, but it meant nothing without her.
Sometimes I get bogged down with the thought that my best writing is in the past.
As well as being extremely happy, I have an underlying anxiety whenever I get amazing feedback on a story. What if I can’t live up to it? This happened with ‘Those Charming Birds’, which was published on Potato Soup Journal recently.
It’s not just readers’ reactions though. I panic when I edit something and it just doesn’t work whatever I do. I worry that I won’t ever have that lovely feeling when I know it has clicked. (Don’t worry, I do realise the world won’t end if I write something terrible.)
For this week’s blog post, I decided to sit down, write whatever came to mind, and edit it, all within half an hour! So, here we go…
I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed, with my friend Debz working beside me on video chat (muted) and Heart Radio blasting ‘This is Me’ from The Greatest Showman. This is brave, this is bruised, this is who I’m meant to be: this is me.
I have written first drafts of a few blogs posts but am feeling a bit ‘meh’ about all of them. They’re stilted and incomplete and flawed in at least one way. Self-consciousness has crept in. The whole ‘dance like no one’s watching’ thing has a lot going for it!
It reminds me of when I was a child. I didn’t used to be aware of my reflection when passing mirrors or reflective surfaces, which was probably obvious to anyone who saw the scruffy young girl in her brother’s hand-me-downs, with rattail hair and often a vacant expression! And then teenage-hood hit and I felt hyper-conscious…and inadequate. Adulthood has been easier, but I would love to go back to the complete lack of awareness of how I might appear to others. It seems a happier, simpler place.
‘Put feeling into your writing…but have fewer feelings about your writing.’
I wander into the kitchen after a particularly uninspired, uninspiring writing session, and mull over this thought as I make another coffee.
With one story in particular, I sometimes think, ‘Yay, this is great!’ and other times, ‘Boo, this is rubbish!’, even though it’s the same piece and no better or worse than previously. I’m sure every writer has experienced something similar.
How we feel about our creative work might bear little resemblance to reality, and these value judgements can make it hard to get anything done. They drive you crazy, those relentless inner critics with weird squeaky voices (that’s how I imagine them, anyway), making endless contradictory judgements.
I love being self-employed and organising my own schedule, but early in January I had decision fatigue. I struggled to decide when to read, write, edit, do housework, do admin etc. I often ended up in ‘freeze mode’. On a particularly bad afternoon, when I was tempted to procrastinate for the rest of the day, I said, ‘Mum, please tell me what to do – jobs you want done, or things on my list here. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.’
I loved it; as did she, naturally! It would lose its appeal very quickly, no doubt – for me anyway – but it was a useful exercise that triggered some realisations.
In ‘Replenishing My Writing Stocks’, I said I was taking a break from submitting my stories to competitions/publications. Yeah…that might change.
I was delighted to be shortlisted in the Fish Publishing Short Story Competition last week! There were 58 in the shortlist, out of 1631 entries. And then I saw that the other story I submitted also made it onto the 218-story longlist.
The two stories were part of my MA dissertation and were directly inspired by my time in Cornwall. They are special to me because of the time and emotion I poured into them and because they remind me of that significant time in my life. It’s lovely that other people liked them too.
The shortlisted one was submitted on a whim, with no expectations – clearly ‘whim’ sometimes knows better than ‘reason’! The story is humorous and light-hearted in tone (on the surface, anyway), so I didn’t think it would be noticed; I’m incredibly happy to be proved wrong.
Why do so many people enjoy writing first drafts? Yes, it’s exciting when the words flow. I appreciate flashes of inspiration, shiny new ideas, and riding on the waves of creativity, blah blah blah. It’s not always like that for me though.
Most of the time, a first draft means squelching through the land of This Is the Worst Thing Written by Anyone Ever. Yes, squelching. Trudging, plodding, slogging, until I reach the land of Editing, where everything starts to make sense.
‘Just get it down on the page,’ they say. It sounds like a great idea, but I’m terrible at it, because…
Submitting to publications and competitions takes a surprising amount of time. The vast majority result in rejection, which is to be expected, but I feel that my recent rejections are because my stories simply aren’t good enough. (This isn’t false modesty or a cry for encouragement. It’s the truth.)
My best stories, with only a couple of exceptions, have already been published/shortlisted. Many of these were developed slowly over a long period; several were Creative Writing MA assignments, which benefitted from hundreds of drafts and constructive feedback from peers and tutors. I haven’t been putting that amount of time into my stories recently and I’d like to do so again.
It’s exhilarating and encouraging to be published, as well as gratifying to have positive (or at least constructive) feedback, but it can also be a distraction from the actual writing. I’m putting submissions on the back burner while I replenish my story stocks, read widely and deeply, and improve my technique. I don’t know how long I’ll do this for; I expect I’ll know when the time’s right.
I might make a final flurry of submissions first though… I can quit, promise.
It can be scary to put your writing out there. In a previous blog post, ‘How I Persuade Myself to Submit My Writing’, I finish with a simple perspective that helps me: Think of submitting your work as technical not emotional.
- Do It.
Everything’s hard enough as it is; let’s not overcomplicate the matter.
- write as well as you can
- edit, edit, edit
- ask for feedback
- edit, edit, edit
- find suitable publications and follow submission guidelines to the letter
- send out your work
- forget about it
- briefly mourn (hundreds of) rejections with your favourite food / briefly celebrate successes with your favourite food
- and repeat.
I’ve written a daily journal since 2014. Sometimes I’ve had to catch up later, but there’s a diary entry for every single day, written by hand at a snail’s pace, in beautiful notebooks. I’ve always used a black BIC pen, apart from the day before the final exam of my degree, when the blur of mental exhaustion caused me to accidentally use a blue pen – still not over it.
This routine has been a significant part of my life. I’ve recorded highs and lows, things I’ve done/felt/said, exchanges with other people, philosophical thoughts and rants, and numerous boring sentences that were, in retrospect, a waste of paper. It has been the Hannah Time, the ‘Okay, I need to write my journal now’, which my family and close friends have come to expect.
I’ve always said that if someone read my journal it would be an unforgiveable breach of trust. (I would forgive but with difficulty.) Firstly, the way I phrase things is for my eyes only – I know what I mean, so I don’t write it in a way that would convey the right meaning to someone else. Secondly, I’m an open book and answer questions honestly – why snoop in my journal when you can ask me personally? Thirdly, it is largely (as I’ve already hinted) boring. Don’t read it.* Seriously.