Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Walking the Tightrope

All work and no play makes Sinead a dull girl.

Okay so that's some pretty obvious plagiarising of Mr King there but he's managed to effectively sum up my life over the last few weeks, so I couldn't resist.

I've always said in my blog posts that writing has been my distraction, my outlet, my therapy. I always feel a sense of happiness and peace when I write (along with occasional bouts of frustration, confusion and self-doubt)  And believe me, I still do. I've frequently documented that writing is my escape from reality, my mode of self-preservation and it's almost always done its job. But over the last few weeks, an unfamiliar sensation has pulsed throughout my veins and stealthily progressed in taking me down.

Ah yes, that familiar temptress - reality.

Like I said, I use my active imagination as a means of escapism and it's always been fun for me, a hobby if you will. It wasn't a regular, scheduled part of my life, and that's one of the things I appreciated about it. But in the last year I've channelled my imagination to be more productive as I've written my book. And it hasn't always been fun using my imagination. In fact, the further I got into my book, the less fun it became because I felt I wasn't writing for pleasure. I was writing to get the book finished.

Excel spreadsheets where I would fill in daily (sometimes hourly) word counts. Avoiding other activities to prioritise my writing and reach my target word count. Obsessively editing and re-editing chunks of narrative to the point of tears. Sitting alone in my office upstairs with the door closed, hunched over my laptop doing my best Quasimodo impression.

The process hasn't been pretty. I'm not sure who ever said writing was glamorous. Maybe no one did, maybe I imagined it (that's pretty likely).

Imagine being in a paddle boat amidst an enormous ocean with only a pair of oars to guide you. No guidebook, no companion, no idea how long it will take to get to land, no clue if you're going in the right direction. You can't see anything in front of you, just endless rows of waves bobbing into the horizon.  All you have is yourself and your belief that someday you'll reach land and it'll be all worthwhile.

It's enormous. It's immense. It's intimidating. It's occasionally exciting but almost always frightening.

That's what writing has been like for me lately.

The double whammy is that while I've been pushing myself hard trying to get the work done, life has gotten in the way as it often tends to do. My difficulty in saying no to things and my inability to allow myself a well earned break meant that unfortunately I got sick and everything had to stop for a week.

I'm not sure what was worse, the shame of having to take a week off work (I still blush at the thought of it) or the fact that I didn't let myself write during this period. I'm pretty confident that if I hadn't been berating myself so much over my book I wouldn't have gotten sick (or as sick maybe) and it wouldn't have effected other areas of my life.  But I did, and it was horrible.

And while I can't change the past, I can most definitely shape my future by changing my behaviour in the present.  Which is what I've had to do.

I've had to reassess my decision to write. Why am I writing? Why did I start writing? What do I want to gain out of it?

I write because I love it. Because I have a story I want to tell. Because it's the only thing I've ever felt naturally gifted at. Because it makes me feel happy.

So where did all that go in the past few weeks and months? I've reflected a lot about it and I think I started looking at my writing almost like a business model - was I meeting my target? Was I writing efficiently? Could I make that deadline? Would that piece of my book sell better than the piece I left out? Michael O'Leary would have been proud of me! But that's not why I write, and I know that.

I suppose it's like anything in life, a balance beam, a tightrope. And I think I toppled off the tightrope several weeks ago but it's taken me a while to realise. What's the point in walking the tightrope if you can't savour the moment and enjoy the view?

I'm back writing now, I suppose a week off isn't too much, particularly when it involves your health. I still have my word count excel spreadsheets but I don't berate myself (too much) when I see a "0" instead of "2,000". And if I'm absolutely exhausted when I come home from work I don't force myself to write if I really don't want to. I'll go for a walk, I'll watch TV, I'll meet friends, I'll pore over celebrity magazines.

That's not to say I only write when I feel like it. If I did that, I'd never write at all (I'd rather be watching Fair City now) so I need to motivate myself and I seek motivation from others. When people ask how the book is going, when I read a good book, when I get a burst of inspiration I feel motivated. And then I write.

But I've learned to be aware of the balance.

So I'm back on the tightrope, taking one step at a time. Some days are easy. Some days are hard. And some days the progress is almost invisible. But I'll keep going in my boat, aiming for the horizon. And I'm sure it'll be worthwhile knowing that all you guys will be there to greet me when I reach land!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

A True Inspiration

I know my blogs are usually lighthearted and document my ongoing struggles to write my first novel but this one is slightly different in tone following the news of Seamus Heaneys' passing on Friday the 30th August.

I don't know Seamus Heaney personally and I never had the pleasure of meeting him but I can honestly say that I found great comfort in his words from the moment I first read "Mid-Term Break" and chose it as my poem for my Grade 4 Speech and Drama Examinations.

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying -
He had always taken funerals in his stride -
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram 
When I came in, and I was embarrassed 
By old men standing up to shake my had

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

I can vividly remember reciting that poem over and over in my head as I went to school, did my homework and lay in bed at night. I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror each night, watching my mouth form each word, concentrating on my pauses, breaths, intonations and inflections. I remember dissecting the poem, acknowledging the contrast as the baby "cooed and laughed" while his mother "coughed out angry tearless sighs" and wondering whether Big Jim Evans meant the boy's death was a "hard blow" or was he talking about the bang of the bumper?

I even remember reading up on Seamus Heaney in case my examiner threw me any questions about his life, writing style and influences as was customary during these exams. Indeed I think my anxiety caused me to be so focused on being the perfect student with the flawless answers, pitch perfect projection and natural use of tone that I almost forgot about the emotion that trickles throughout the poem and finally bursts its banks in the final line.

It was only when I walked into the room, greeted my examiner with a firm handshake, good eye contact and a pleasant smile, read through my comprehension, acted out my solo piece and introduced my poem did the emotion of the piece finally start to sink in. Instead of concentrating solely on my pronunciations and pace, I began to focus more on the emotion behind the words and in that moment I actually felt the pain in Heaney's words and the huge loss of his younger brother. I completely immersed myself in his words and by the time I reached the last line, I left a long pause, took a breath and felt tears prick at the corner of my eyes.

I had never experienced that emotion before and when I received my Certificate advising that I had received High Honours I knew that I had done myself, and Mr Heaney, justice. But it was his words that achieved the emotion, I was merely the actor, the carrier, the messenger. And that, for me, is the power of beautiful writing.

I experienced the magic of his words once again when I was 17 and studying for my Leaving Certificate. Mr Heaney was a poet on our course and as English was my favourite subject I enjoyed studying his work and I remember happily writing an essay around his use of imagery. His poems were wide, varied and unique but the one that struck me instantly in that "goosebump" kind of way was "Digging".

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into the gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deept
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Such a beautiful poem for an array of reasons, but the reason it stands out for me is because I feel it could be my life story. My father, an avid workman spends the bulk of his free time in my parents garden digging the potato drills, at home in the soil on a Sunday afternoon. He is happiest when he is at work, sowing the veg and reaping the rewards of his work proudly brandishing a large head of cabbage, a bucket of potatoes or a handful of bright carrots to us.

Similarly, his father was also a man happiest at work down in the bog of Clongorey. Many of my childhood memories consist of sticky, Summer nights running gaily around the turf footings trying to catch frogs and free ourselves from the bog swamps while my grandfather worked solidly building up the footings with the energy, speed and dexterity of a man half his age. He was happiest on the bog, a shovel in one hand and a flask of tea in the other on the rare occasion that he actually took a break.

It was only appropriate that when my grandfather died suddenly (after arriving home from a particularly gruelling session in the bog) that we chose Seamus Heaney's poem "Bogland" to read at his funeral. I read it, as a tribute to Pop and I can remember struggling to finish it as I choked back tears from the church lecturn. Afterwards, several mourners commented to me on the beauty and appropriateness of that pop as a fitting tribute to a man who adored the bog.

I too feel like Heaney outlines in Digging, different from the men in my family but I feel that while I differ in the style of work we chose, I inherited their workmanship and their sense of achievement and pride in their work. And for his ability to show me that through his writing, I will be forever grateful.

A great man passed away this week;  a man who showed that it doesn't matter who you are, what your background is and what country you are from. If you have a gift and you cherish it, nurture it and work hard there is no limit as to what you can achieve.

And with that, I will keep my own shovel between my finger and thumb and I will dig.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Reality Sucks

I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that I adore car crash television, pore over the latest exclusive wedding/birth/divorce in gossip magazines and obsess about celebrities and their lavish lifestyles (admittedly mainly fantasizing about my dream of living that life), I can say hand on heart that I've never been a fan of reality television.

I thought Big Brother was boring and even wrote a pompously scathing essay about its negative effects on society in a first year English essay (in hindsight I've realised that it wasn't just the frizzy hair and unibrow that excluded me from my classmates), I think the X-Factor is overrated (how can anyone take a show seriously when it features Louis Walsh and the Curious Case of his steamrollered face?), and the only reason that I invested some serious time in Dancing on Ice 2011 is because the eventual winner Sam Attwater bares more than a striking resemblance to my other half (I even voted for him, I don't know what came over me to be honest).

My point being that I usually choose fantasy over reality. Escapism over normality. Excitement over mundane. I take great pleasure in witnessing things that would realistically never, ever happen in real life (be it in my head or on TV). I would rather watch one of the characters of Coronation Street have passionate sex with their brother's wife, have a punch up in a graveyard and drive into a river, all before 8 o'clock. You wouldn't get that down our local pub in Newbridge (at least I don't think so anyway...).

It all links back to one of my earlier blogs about how much happiness I gain from escaping into my head and choosing to occupy my time daydreaming about things that I know will (more than likely) never happen to me.

One of the main fantasies I have is of being a successful, published writer. I think I spent the last 15 years fantasizing about this (as documented regularly in my previous blog posts) but I've only spent the last 12 months actually attempting to achieve this goal by putting pen to paper and engaging in writing. And the reality, as opposed to the fantasy, is not pleasant.

The 6am alarm clock going off so that I can try and get some writing in before work. Researching brain injuries and cardiac arrests in online medical journals in bed at night, my eyelids doing their best to defy gravity. Jotting down ideas and planning out scenes during my lunchbreak in work, when I'd rather be reading the Mail Online celebrity sidebar (or catching up on casenotes, oops). Using the time my other half spends playing football to write without distraction, when I would rather de-stress in a hot bath with scented candles and a Dairy Milk bar. My favourite thing to do after a long day in work is get into my pyjamas and watch Legally Blonde. But if I'm serious about writing, I can't do this (every week).

There are a lot of things I miss out on when I choose to write and the reality is that it's hard. Some weeks it's very hard. Some weeks it's so hard that I don't do any work because I'd rather have a lie in, a hot bath, an early night or watch a DVD, because I'd rather escape the reality of being a writer for a while. But the truth is that on those nights, or weeks (or months) that I avoid reality, I feel bad. I feel terrible because I know that I should be writing. I should be engaging in the reality of writing the book because, let's face it, this book is never going to get written unless I write it (apologies for the bold font; that was more for my benefit than yours).

It really is a typical case of the end justifying the means. The book has to get written, no matter how hard I find it or no matter how tired or stressed I am.  I can make all the excuses I want but the only person I'm really lying to is myself. And the friends, family, colleagues who ask me how my book is going...

At the end of the day I have to accept that the fantasy life of being a writer is much more fun than the reality of an aspiring writer. There are no film premieres, book launches, charity openings, big cheques and public readings of my book. Just dark eye circles, a constantly flashing cursor, lots of empty mugs of tea and a word count that (very gradually) increases over time. And if I can accept that and persevere, hopefully I will some day manage to type the two words that ever fibre of my body aches to write: "The End".

Oh and I just have to avoid the return of X-Factor this weekend. I've survived 10 series of it, surely I can finish this book?


Sunday, 4 August 2013

Doing My Homework

So, it's taken me about 15 years (and several abandoned manuscripts) to realise that becoming a writer isn't an overnight thing.

Of course I was aware of this concept; I've bought enough "how-to-write-a-novel" books and browsed enough online writing forums to familiarise myself with the idea that being a writer is more often than not a painstakingly slow process but I never truly believed it until recently. I suppose, in my lovely naivety,I always assumed that you either had the gift and the potential to be a writer or you didn't (and no, I still haven't figured out if I have it or not!).

Anyone who has read my previous blog entries will know that I've spent the bulk of my waking life dreaming about being a writer, to the point that whole afternoons have been lost as I ponder who'll play my main character in the movie version of my book and wonder what dress I'll wear to the Oscars when I accept my Best Original Screenplay award (I'm torn between Oscar de la Renta and Prada right now but that could change).

But it's really only in the last 18 months that I've gotten serious about my writing. I've planned my novel meticulously, told people about it, established myself on social media as an aspiring writer and (probably the biggest personal achievement) I finally got over the 1,000 word mark on my wordcount (I'm currently at almost 15,000 words!). I think something finally clicked for me - I finally got the proverbial kick up the arse to take myself and my writing seriously and it really has worked. Not that I'm sticking to my plan; there are days that I switch the laptop, glance guiltily at it every half hour while watching Comedy Central and then switch it off before bed having managed to write zero words, promising myself that tomorrow will be more constructive. Those days still happen, although thankfully they're becoming less regular.

However, it's not just my planning and dedication that's improved. I've also started to think like a writer.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King states "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read and write a lot." Mr King is not alone in preaching this advice, this is basically rule number one in any of the self-help writing books I've already mentioned so I've read it about several (hundred) times.

I'll be honest though, I never really appreciated it because my (simplistic) view was that if I were writing a book, surely reading a different (and probably better) one would distract me? And similarly, wouldn't it be extremely disheartening to read a fantastic book and ultimately realise that anything I write will never in a million years be anywhere near as good?

Both are valid points and I stubbornly stuck by them for several years until I hit a turning point recently and I changed my perspective. I finally started to read books, not as a reader, but as a writer.

For example, I recently read JK Rowling's Casual Vacancy. I adored the Harry Potter series so much so that I cried (yes, really) when I finished Deathly Hallows (on a train too, but the less said about that the better). Personally, I found Casual Vacancy to be a difficult book to read, it was more character than plot driven with a slower pace than I'm used to. But when I started to read it as a writer, I was blown away by Rowling's skill, more so than I was reading Harry Potter. Her ability to "show, don't tell" was phenomenal; small, ubiquitous points littered the narrative providing the reader with greater insight into the characters, almost on a subconscious level.

I was also hugely impressed by her ability to build up tension, at an incredibly slow pace, such to the point that I was tearing through the pages, dying to see what would happen. It went from a book that I could take or leave to a book that I couldn't put down (in fact I ended up getting sunburnt on my face from being so enthralled in it on a sunny day). I know when I write myself, I often rush to get to the exciting part to keep the reader interested. I realise now that this is down to my own anxiety and that the reader will (hopefully) thank me if I slow the pace down and keep the suspense ticking just a little bit longer.

So now, I try to keep my eyes peeled when I'm reading a good book. I know it may seem a bit sad but I'll actually take notes if I notice how something is conveyed smartly by a writer. I never thought I'd need my highlighter pens after my final year college exams but life can surprise you sometimes!

The other point I mentioned was around becoming disillusioned if I read a brilliant book. This unfortunately still happens, some books will always touch my heart in the most magical way. I could read To Kill a Mockingbird a thousand times over without tiring of it and I've yet to make it through a Mitch Albom book without sobbing like a baby. And yet Harper Lee, Shakespeare, Yeats, Orwell, while all literary geniuses, were also people, the same as you or I. Why are they so different to me? They have talent (not sure if I do, jury's still out on that), they were dedicated (I'm writing the book, isn't that dedication?) and they followed their dreams (that's what I'm trying to do, when life doesn't get in the way!).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not comparing myself to these greats, I'm not that deluded (yet). But instead of feeling intimidated by them, I'm trying to feel inspired.

Another positive aspect of reading books while writing one is the feeling of superiority if I write a dreadful book and think Mine is hopefully better than that. I know that that may sound awfully conceited, but that's not my intention. Anyone who knows me knows that I would read any book put in front of me and I've always been a book lover. But since I've started reading as a writer, I've found myself becoming somewhat more critical of other writers. I'm not going to name any names (I don't want to alienate myself from fellow writers before I've even gotten started!) but it does (very rarely) happen that I read a book, struggle to finish it and genuinely think how did that get published? And then I feel a little bit better about myself, take out the laptop and try to get a few more words up on the screen.

So I'm going to keep my reading materials as a constant source of support for me during my novel writing. I switch between different genres and time periods to achieve as much variety as possible. Whenever I read the first page of a new book I have that flicker of hope that I'll come out the other end having learned something and improved my writing in some small way. Because that's what it's all about in the end!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The First Review...

My heart is pounding, it feels like the room is spinning. I can feel the familiar knot of nausea in my stomach and the lump rising in my throat. It's taken me at least a few minutes to realise that my nails have left small indents in the palms of my hands, such is the extent of my fist clenching. Sweat gathers on my forehead and my upper lip (and no, it's not just because of the unseasonable heatwave) and my eyes are clamped shut. The silence is painfully deafening to the point that I can't take it anymore. I think I'm going to pass out. This is too much.

"Finished." I slowly peel my eyes open to find my other half sitting beside me on the couch, my laptop sitting unnaturally on his lap. His eyes are still scanning the Microsoft Word document open on the screen as he scrolls back up through it. I sit in the silence, hardly able to contain my anxiety.

After what seems like an eternity (but he claims is about three seconds) we eventually make eye contact. My mouth is hanging open as wide as it can go (which is quite wide - trust me) and my eyebrows are practically at my hairline. I am crying out for a reaction. In fact if I were a cartoon character my eyeballs would be popping out of my head at this stage. He relaxes back further into the couch maintaining a neutral expression, calmly putting the laptop back into my open hands. "Yeah, it's very good."

There it is. My first book review. And it was a positive one.

About ten minutes before this I had handed over my laptop to Andrew and asked him to have a read of the first few chapters of my (still unfinished but getting there!) novel. This is the first time I have ever "let anyone in" to my book and without intentionally meaning to sound dramatic, it was a massive deal for me, as you can tell from my reaction.

It's funny because I've written several books in my 25 years on the planet (on a completely separate note, phrasing my life like that makes me feel so old in a way I never noticed before - 25 years is a long time!) and I never minded people reading them. In fact I quite enjoyed it. When I was in first year in secondary school my class actually studied the only book that I've ever finished 'Go For Gold' and I honestly didn't feel a shred of embarrassment or anxiety, quite the opposite (how narcissistic was I as a teenager?). And about three years ago I gave my dad a copy of the first few chapters of the original draft of this novel. In fairness to him, he thankfully pointed out several large holes in my plot which helped me improve my storyline. Of course at the time I wasn't so thankful...

The point is, I never minded other people reading my work, but that changed when I gave it to Andrew. I was actually so surprised at my anxiety levels when he was reading through my work. I mean, it's not hugely surprising, I'm quite an anxious person in reality. I get stressed and worked up and experience the physical effects named in the first paragraph all the time: when I get stuck in traffic, when Andrew doesn't answer his phone after two attempts to ring him, when I can't find my keys/purse/phone or when I realise I've forgotten to make a phone call/write a letter in work (hopefully my boss isn't reading this).

But writing isn't supposed to stress me out. Writing is what calms me. It is genuinely my therapeutic outlet. When people have a tough day in work they might watch TV or go to the gym or open a bottle of wine. I write. Sometimes if I'm really stressed in work (which happens) I just close my eyes for a minute and imagine myself at home that evening with my laptop open (and the obligatory cup of tea and bar of chocolate perched beside me). And it helps me focus so much. So why the stress now?

I suppose it's because now, more than ever, my writing means more to me. As a teenager being a writer (and a grown up) seemed a million miles away and so any negative reviews of my books didn't seem as bad because it felt like I had an eternity to improve my writing. I don't have that anymore. Don't get me wrong, I'm 25, I'm by no means old (right??) but I'm a bit more realistic in that I don't have forever anymore to improve my writing. It has to happen sometime and I'm the only one that can do it. Eek.

Similarly, I guess the fact that I'm so open with everyone, and most importantly with myself, about my burning desire, my ache (yes really!) to be a writer that criticism would be a killer. I'm not saying that I don't want criticism - believe me I do want it. In fact, the 10 minutes after Andrew told me he enjoyed my book were spent with me begging for some constructive criticism, I almost wanted (probably because I fully expected) a flaw with my book. I think my biggest fear though is that someone (or worse more than one person) will read my first few chapters and say "Sorry Sinead, it's just not very good. I think you should leave it and start another book." Oh my god, even writing that makes me feel sick!

I've invested so much in this book; time, energy, hope, emotion, imagination, love. It would break my heart if people don't get it or enjoy it or love it as much as I do. But then I suppose all writers, all artists in fact, have to open themselves up to that possibility. And I guess the chance of people loving it and feeling it as much as you do is worth the risk, right?

Wilhelm Stekel says "Anxiety is fear of one's self" and I can fully empathise with that statement. I'm afraid of opening myself and my work up to others, but then if I truly want to be a writer, that's ultimately what I have to do. So I suppose I need to keep writing and maybe just let myself know that it's okay to feel that anxiety when someone else is reading my work, because my writing is part of who I am now and that's probably one of the most important things I've learned about myself through this whole thing.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Dare to Dream

I've been writing a lot of my novel lately and it feels good knowing that I'm on a bit of a roll. Knowing that I have over 10,000 words written (woo mini cheer!) is a big source of motivation to keep going and get the next 10,000 written and then the next 10,000 written until - well, you get the picture.

So the writing is going well and I'm feeling creatively charged but, as always in life, there's a downside. The more I write, the more confident I feel and the more positive I am that I'm going to get this book finished - I can do it. But (and it's a horrible depressing "but") the pessimistic, negative (natural) side of me is thinking "What if I finish my book and it never gets published?" "What if no one reads it?" "What if it sits in a drawer or on the hard drive of my computer for decades until it's a distant memory to me?"

I know that these thoughts are normal thoughts to the vast majority of unpublished writers (the ones that aren't deluded anyway). And I know that I shouldn't be writing only to get published, I should be writing because I love it. I do love it, I just find it hard to commit chunks of my life to writing 120,000 words without achieving any success or recognition.

I've mentioned a lot in my previous posts that I daydream a lot. Habitually really. Daydreaming is such a big part of my life that I often don't even realise I'm doing it. It's usually fairly effortless which frankly helps with my writing, particularly dramatic scenarios. Sometimes I wonder if I'm bordering on Maladaptive Daydreaming (google it if you haven't heard of it - but not till you're finished with this blog!) such is the extent of my daydreams. Thankfully, I don't think I do because I still have a life, relationships and goals and I function fairly well on a day to day basis (at the moment anyway).

I've previously mentioned that I often daydream about getting my book published and writing fulltime, about leading a life a smidgen more glamorous that the one I currently lead and really making it as a writer.

I want it all: the book launch, the movie premiere, the six figure contract, the spot on the New York Times Bestseller List, the verified twitter account. I want to break away from hum-drum and achieve the stuff that the vast majority of us can only dream of.

That's what I want: I want to be a respected and revered writer and I want to be rewarded for the tears, frustration, early mornings and sacrifices that I'm currently pouring into this book. And you know what else? There's a teeny, tiny part of me hidden well beneath the surface (beneath the platitudes and my polite responses of "Ah sure anyone could write a book," "My books not that good" and "I don't know why I bother, no one will ever read it") that really believes I will be that successful writer.

Now who's deluded?

The weight that I carry with me when I'm writing is the fear that I won't be successful. That none of that will happen for me. That my life won't change. That the life I'm leading now (that of a social worker in Ireland with a mortgage and a car loan) is the one that I'm destined for and nothing else - nothing better nothing worse.

I know that there's a good chance that I sound either (a) really depressed or (b) really ungrateful, but I'm neither. I'm happy with my life, I know how lucky I am and there's a lot of things in my life (mainly people and some animals) that I wouldn't change for the world. I'm lucky with the opportunities I've been given and the situation that I was born into, it's enabled me to study in a prestigious university and obtain employment in a wonderful (albeit challenging) profession. And I'm not going to start naming all the people in my life that I love because there are so many and I hope they know it.

If my life never changes and my book goes nowhere, I won't be depressed. I'm sure I won't be on my deathbed in years to come looking back at my life with regret (I hope not anyway). But my passion is writing and I think that a part of me will always want to live my life knowing that I'm doing something I love, I adore, something that makes me happy and that fulfills me. Isn't that the dream?

Let me ask you an honest question: do you ever look at your life and say to yourself "Is this it?" It doesn't mean that you're unhappy or that your life is terrible. It just means asking yourself "Is there more that I could have (or still could) achieve?" If you can honestly say that you never ask yourself this question, then fair play to you. But if, like me, you wonder if you could have made something more of your life (maybe been a musician/sports star/comedian/actor like you'd always secretly dreamed) you might be able to empathise somewhat with me.

To reiterate, I love my life. I love my family, friends, fiance. I love my home, my job and I love my writing. But I want to achieve as much as I possibly can, because let's face it, we've only got one chance. And I really, genuinely hope that I succeed with my writing. I hope it's worth it in the end.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Getting To Know You

I'm going to try and keep this blog post brief because I'm in the middle of writing my novel and I don't want to procrastinate... too much. But I couldn't concentrate because something was bugging me immensely and I felt the need to blog about it. So I'm not really procrastinating, I'm finding a therapeutic outlet to vent about some of my writing issues.

Okay, maybe I'm procrastinating a little... But it's better than watching my ER boxset, right? I know, I'm maturing in my growth as a writer!

Essentially my issue is that I don't think I'm selling my main character enough. I've mentioned in one of my previous blog posts that I know David (my main character) better than I know anyone else, even myself. I've done endless character plans, spider diagrams and scenarios for David so that ideally I should know exactly what he'll say/do/think/feel in any given situation. But for some reason this isn't translating into my book.

I think the problem is that I'm in such a haste to get everything written down and get to my weekly word count goal that I'm not giving enough time to the story itself and the actual craft of writing. This means that David is frankly getting lost in translation somewhere and it annoys me because I feel like my reading audience don't know him as well as I do. And it's a pity because he's a great guy.

Ok, I just noticed that I'm really starting to sound like his mother, but then I suppose in a way I am! I did create him (and I firmly believe that no woman will ever be good enough for him).

I've been told by several people and I've read in several writing books that the best way to write is to write; that is get the words on the page and not to go back and edit until the majority (or indeed all) of the book is written.

Easier said than done.

Part of me thinks that maybe I'm doing the right thing. Maybe I should just keep writing (no matter how abysmally) until I finish the first draft and then I can go back and edit to my heart's content. Maybe the second draft is the best time to "let David shine" and really illustrate who he is on paper. It's just very hard to finish a chapter (as I've literally just done) and move on to the next one when all I can think of is "God that last chapter was pure muck. If I was reading a book like this, I'd have put it down long ago".

Maybe this is what all writers go through, but as I've mentioned in my previous blog, I don't know any writers so I'm not really in a position to check this out.

My book is very much plot led - it's a thriller with an (I hope!) interesting premise but characters are the essence to any story and I really, really want David (and his cohorts!) to come alive on the paper. I want people to get to know him, to laugh with him, to cry with him and feel his pain. But because he's my main character trying to overcome adversity, I want people to believe in him. He deserves that at the very least, and it's my responsibility to ensure that that happens.

I'll keep plodding on at the book and my plan is that when I get to a certain word count (that's not too far away) I'll give myself permission to go back and edit what I've written. Hopefully that way, I can develop David further which in turn could motivate me to write even more then, because as it stands I find it difficult to keep writing when all I can focus on is the drivel I've written in the previous chapter.

It's just not possible for me to write a full first draft that I think is pure awful. Partly awful is do-able, but not fully awful.

Indecisiveness and writing is not a good mix!


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Lonesome Day

A strange thing happened to me last week.

I was sprawled across the couch in the sitting room, my laptop perched precariously on top of a cushion across my lap with the TV droning softly in the background (Yes, I know I'm not supposed to write in a setting like this but (1) I'm lazy, (2) our sitting room is the warmest room in the house, and (3) ER was on!). I was on a particularly good roll and my fingers were tapping with some speed at the keyboard. I had written over 1,000 words in one sitting and I proudly treated myself to Marks and Spencer cookie (my 3rd one that day. What? I was being good with my writing, I had to reward myself!).

I was in the moment and making the most of it. But unfortunately, like all good things it had to come to an end.

I came to end of a paragraph and instead of hitting return and continuing on, I stopped. I had noticed something; a familiar feeling had crept in unnoticed like an unwelcome visitor and washed over me as I hesitated and stared blankly at the flashing cursor. Self-doubt. It had returned with a vengeance.

Before I even had time to register what I was doing, my eyes were flicking back over the last paragraph, wondering if what I written was good enough and whether or not "it worked". Now this is not a new sensation for me; I habitually engage in my writing-reviewing-editing cycle on a regular basis but this time it was different. For the first time in all the years that I've been writing (see my "Blast from the Past" blog for further information) I felt alone.

It's somewhat surprising that it's taken me several years and a few (unfinished) novels to realise that writing is an extremely lonely outlet. In my work life, if I'm unsure about a piece of work, I can (and do) ask a colleague for advice or information. I double and triple check my work for fear of doing something wrong or making a mistake. I even have vivid memories of asking one of my friends to double check my Chemistry homework before class so that I wouldn't look silly if I was asked for an answer. In fairness I had good reason to for that particular one - I was absolutely hopeless at Chemistry and to this day I still haven't the foggiest idea how to balance an equation or monitor the results of a practical experiment. I still wake in cold sweats at night at the thoughts of those classes...

Essentially, what I know about myself is that I'm a reassurance seeker and a mild perfectionist. I'm okay-ish with this personality trait but when I'm writing there's no one that I can seek reassurance from and to be honest, this realisation last week was a pretty terrifying one. I don't know any published novelists. Hell, I don't know any unpublished novelists for that matter either. I converse with a lot of great writers on twitter but I don't know them personally. I can't ring them up or pop over for tea and ask for some casual advice on a sentence structure, a plot loophole or whether or not my character's name suits them. I don't have a sounding board or an advice-giver like I do in work. I have, well, me. Just me. Yikes.

You see, this is where the problem lies. When one looks for reassurance or advice about a problem, we naturally look to someone we trust. But when I don't have a novelist living in the house (sorry Andrew) or sitting at the desk next to me (sorry Scott) or on the other end of the phone (sorry Mam), I have to seek reassurance from myself. And here's the crux of the problem for the pathological self-doubter: I don't trust myself.

The German novelist Franz Kafka once said "Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself". Now when I first read that, I thought it was one seriously depressing quote. But after I let it sit with me and sink in, I realised that there was something quite... inspiring about it. The image of the cold abyss reminds me of George Mallory or Edmund Hilary climbing Everest. A challenge. A journey. Possibly insurmountable but there's only one way of finding out. By putting one step in front of the other, forgetting about the elements and bravely going further than you ever thought possible.

I feel a definite pang of loneliness when I'm writing, because ultimately I am alone when I write and I can't pick up the phone and ask for help if I hit a wall. I have to make a decision about whether or not my dialogue is realistic or at what point should I end chapter 5. These are all decisions that can be reviewed and altered in the editing stage, but in the here and now, I have to make the call. And I have to keep writing.

On the other hand, I do feel proud when I look back on the sentences/paragraphs/pages that I've written and tell myself I wrote that. That can be the difference in spurring me on to write even more as opposed to moping about, making endless cups of tea and watching ER repeats because I'm too uncertain to make a decision.

So I've vowed to start treating myself with more respect when I write. I'm trying to accept the advice that I give myself when I begin to doubt or procrastinate. At the end of the day writing a bad paragraph is better than writing no paragraph at all. I have to accept that my writing, just like any area in my life (or indeed anyone's life) isn't perfect and that's not such a bad thing.

I've also made a pact with myself that only when I do a really good writing session, I allow myself a (chocolate) treat and an episode of ER. So it's pretty much an incentive now to listen to myself and get it written down. A life without chocolate and ER really isn't worth living!

Thanks for reading guys, hope you enjoyed it. I'm off to eat the last cookie and watch some ER - I think I deserve it!