Leadership in Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently, mostly for my Museum role: what is it, how can you identify it, who has it? etc. But it occurs to me that, although it’s primarily a corporate application, leadership should be present in the writing world too.

leadership-fotolia_10647934_m-300x199For me leadership means the ability to create an inspiring vision for the future and motivating people to create that vision. A leader can grow and maintain relationships, adapt well to change and is committed to a set of values they believe in. They own their responsibilities and aren’t afraid to admit when they’ve made a mistake – in fact, a good leader should be able to use that mistake as a learning opportunity to improve for the future.

But, when your passion lies in writing – essentially a solitary passion – how can you demonstrate leadership? Is there such a thing as leadership in writing? Or are there limitations to how you can lead in the writing world?

I suppose in order to identify leadership in writing, you must first recognise ‘writing’ as a business rather than a past time, and a business it is an increasingly successful one. The Publishers Association recently reported that the publishing industry as a whole in the UK was worth £4.4bn, with Ed Vaizey (UK Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy) commenting that “the publishing industry contributes £10.2bn a year to the UK economy.”* So, a business it most definitely is. However, as a business the writer is a cog in the machine, rather than a leader, and I want to know what it means to be a leader as a writer.

Inevitably, because of the business of writing, the leaders of the field could likely be well-known, popular authors who have led the way in publishing their work and selling to a high number of readers. So, in this case, who should I look up to as a leader in writing? J.K. Rowling? Stephen King? James Patterson? What about Jane Austen or Alexandre Dumas? Does the author I pick have to be in the here and now, or can they be someone from long ago whom I now admire and see as the figurehead for the ‘perfect writer’. Is that what leadership in writing should look like: the ideal of what a writer should be? If that is the case then I suspect what it comes down to – as in  most cases of leadership that we want to aspire to – is who do we admire as writers ourselves?

Identifying who it is I admire in the writing world is a far more difficult question than I thought. There are a few who come to mind immediately – Joanne Harris, Rosie Garland, Stephen King – and some that I admire not necessarily because of their books but because of their spirit – Kirsten Lamb, for one. But what is it about these writers that draws me to them? What qualities do they have that I admire? Is that what leadership in writing looks like for me?

Kirsten Lamb is a great example here – because I have already stated I admire her for her spirit rather than her books. That’s not to say that her books aren’t significant, but I will have to admit I’ve never read her books, only her blog – and it’s through the blog that I began to see a leader emerge. It’s enough for me that she describes herself on her website as ‘Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi‘: confidence and humour, two aspects of her personality that I am immediately drawn to, right there. I used to read Kristen’s blog posts like a bible, nodding my head at her observations and surprised at how humble she often came across; not tearing other people down with criticism, but often sharing it by admitting she was guilty of the same things. Somehow whilst imparting her wisdom and making me smile, I felt empowered. I’d read each blog post and think ‘Yeah, I can do this. I can be a writer’.

 

So, for me, one aspect leadership in writing is certainly empowerment – I need to feel empowered to believe in something bigger than the single writer sat alone in a room. I want to belong, and I want to feel welcomed. The community of #MyWANA (We Are Not Alone) that Kristen created exemplifies what leadership could be in writing and her about page sums it up: “Kristen has dedicated her life to helping writers and artists reach their dreams and achieve the impossible.” Yes – THAT – that is what leadership is all about.

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Via Wikipedia

But what about the more traditional authors I admire, like Harris, Garland and King? How do they demonstrate leadership in writing? Joanne Harris is active on social media (Check out her #Storytime on Twitter), she engages in issues in the news and doesn’t believe in the confines of ‘genre’. Having met her a number of times as part of the Huddersfield Literature Festival, I also know that she is incredibly supportive of her local community. That she isn’t afraid to be herself, doesn’t apologise for it and has a high sense of moral rightness, those are the things I admire about her.

 

Rosie Garland then? Another author who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and, if I might be so bold, have met up with from time to time to discuss writing. She’s certainly a mentor for me, of sorts. She had a tough path to publication (some would say life) and is consistently reminding aspiring authors to carry on believing in their dream. Her readings are spectacular, which possibly comes from the fact she has an altar ego, Rosie Lugosi: The Vampire Queen. For me she is a leader because of her guts and perseverance through adversity: I can’t imagine Rosie refusing a challenge just because it takes a bit of work.

 

As for Stephen King, well – duh – he’s Stephen King! Who wouldn’t admire the body of work that he has out there in the world. Not to mention he’s the author of ‘On Writing‘, which is recommended for budding writers across the world. There’s also something about his writing itself, a quality that I don’t think anyone else I have read has come close to capturing. For me, his characters are real people; my imagination hasn’t just conjured them up, they exist on the page and I can see them as clearly as if I was recalling an actual memory. It’s this somewhat unidentifiable quality that puts Stephen King ahead of many writers in my search for leadership: because he has led, certainly in the horror and psychological thriller aspects of writing, for many years. His name appears sixth on the top twenty writers (living or dead) named by UK residents in a survey by the Royal Society of Literature in 2017, beaten only by J.K. Rowling as the other living writer who appears second on the list.*

In essence, what I view as leadership in writing is my own personal preference. But, it’s made me think more about what type of writer I want to be and want to be seen to be. Writing today isn’t always about being behind a closed door. As an author you have to get out there in the world somehow and create a ‘following’ – be that on Twitter or Facebook or through personal interactions. In order to be a leader in writing you have to be willing to put yourself out there in the world and allow people to make a judgement. The type of writer I want to be is one who is inspiring, motivating and dedicated. I want to be a positive role model to other writers out there, but at the same time I don’t want to be an icon placed on a pedestal – I want to be me, I want to be able to live to my own expectations and decide for myself what it is I represent. And, of course, there is a side of me that wants fame in only that way that being a recognised name around the world can be. If I am to aspire to leadership in writing, and I want to know one day if I have succeeded, then these should be my goal posts. At least for now.

~~~~~

What about you? Do you have authors you would consider leaders in writing? And what does leadership mean to you when it comes to writing?

 

* Taken from The Publishers Association, 31st May 2016
* From Literature in Britain Today, 1st March 2017

 

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The value of Literature Festivals

HLF2017 Logo with datesThis month has been all about the Huddersfield Literature Festivalbringing words to life between 4th-19th March. With over fifty events it’s been bigger than ever and I feel privileged to even say I play a small part in the organisation of such, being Festival Secretary and all. I’ve written before about how rewarding working for the Festival has been for me, and I would encourage any one (writer or reader) to seek out local festivals of any kind and join in where they can.

Literature Festivals are all about the writer, regardless of the written form; novels, short stories, poetry, flash fiction, non-fiction – anything goes. And by no means do I mean the writers who feature at the events. No, I also mean us, the public, those people who attend to hear more about the writing craft, who crave the success stories of debut authors and lap up the longevity of long-time, career writers. Personally, I sit in the audience and secretly wonder what it would be like to be on the other side; looking out over a sea of faces eager to hear more about my journey to becoming a published author. And this, I have discovered, is a very worthwhile motivator.

But it’s strange, because I know if I ever do get the chance to sit on the other side of that audience, all waiting for me to tell them how I got published, why this story, and why these characters – I know I would pass on the same cliches that we often hear today:

  • You have to finish the novel before you can look for an agent
  •  The story surprised me, I didn’t plan for it to be this way in the beginning
  • My characters took on a life of their own, they did things that were unexpected
  • I couldn’t force my characters to do something; they would resist by ruining the writing I was trying to make happen
  • It takes hard work, determination and persistence to get published
  • I received lots of rejections before finally finding an agent who believes in me

All of these things are true. They will also all be likely to remain true so long as traditional publishing is the main route to publication. Many of them apply even without the push to enter mainstream publishing; true of independent publishing and even some of self-publishing too. You can’t follow a formula for writing a best selling novel first time around, but you can count on the above being just as applicable for one author as much as another in the end.

The true value of a Literature Festival, though, lies in how you approach the events: you have to be a participant, not just an observer. Ask questions, take notes, speak to the people who are there. This is where you can network and meet like-minded writers and readers who will be thirsty for your stories, who will listen to your novel pitch with enthusiasm and interest, and possibly even highlight where your explanations needs expansion or clarification.

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Loved this pic by @DavidMBarnett with Ian Rankin

I spoke to a lot of people – some of them writers, others who were readers – and they were all complimentary when I told them I was a writer myself. I received encouragement from the authors I spoke to too: tips for getting back into writing, for carrying on through rejection, for simply being a part of the Festival itself. I got to drink with Ian Rankin in our local pub (he was particularly pleased after he bought a round for seven of us and still had change from a £20 note!). I met authors of books I might not ordinarily have read. And – this is important – whenever I attended an event I made an effort to buy the book. It’s important for me to demonstrate my support for the author in this way. Though I should say the Festival pays all of our authors to attend events, regardless of how established or popular they may be; being a debut author at Huddersfield Literature Festival does not mean you have to appear for ‘free’ because it might allow you to sell some books. We know how tough it can be and we are committed to supporting their success as an author.

By doing this – buying a copy of each of the novels of the events I participate in – I get to discover new authors, and read books I am invested in because I’ve heard the journey of the writer and how hard they worked to shape this novel or story or poem. I’ve discovered stories I absolutely love – Calling Major Tom by David Barnett, or Margot and Me by Juno Dawson. But, it also fuels my own imagination and makes me realise that I want this too. So, once I’ve signed off this post, perhaps after a cup of tea, I’m going to sit back down and write. I don’t know what, but I am going to write something; because if I don’t write, how can I call myself a writer?

 

 

 

 

How my dog makes me a writer

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Penny – 1st Canine BF

I don’t think I realise how integral being a dog-owner really is to who I am. I mean, I’ve always known I am a dog-person: even when I was little and we had two cats, four guinea pigs and even two horses the only pet I really desired was a dog. And since I made my first four-pawed friend at the age of eleven or so I haven’t been without a furry best friend until last year when Mac – my rescue Westie – died .

I spent six months dog-less: until I couldn’t do it anymore and we finally settled on rescuing Daisy – a 5yr old Pointer/Terrier mix who is more energetic than a mad, untrained puppy. And she was untrained; the only thing she knew was not to soil the house (thankfully). Unfortunately she hasn’t yet worked out she isn’t allowed on the kitchen worktops when we’re not home or in the bin, or on the furniture. She was one of nine dogs relinquished by an owner unable to care for them any more. She also howls when I go out, just from sheer boredom it appears as she shows no other signs of distress and doesn’t worry when we’re getting ready to leave. I guess that’s what living with eight other dogs can do; she’s probably never been on her own before.

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Dog #2: Ryac – Penny’s son

Anyway, what was I saying? Of course: I’m a dog-person. My soul is not content unless it has another to bond to, and I happen to think that doggy souls are the most loyal and doting ones out there. My life just seems incomplete without a four-legged friend to keep me company as I write.

 

The thing I missed the most in those dog-less six months was walking. Now I know you can walk on your own, but it just isn’t the same. I tried, a few times, but people aren’t as friendly when you’re on your own. Not once did people stop to talk to me as a solitary walker. Yet, the first time I went out with Daisy I had three conversations in the space of half an hour. And it is during these long, ambling strolls that I usually conjure up characters, ideas and work out tangled plot holes and problems.

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Mac – the rescue Westie

So it’s only natural that I’m writing again. Not much, just short ideas and story possibilities. I did, however, also manage to submit my complete novel to an agent and received my first official rejection all in the space of a month. I wear it like a badge of honour: nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the opposite, as it proves I have enough faith in my work to share it. And it wasn’t a bad rejection, far from it, there were compliments included, the mention of the word ‘talent’. I won’t take it too seriously, but I need to identify a few other agents to submit to now, hunt around for the best choices and believe in myself enough to press send again.

So that’s why I’m here. Back from the ether to share my journey once again; hope that I will have something to contribute to the world through my ramblings and rediscover my love of blogging alongside that of fiction. In the meantime I have my dog to keep me entertained, healthy and content. I suppose what I’ve realised is that for me the two things are indistinguishably intertwined. I am both a dog-person AND a writer and I’m not sure I can be one without the other.

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Daisy – the ‘trouble-maker’!

 

 

 

When is the time to let go of grief?

How do you know when it’s time to open your heart up once it’s been broken?

We’ve been talking about getting another dog. I keep checking the Dogs Trust rehoming pages to see if a suitable rescue dog might need my love and attention. Sometimes I see a West Highland Terrier and I look more closely to see if it might be Mac, which is ridiculous because he’s gone. But I still look. I couldn’t rescue another Westie though; it wouldn’t be right. They wouldn’t live up to the enormous expectation I have for them to be Mac.

But another dog, maybe. At least that’s what I want to believe. We talk about it, I make all the right noises, say all the right things; but I’m not sure I can do it. Not yet. We keep mentioning Christmas, as if it’s a marker that by then my grief might be gone. We both know this is not true, but we pretend it could be. There’s discussion of a puppy. The boisterous energy and time, dedication, and the patience needed for this rules it out. We love our furniture too much. Sharp, gnawing teeth would not be welcome here.

I look back on my photographs of Mac – a poor substitution for the warmth of his stale-smelling fur that I miss more than anything – and think: “Not again. I couldn’t allow another companion to settle here only for it to be taken away again.” In short, I have the fear. The emptiness that consumes my insides and settles there, like a great, black stone anchored at the bottom of the sea, is beneath everything and even in the darkness it is inescapably present. I can’t deny its existence just because I can’t see it in the light of day, or because I want to pretend it’s not there. I still feel it pulling me down on occasion, not as often as before, but sometimes.Will it ever truly go away? Probably not.

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No matter how I feel now, it is worth it to have loved this ragamuffin.

This is the burden of pet owners: we outlive our best friends more often than not. Put simply, I am afraid of loving another dog because of the inevitable grief that would eventually follow thereafter. And, in order to welcome a new companion, I need to forget the anguish that is still so fresh in my heart that I can’t yet let go of, not yet, not so soon. But I must release it someday, otherwise I may be engulfed by the fear. And, therein lies the rub: I must let go of it. It will never release me unless I offer it release. I must want to give up feeling the grief before it can be let go. Am I ready to let it go?

And still, every dog I look at – wondering if this is the one that I could love next – is always tested by two criteria: could I love it enough to abandon the fear and; will it fill the hole in my heart where Mac used to be still is?

Until I stop asking that second question, another dog is unlikely to be the answer.

 

 

A Letter to My Dearly Departed Dog

Dearest Mac,

I miss you. It’s only been two months since you disappeared over Rainbow Bridge, a journey I sent you out on alone because you were no longer able to enjoy this life as you once had done. It was a difficult decision, but living with the consequences of such a choice has been much harder.

I miss having a reason to get out of bed in the morning and your sleepy little face waking up so pleased to see me; the sound of your paws on the laminate flooring, scraping and tapping away when you got up before I did. I miss the soft depth of your fur as I scratched behind your ears, watching the grin spread across your face and your head tilt further toward me, entranced by the bliss of my fingers massaging your head. I miss your smell; that musty, deep aroma that I used to breathe in whenever I came home after work: to me it meant that the wait was over, that it was time to play, that we were united again.

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I remember moaning whenever I was tired and I had to take you out in the rain, except, once we were out braving the weather together – you in your coat and me in mine – it was peaceful and energising. I always came back home feeling better than when we left. I recall your little trot instead of a walk and how you would bound about instead of run; your happy, swaying movements portrayed genuine joy and that could only ever make me smile. I remember coming home from work angry, when things hadn’t gone to plan or someone had let me down, and there you were, waiting to cheer me up, to make me forget the worries of the outside world because when we were together nothing else mattered to you, or to me.

There is a space beneath my desk now, where you used to rest beside my feet as I wrote. The corner where your bed used to be is clear and I don’t believe anything will ever fill that space again, not like you. The hook where your leads and collars and coats used to hang are empty now, the novelty dog tail still – there will be no more wags from you. The house is quiet without your footsteps, tapping along the hall, and no gentle snoring accompanies my daily chores although the silence echoes just as loud.

The largest void remains in my heart when I think of how essential you were to my life. At home you were my shadow and now no companion waits for me outside the bathroom door, as excited to see me after my two minute break than if I had been gone for hours. You were the reason I stopped to talk to people as we walked, and grew to know my neighbours. And when I struggled with my health you expected nothing but my love, and judged me not for the things I could not do but for the simplest gestures of attention that were all I could manage on a bad day. You helped me push through my boundaries and commit to the things I loved to do. In this way you were my inspiration, my muse and my champion; each day marked by those three walks we took that structured each one.

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I’ve stopped writing now. It isn’t the same without you here. There will always be something missing whenever I sit down at my desk and prepare to write. There is no impetus to roll out of bed, no thoughtful morning walk or happy playful times. My feet remain cold as I sit here and the room is quiet, and I have no encouraging eyes to look upon when I come to a blank moment. There is no end to the torture of that blank page that I am now to face alone; no hopeful face looking up at me to remind me that it’s time to stop and take a break. And there are no silly celebrations when I do finally find the words; no squeaky toys to watch you chase or treats for you to find. My writing world is ‘blah’ without you in it and I find myself at a loss to continue with it now you’re gone.

Instead I write to you, my faithful rescue dog, who knew how to make me smile when I was down and calm me when I despaired. You gave your whole self to me and I had to let you go. And the pain is still so raw, my home too empty and quiet, and my heart broken.

Yours Forever and More,
Cat x

Writing as a Test

No, I don’t mean a test as in a way to quantify the quality of the written word. What I actually mean to do is compare writing to a 5-day cricket match.

http://www.zazzle.co.uk/cricket_hero_t_shirts-235437171820252663

Love this T-shirt from Zazzles

Not many people know that I love test cricket. I not a huge fan of the shorter forms of the game – like 20-20 or one-day matches – but I love the patience, perseverance and skill that it takes to beat a side over the course of five days. Everyone has a part to play because you need excellent batsman to score the runs and then expert bowlers and sharp fielders to take wickets. And it can all turn on the course of the weather or the quality of the pitch. It’s a wonderfully tense, involved game that people often consider boring. But I say it’s a shame for them, because test cricket is really all about the build up of pressure and the slow, but relentless, delivery of ball after ball of determined precision.

And given that the test match has distracted me from my writing for the last few days, it seems apt to try and take a lesson from it. Cricket is about focused persistence – delivering a perfect over time after time, deciding whether to play the ball or not, and waiting for that catch that might be the flicker of a chance. So, in many ways I can see that writing a novel could be seen to be the same.

Delivery of a ‘perfect over’
Writing that ‘perfect scene’ is almost impossible, but when you finally get it right you feel like fist pumping and cheering. And you can often write perfectly good scenes time after time, but they always seem lacking something – as in cricket when the bowler is pounding down the wicket delivering breathlessly spectacular balls that skim the air around the bat but don’t actually make contact.  I find that most of my writing is like this now – good but not quite good enough.
Yet, sometimes, after a dozen rewrites or a deep mining of the motives and conflict required I hit that magic moment when what I read out pings off the page and comes alive. It takes a lot of work but it’s worth it in the end.
Of course, there’s also that fluke ball (occasionally delivered by the all-round Yorkshire-man Joe Root in England’s case) where a scene just comes together the first time around and you can’t quite believe it. That’s when I mimic Stuart Broad’s OMG moment in the Ashes of 2015.

Deciding whether to play (or not)
There is so much of this in writing. Deciding which competitions to enter, which characters to include, which story-lines to follow and so on and so forth. But, for me the one that this particular simile brings to mind is during the editing stage when you are soulfully attempting to make your story sing.

Every single sentence, every single word, counts. Just like for a batsman at the crease who has to determine how to move his feet, whether to play at a shot or leave it to fly past the stumps. Even the most tentative of movements can upset the balance – that split second they decide to play a shot, only to realise that it’s the out-swinger and it should be left well alone. Too late – it’s edged and caught at slip and they’re out!
In the publishing world even the smallest jarring of language or misspelled word can be an excuse for an agent or publisher to stop reading. The flow of the writing is just as important as the content in this context, and so you have to know when to hit big and when to be cautious. On a grand scale, this can be the difference between hitting a six/getting that agent or taking that long walk back to the pavilion/being rejected. But sometimes, you also have to know that – in cricket – the bowling was just that good and there was nothing you could have done to change the outcome; and sometimes, we have a lapse in concentration and go for those silly, high shots and get, deservedly, caught out.

Waiting for that catch
It doesn’t take a genius to work out how this analogy applies to writing. As a fielder during the match you stand there and wait, and wait, and wait. Sometimes there’s a bit of chasing the ball but mostly what you’re training your muscles to do is react quickly when the ball comes flying at you. If you’re ready and you catch it, celebrations ensue! Of course, most of the time this is short-lived, because then out comes the next batsman and it starts all over again – and if not the next batsman in this match, the one in the next. Catches are short-lived glory: staying on the team is what matters.
a-general-view-of-the-sli-007How long the wait can be when you submit writing…occasionally a response might never come. Sometimes there is a trickle of possibility, but then it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted (the review system in cricket emphasises this heartily). The point is, all cricketers have to wait for the catch just like we have to wait for that chance to prove our writing can entertain others. Some days you get lots of catches, other days not so many and then still, others where there are none at all. In test cricket this is just how it is – you are playing the long game and most of that is about hard work, perseverance and patience.

 

Returning Someone New

It’s been a long time. Approaching a year, in fact. My last post was in September and so much has happened since then it seems like a lifetime ago.

I stopped blogging because my health was declining. In October 2015 I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia to accompany the M.E. I already have. The end of 2015 saw me trying to get back to an even keel by focusing primarily on my well being.

The start of this year saw me back to work – which took a while to acclimatise to after a two month absence. For a while it was all I could do. Writing seemed like an energetic luxury but I managed some, and I thought I might be ready to start submitting to agents.

Huddersfield Literature Festival in March opened up some new possibilities. I heard from an independent publisher who spoke passionately about how they can support authors and build their careers over time. It’s an avenue I’m still considering and one I shall be researching in the near future.

Going on an Arvon Writing Retreat in April changed me. I was immensely lucky to be able to attend one of these courses and I learned so much in five days that it was a shock to come back to ‘real life’. It was here I met Kerry Young – one of the authors leading the workshops. She was brutally honest with me about some of my writing, but gave me enough support to drastically improve one pivotal scene early on in the manuscript. It was exactly what I needed, and if/when my novel is published her name will certainly get a mention. It wasn’t an easy week but it was totally worth it. My writing has developed; it has purpose with sharp edges and tight, nuanced sentences.

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Arvon, Lumb Bank, Ted Hughes’ former home

And so, it was back to the editing again. I was so relieved I hadn’t started submitting before the Arvon course. The manuscript I am now shaping is the best I can make it, and I think it’s good – good enough to proudly send out into the world and not feel disheartened when the inevitable rejections come.

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R.I.P. Mac

It’s taking time though. As always. And sometimes I have to step away for a while to recharge. Or when some tragedy happens, such as the passing of my adorable rescue Westie Mac who has left a huge hole in my heart and my life because I no longer have a constant writing companion. Walking is no longer a necessity and the lack of fresh air and thinking time stifles me. Mac is another name that will one day make it into the acknowledgements; he arrived just as I was starting my first novel and it is sorrowful that he is not around to see me finish it and get it out into the world.

 

Yet, the reason I’ve come back to the blog is because I was given the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people during the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. It was rejuvenating to be surrounded by people so passionate about books and reading and writing. I’d forgotten how much energy can be created by so many creative minds all in one place. And blogging is a virtual space for that.

So I’m back. I have no idea what I’ll write about from here on in, but I do know that I want to share my journey again. In the meantime, the Festival provided me with a suitcase of new books to read and hopefully they’ll inspire me to keep writing my own.

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At Harrogate Crime Festival, 2016

Balancing Yes and No

I’m getting there, slowly. The past month has been busy and not always for the right reasons. I have meant to work on the opening of the novel, preparing it for the Mslexia competition, but as is typical I became distracted by many other things. I suspect it is often like this for all writers, and I am certain I have experienced this before: but not quite on such a scale. I have actively been avoiding editing the novel, not quite consciously but definitely noticeable as I look back on the last few weeks.

believe she could so didThose that have been following me some time will know that I came back to writing in a roundabout, difficult way. If you are not familiar with my active decision to begin writing again and prioritise the dream I had take a moment to read “The long winding road of how to be a writer…” There you will find out why I had to put the breaks on my life for a short time and adapt to living with a debilitating condition called M.E. One of the common traits of people who suffer with this condition is the over-achiever attitude. Typically, we are of the ilk that we do everything, all of the time and have no concept of how the word ‘No’ might work.

I got used to ‘No’ being my automatic response to things when I was diagnosed with M.E. But that was five years ago and in that time I’ve learned to balance to my energy with rest and discovered how to do the things I want without compromising my health (most of the time). Because of this I am, for the most part, recovered: though I still suffer with flare ups and it takes me an inordinate amount of time to bounce back from general illnesses like colds.

What does this mean? It means I have rediscovered my love of the word ‘Yes’ and rekindled my passion for the inward glow of satisfaction at a job well done. In the last few months I have taken on the role of Secretary for my home town Literature Festival, found the joys of paper-cutting as a new hobby and agreed to use my Egyptological skills in helping to moderate an online course in November. [Hmm, Yes. I did just say: November. That lovely month of the 50,000 word challenge.] Let’s not mention the languishing novel I need to polish for submission or my desire to write short stories, or even my oft-neglected homework for my writing group.

So, it’s safe to say I have become the ‘Yes’ woman once again. I have convinced myself of the phrase: “She believed she could, so she did.” Only, it’s not so easy as that for me. Hence why, over the last two weeks I’ve had a terrible cold which put me in bed pretty much all weekend and disrupted all of those things I had been meaning to do.

That cold was a reminder of what life can be like for me with M.E. If I truly want to have my book published it needs to be prioritised. I can’t do everything – not like I once did – and so I have to pick and choose wisely those things that I spend my time and energy on. I don’t intend to put back any of my current intentions, but I’m certainly going to have to start refusing any more that come my way for the time being. All I need to do is balance my workload smartly, and I know I can do that: I’ve been doing it for five years, slowly building up the weight of said load to see what else I could carry.

Well, now I recognise my limit, I know where I’m at. And I’m pleased to say that, just before writing this post, I polished up those 5,000 words that begin my novel and a print out is now awaiting my judgement once I’ve had some time away. And that’s how this works. One step at a time; one task at a time; one dream at a time. I can’t concentrate on my novel while I’m thinking of new paper cuts to try, or answer emails when a short story thread is pulling at my imagination. I need to be present: be mindful; be in the moment. And of all the things I’ve learned over the past five years, M.E. has taught me that this is the real way to achieve what we want.

Coming back from a break…

A piece I made for my friend (Template by Paper Panda)

It’s been 11 weeks since I last wrote a blog post. It feels strange to be back, but I’m pleased to finally be here. Over the past couple of months I’ve read books, found new series to watch and even developed a new love of crafting via paper-cutting. It’s been a revelation to realise just how much free time I actually had: time that used to be spent writing, plotting, blogging and tweeting. In some ways, a part of me wonders if I really have time to go back to writing at all…

They key thing to returning from some time away is to not expect too much too soon. I may have been churning out short stories, editing the novel and blogging and tweeting regularly before my break, but I won’t reach that level of activity immediately now I’m back. That is not realistic. A lot of the next few weeks will mean going back to the basics, not over committing and exploring those elements of writing that I know tap into my passion for it.

Paper crafts need patience

Paper crafts need patience

The positive aspect of such a long hiatus is that I feel refreshed, energised and relaxed. I think part of my reasons for needing some time away was inextricably linked to the pressure I was putting myself under to forge a potential career from my writing. But, that isn’t what it is about. There is no time limit to my dream, there is no reason to rush through it and try too hard to mould myself into something I am not yet ready for. If anything, I have learnt the value of stepping back and engaging in other creative pursuits. Paper cutting has reminded me of the rush I used to get when creating fiction: the planning, the effort, the final piece. It hasn’t felt like a chore or a task to be done: it was simply something to do for fun – and I had lost that feeling when it came to writing.

Yet, I love writing and I can’t help but come back to it because of this. Although I might struggle to return to it, I know that it’s time to re-focus my goals and get back on the path to my dream of publication. I have not been totally idle during my time away; I did reread my manuscript in June and then passed it on to two more beta readers for their comments. Therefore I am coming back to the novel with renewed eyes and a certainty that the first page and a half can be cut and a good idea of where the niggles are to be ironed out. The aim here is to prepare the fist 5,000 words for entry into the Mslexia Novel Competition; I think it’s ready for it (or at least will be once September 21st rolls around!).

And that’s all I’m promising myself that I will do in the next month or so (that and perhaps my Writing Group homework – lest I get into trouble!). As much as my idealistic self might dream of it, writing is not my job. I think I have spent too much of this year trying to convince myself it could be, when in reality I am more than happy with it being a pursuit I explore our of enjoyment. Yes, I want to be published, but that doesn’t mean that I have to pursue this in exclusion of all else. I need to find a balance, and with my time now limited thanks to other opportunities that I am currently committed to outside my part-time job (Festival Secretary for the Huddersfield Literature Festival only one of these things), it is more important that ever that I ensure I don’t over-do things and risk spoiling my health.

So, yes: I’m back. But I’ve not yet decided on a blog schedule or writing goals outside those 5,000 words for Mslexia. I suppose that is another thing I’ve realised during my ‘time off’; that I don’t need to be prescriptive about what I must do. If I want it to happen, I’ll make it happen. Eventually.

I have lost my faith … (or why I’ve gone AWOL)

Suddenly I find myself without. I have no desire to write, no motivation to edit, no impetus to create. I am lack-lustre and blanched. I look at the goals I have set for myself and turn away, for a reason I can’t quite understand. I have forgotten what it is to enjoy writing.

I’m sure I could write if I sat down to do it. I could print off that short story and improve the dialogue, add some descriptors. If I let my mind wander far enough I can even imagine the beginnings of something new; a character, a place, a scenario. But it seems pointless to me at the moment to do any of these things, to commit to them or even attempt them. An ‘ordinary life’ is all I seem to have the energy for now – the possibilities that I dreamed might come from writing elude me and I’ve lost the faith in myself that I used to possess.

I still want the things I wanted before and I suspect that, one day, the desperate need to fulfil these things will return. But right now I can’t fathom it. I can’t imagine hours spent crafting worlds with fictional people trying to determine their ways. I don’t want to. I’m happy in the worlds other people create for me. I like getting lost in other people’s words: it’s easier somehow.

So I have decided to take a sabbatical of sorts. A break. Some time away. The WIP is almost done, it is so close to being a potential reality I think I’ve stalled out in fear and misplaced the faith I need to believe in it, to believe in me. Pushing isn’t going to yield results, not this way. I can’t pressure myself into falling in love with words again.

I don’t know how long I’ll be gone for. Two weeks, a month, three months…I hope not that long. All I know is that I need some time and, when you feel like that, it’s best to follow your instincts and take the time you need to find your feet again. Thus I plan to withdraw from all types of social media linked with my writing for a little while. I need to escape it, remember why I miss it when it’s absent and rediscover my faith.

I will be back.
Don’t worry. Be safe. Stay true.
Write when you can,
And dream forever.