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!


  1. I hate to give anyone advice this case, I'll force myself...

    Stop counting!!! Don't look at the word count. Think of the quality of all that you have produced - and the quality of all that you will produce. You're not a conveyor belt writer. You put thought (and angst!) into your words. That takes time.

    Switch off word count :-)
    mary (sounding and feeling like an oul' wan)

    1. Thanks Mary,

      Yes I've become much more selective with word count; when it's a bad day I don't look at it, when I've had a good day I check it and pat myself on the back! It's the little ways of tricking myself like that that really help! :)

      And you could never sound like an oul wan!! :)