Sunday, 27 July 2014

Overcoming Adversity

The most basic rule of any story is that the main character must face an issue at the beginning that they need to overcome. During the course of the story, said character faces up to this obstacle, usually encounters some adversity but achieves their goal by the end of the story and is richer for the experience. The character's situation, personality, dreams and experiences in the final chapter are usually different than those in chapter one. That's the not-so secret formula to telling any kind of story.

It only dawned on me recently that we all have our own story to tell and my experience of writing a novel and my transition into writing is part of my own story. And like David (my main character) and indeed any main character, I have my obstacle (I think it's fair enough to call my novel an obstacle) and I hope that one day, I'll have overcome this challenge and have gained something from the experience of writing.

Except that there is a problem with the plot in my own story: my book still hasn't been written. Either the challenge I have set myself is too huge, or my main character (me) is too weak to carry it out. Hmmmm....

Spoiler alert:

I think I've established over my blog posts that when it comes to writing, I'm not the most disciplined. In fact, I'm quite the opposite. I'm extremely lazy, I habitually procrastinate and I actively avoid sitting down to write anything in either my notebook or laptop.

Of course, I'm organised enough to pop my notebook into my handbag almost every day along with my keys, phone and purse. I find that actively putting the notebook and pen in my handbag relieves my guilt in some small way, as if that's half the battle in writing a novel. "Sure, I was hoping to write today, I even had my notebook in my handbag as proof! Pity I just didn't get a chance to write anything, sure wasn't I too busy?"

I honestly couldn't fathom how many times I've recited that mantra in my head as I sat down to watch television at 8pm. This is then accompanied by the usual "well I can't start writing now, sure who writes after 8pm?" I have to say, this thought process is an incredibly effective way to rid oneself of any form of guilt about the writing process. It's also an incredibly effective way to destroy one's attempts in writing a novel.

One skill that I've honed over the last few years is my ability to make excuses about why I haven't written anything. It's sunny, I better walk the dog. I think the girls are coming over this weekend, I better clean the bathrooms. When did I last change the bedsheets? Better change them now. The kitchen floor looks a bit grubby, I better mop it. I haven't been on Facebook in 20 minutes, better check it. I wonder what's trending on twitter? Is there anything on in the cinema this weekend? I better check. What were those songs I heard on the radio and wanted to download? I'll just log into iTunes and check the singles chart. What will I wear to work tomorrow? I better check the weather.

Repeat to fade.

It's incredible how easy I find it to put off my writing and prioritise something (usually trivial) over it. In fact it's embarrassing when I compare how much time I engage in the actual act of writing my book in my day to day life versus how much time I devote to thinking and daydreaming about being a published writer. Let's just say the scales are tipped heavily to one side.

So I guess that in order to achieve my goal and overcome this challenge, something has to shift, right? Thankfully, the main character in my own story (that's me if anyone is lagging behind, try to keep up) is becoming slightly more adept at self discipline and motivation. Don't get too excited, I said slightly.

Being the organised and diligent writer that I am, I had my notebook with me in work last week, in case I was struck by some enlightened idea (which never happens) and I might have needed to write it down before the inspiration deserted me. It was only when I got home Friday night that I realised I had left my notebook in my desk drawer. My immediate response was "Oh well, no writing this weekend." But surely a proper writer wouldn't let such a trivial matter impact their schedule? If I leave my work diary or my work phone at home, I don't just leave the office and say "I'll come back and be a social worker when I have all my shit together" so why did I think it was acceptable to think I could do that as a writer?

It's like I've learned at Listowel and all my other writing courses, if I want to be a writer I have to act like one and prioritise my writing, treating it with the same level of importance and respect as any other important areas of my life.

So I improvised and wrote in a different notebook, did some more plot development and I updated my blog. It's not perfect and it would have been better to have access to all my notes but I'll get them tomorrow and update my notebook. The important thing is that I didn't give in to my own pressure to procrastinate and avoid; I challenged myself and didn't give in to the laziness and avoidance that comes so naturally. It may have been a small step in itself but the meaning behind it is a great confidence boost for me.

And if that confidence boost is a sign that I'm one step closer to overcoming the obstacle then I'm not going to complain!


  1. Go you,girl. Getting there…the end is in sight…nearly!

  2. Very entertaining, I do enjoy the humorous, self-deprecating self-reflection. But I wouldn't call you extremely lazy; as you know, in our line of work procrastination is a tool to be used appropriately at times! (ok, I've blown my anonymity) If you do need to procrastinate (the procrastination paragraph was really good, by the way) you can come round to my house and I'll let you loose on the kitchen.