Monday, 7 February 2011

'Sick' writer. Help needed

When I opened the curtains this morning and looked out at the grey oppressive day, I could sooo easily have got back into bed and snuggled beneath the duvet.

I’m probably not the only one to think it today. Listening to Rabbi Lionel Blue give his ‘Thought for the Day’ on Radio 4 this morning, apparently the first Monday in February is known as ‘National Sickie day’ - the day of the working year when the highest numbers of employees are likely to call in sick. But he also suggested that getting down to work is often the best therapy for morning depression. Calling in sick might not be the answer for everyone.

His words struck a chord. When I was in the bank and had my health problems it would have been easy to go off sick. However, I often went into work when I shouldn't. One particularly bad day, I hobbled in to open the branch and keep some customer appointments. Mid-morning, I went to the doctor's for both feet injecting. I’d never had them injected before. He warned me it would be painful, the feet being made up of such small bones. He wasn't kidding. It must have been mild shock but afterwards, they had to make me a cup of tea and allow me to stay seated for a while so I didn’t pass out.

'Right, now off you go home, put your feet up and rest for a few hours until the injections take effect,’ my doctor said.

'Oh, no, I can’t do that,’ I replied, after I'd composed myself. ‘There’s too much to do. I have more appointments and a meeting later.’

'I can’t keep on patching you up and sending you back out there,' he said, half joking, half-serious. Then he added kindly, 'Why don't you give it up - go and write poetry - your body can't keep taking this. Sometimes you have to know when to give in.’

He couldn’t have known me very well. ‘Giving in' is something I'd never, ever done. And even a few months later, when I had to retire from the bank, I wasn’t about to start.

Since I left, it’s good to be able to sit down in the day if necessary, or go to the gym for a swim or a Jacuzzi. It often helps the pain and stiffness. But over the years, I've had to re-invent myself several times, adapting to survive and stay happy. Leaving the bank made me feel a bit of a failure. I started a little craft business but when my health got the better of that too, I found writing was my salvation; it distracted me, kept me 'busy,' stopped me dwelling, and becoming depressed. Writing keeps my brain alive. It makes me feel worthwhile – yes, I know being a good mother and housewife is worthwhile - but writing is something for me. It makes me feel I'm good at something.

The trouble is, I'm floundering. Two years on and there has been no success. The only thing that keeps me going is my dreams and determination. It’s my own fault. I haven't pushed anything I've written with any real conviction. If I'm honest, that's because I haven't finished much. Writers write. And I do write a lot, except once I've written it I delete it, put it in my slush bin, or play around with it for hours, hoping some new bud will miraculously spring upwards and make it a masterpiece. I procrastinate. I've blogged today, hoping I'll feel better for freeing up my mind. But the bottom line is I could have added a thousand words to my novel.

These days, my inability to work (not only writing) is sometimes a mental hurdle rather than a physical one. Something inside, some little worry worm, burrows into my brain and makes me doubt myself. Re-reading my last blog, I was full of good intentions, excited by the possibilities of what lay ahead. Here I am; no further forward. Despite this wonderful opportunity on the RNA New Writer’s Scheme, every day when I sit down to the second novel, I panic.

Lack of self-confidence and belief cripple me as much as a flare up in my wrists or fingers stop me from writing. I’ll never do it in time. I’m only up to 12,000+ words. How will I get it up to 90,000 and completed in time for August? Anyway, it’s not good enough. I’m not writing what I want to write - I’m not fun enough for chicklit/rom com – These are just a few examples of what's going on in my head.

Every few months my first novel pulls me back to it. I have an idea to take it somewhere completely different. I think it could work. Yes! Yes! Yes!


I can’t do it. I’m not talented enough - I don’t have a degree in creative writing. Neither of my novels is any good. I’ll never be a published writer. Does this loop that's been going around in my head since the New Year make any sense to you, reader? I know the writers among you will be smiling. Having read some of your blogs, I’m aware that crises’ of confidence go with the territory of being a writer.

Rabbi Blue’s final points resonated most. ‘Don’t be defeated by perfectionism – even if you fall short of the task in hand, at least you can say you gave it a go.'
This is the crux for me. Being a perfectionist means finding happiness with myself is a continuous challenge. So for now, all I can do is keep 'having a go,' although I still don't know whether I should put all my energies into the first novel or the second.

How do you cope when you’re crippled by that lack of belief? How do you keep going? And for the writers among you, any tips for how I’m going to muster 80,000 words in the next six months would be appreciated too.

Until another day

Bye for now



Flowerpot said...

I think every writer knows how you feel. I certainly do. Insecurity and lack of confidence seems to be part of our make up and it is difficult to live with - some times much worse than others. I do it by the dogged belief that I have something to say. And something that others want to hear. And despite it being frustrating and challenging, frequently driving me to despair, it gives me huge pleasure to do it. I know that if I don't write, I woud fall apart. Especially now. Very best of luck! xx

bayou said...

You don't need to be a writer to understand the feeling of having that lack of confidence. It happens to all of us, I am sure. Some might talk about, others will just hide it. I know that I must be totally happy within me to be able to realise some of my creative bits (it's not work or a hobby, it's the thing I want to do, therefore I compare it to your writing). Just continue thinking of it, you cannot command creativity. One moment, it will flow out of you and you will know then that this is the beginning. Just trust in yourself. You are such a strong lady, you will realise that you can rely on yourself also by being a writer. Perhaps next time, don't trash so quickly what you wrote down but keep it for a while and look at it from another angle?

Milla said...

Nothing wise and wonderful to add. Just to say that you are not alone. Plus, that you ARE doing it!! You are writing and you're getting triumphs under your belt such as the RNA thing. Don't be too hard on yourself. Xx

Kate Hardy said...

Hugs, Debbie. We all get that feeling - doesn't matter whether you're published or not, the doubts hit every writer from time to time. Julie Cohen has a really good post on this subject -

I guess I have deadlines to keep me going ;o) But you could try giving yourself permission to write a scruffy draft (easier to fix a bad page than a blank one); or maybe get a crit partner who can encourage you?

As for how you hit that 80k - depends if you're a planner or a pantster. (If you're a planner, email me and I'll send you my notes from my RNA talk at the last conf - they might help.)

As Bayou says, you're strong. And that's going to stand you in very good stead in this business! xxx

Posie said...

I seem to work in creative bursts...sometimes paintings and words are bubbling away and I just have to get a piece of paper and go, at other times I sit procrastinating, looking for distractions as try as I might I can't seem to focus on the task, the ideas don't flow, the paint on the paper just doesn't seem to capture what I am trying to achieve. So...I do know how you feel...sometimes a good blow outside in the fresh air can clear the ind, or some meditation or yoga, I think a clear, empty mind, allows the creative mind to flow. Hope that makes some sense...

Frances said...

Nope, you are definitely not alone. I would wonder about artists or writers who did not have some tendency to doubt themselves. Right now, I'd think that you are still recovering from your surgery...that's an amazing triumph! xo

Debs Carr said...

I recently had the 'who do I think I'm kidding' conversation with my poor husband. You're definitely not alone and anyone that can have her feet injected to keep going at work *wincing at the mere thought* is certainly no failure, or giver upper ;)

I think we can be far too hard on ourselves at times and you've had an awful lot to deal with. I remembering hearing you read out some of your novel at Caerleon and I also remember thinking how good it was. Whatever book you decide to go with, I'm sure you'll get there.

Julie P said...

Been there, still going there and will probably always go there! The thing you need to do, or what I found useful, is to try and trick your brain into thinking nothing about finishing your work off or subbing it.

I tell myself that it doesn't matter if what I've written is any good because I'm going to send it off anyway, so there!

The good thing is that you're writing lots and often. Now you need to finish something and be brave and send it off.

Two years of writing is not long in the grand scheme of things. Your determination and productivity shows that you'll get there.

Ally H said...

Hey, what are you doing inside my head?! You've just expressed my "I'll never be good enough" thoughts exactly. The good thing I can tell you for sure is that you are more than good enough! Your blogs are amazing and compelling, and I can't wait for the opportunity to read your novels.
Now, I just need to get my tush in gear and start organising this Writers' Group so, at the very least, we can all encourage each other to achieve our full potential. Can't wait! xx

Colette McCormick said...

Self doubt is my middle name so I know axactly where you're coming from. You have come through so much - be proud of yourself and take care.

Chris Stovell said...

It's true we all know that feeling! I have to say that WIP has been a complete pig and the occasional snide comment about my debut novel has nearly cut me in half!

The maxim I write by is one you use all the time, and it's one I use for running as well as writing; it's a Lance Armstrong saying, 'pain is temporary - quitting lasts forever!' And I know from what I read that you live with chronic pain, it's also clear that you never quit. You can and do write so just keep going.

How to get through the writing pain? I started this year writing a daily haiku and what I've learned doing that is there is a stage when I LOATHE what I've written and want to give up BUT once I've got past that stage it all slides into place! Try setting yourself a short daily exercise until you feel comfortable with and undertand your creative process - undertanding how you feel will help you get through the tough stage. Good luck and keep going!

Queenie said...

You do have to let go of perfectionism. One of my friends told me: 'there is no such thing as a finished book, just a draft which is good enough to submit', which I found very helpful.

Re 80K in 6 months: the best way I know is to set yourself a realistic daily word count for a realistic number of days per week, and stick to it come hell or high water. For example, if you write 1000 words per day, five days a week, it will only take you 16 weeks, leaving some time for revision. And 1000 words is really not a lot - as you say, around the length of your blog post (which weighed in at 1012 when I checked). If you can make it 1500 words a day, five days a week, it will take you less than 11 weeks; less than half of your available time.

I find that setting myself a word count goal, and following Terry Pratchett's advice to Apply Bum Glue, goes a long way towards overcoming those mental hurdles. And check out voice recognition software for those flare-up days. You can do it! Best of luck!

mountainear said...

Debbie, I can't add a thing to all the wise words written above - you and your dilemma are definitely not alone apparently.

You're a tough cookie and you are a writer - that's what you do. Don't be too hard on yourself or too critical of your work. I believe in you too and can't wait until I hold a published first edition of your book - signed by the author.

muddyboots said...

can't really add anything to allthese wise words, but keep going and remeber your glass is half full! oh and the banana split needs eating soon. LOL

Suzanne Jones said...

The RNA used to let you send a partial to the New Writers' Scheme - I had to do that one year when the deadline approached and I'd written very little. And I got terrific feedback on those three chapters, pointers as to where my work could be made stronger and where the story didn't quite work.

However, I really think you can finish the book. I know it must seem like an impossible task just now, but you've written 12,000 words already. You just need to build on those.

The chance of getting feedback from a professional writer is too good to miss. And you've already paid for your membership so you've got nothing to lose by submitting.

Besides, I know you're being harsh on yourself when you say it's not good enough. I know it will good - your blog posts are always beautifully written and I've no doubt that your novel will be the same.

You just need to get over this mental hurdle. I haven't been able to write anything myself for a while, but I've decided that by this time next week I'll have finished a new short story. If you promise yourself that you will have written, say, ten pages of your novel by the same time, we can cyber hand hold. And I'm sure once you've written those ten pages, you won't be able to stop yourself writing more.


Suzanne Jones said...

Gosh, sorry - went on a bit there.


Kat W said...

Oh wow I can relate to your whole post. The health, the not wanting to give in, the self doubt, the battle with perfectionism...your post could have been written by me a couple of years ago. My heart goes out to you.

I suppose you'd like to know if things have got better for me. Yes, they definitely have. How? Where to start... I could do with a phone conversation with you rather than this comment. But I guess I realised that I didn't need to 'give in' to accept the way things were in any given moment. I had to realise that I wasn't going to go back to the person I had been. I had to learn (and still am learning) to take every day, moment by moment. I'm learning to trust my intuition and getting to know the me that I am now. I had to let go & stop the exhausting fight with what was & could've been. But far from give-up I decided to make the most of everything I have now. I focused on my creativity and used it as rehabilitation & self development. There's so much more to say. In fact I am (slowly) writing a book based on my experiences & am soon starting an e-zine.

BUT I have to be honest I still have doubts, ups & downs and I still have three finished books that I haven't even submitted. Yet my mood and my perspective has shifted so much that these are much milder & less frequent symptoms. By letting go a little & living day by day I have been led to many experiences I wouldn't have if I'd been trying to control things with my task master perfectionist attitude. I'm learning slowly.

There's more I could add but I've already clogged up your comments section. If you want to ring or email leave me a comment on my blog & we'll sort something out. Another person who may help is Michael Nobbs who I've just interviewed for my ezine. A couple of posts ago on my blog you'll find links to his sites/ezine/book. He has severe ME but is trying to make a living from art & writing. He has some great advice I think may help you.

Meanwhile, take care of you.
Kat X

CAMILLA said...

There was a time when many words would flow for me to pen a short story, even if I did not submit for entry. It may have lay there with bundle of others to gather dust once more. Writing has been a passion, but of late, a sheer mental block.!

You are not alone Debbie, and great to see here you are writing.! You have had a tough year re your surgery Debbie, but I have always admired your amazing inner strength which holds you proud.

The very best of luck Debbie, and don't forget.... you will win in the end, don't give up.!


Carole Anne Carr said...

That would be lovely, to meet your writers' group. When I feel like that, and I had a ten year illness, I listen to N.L.P. tapes and it works every time. Kind regards, Carole.


Hi Debbie,
I emapthise with you as a fellow writer but...some thoughts:
1000 words is a lot to aim for per day. Aim lower.
You will learn more from finishing a poem/story/novel than by starting lots of different ones.
Push through to the end of each project, no matter how hard.
Make yourself the perfect finisher, if you need to be perfect.
I wish you nothing but luck to go with the hard graft :)
Nuala x

Norma Murray said...

I've just caught up with what has been happening in your life. Don't give up on yourself. Becoming a writer isn't an easy road to take, and there are bound to be times when you feel like chucking it all in. Don't go hitting the wretched delete button. What I do is have a special file for 'bits' I think are hopeless. I tuck alll the bits I want to get rid of in there and revisit when I'm in a more positive mood. Sometimes I'm surprised ...