To update you all on my last post, an approximate aeon ago, I didn’t make it any further in the Mslexia novel competition, but I wanted to wish the best of luck to those ladies who hit the shortlist. Looking forward to hearing who won!
And then I wanted to talk about my friend Nerys Parry’s blog post, “The Writing Doldrums”. Nerys has just released a gorgeously written novel titled Man and Other Natural Disasters, which I loved for its cool twist and insight into a piece of Canadian history that I previously knew nothing about (and don’t want to tell you about because I don’t want to spoil it, but trust me, you should read it).
Anyway, Nerys, in her blog post, talks about times when you’re stuck in “the writing doldrums”: “periods when I just can’t seem to catch any inspiration, even a breeze of it, and the writing on my page appears lifeless and flat.” I loved this description, and completely related to it. It’s exactly what I’m going through right now. I have ten thousand ideas but no inspiration and no follow-through. I’m in a kind of exhausted, stuck, “what’s the point?” phase of my feelings about writing, which I think is bloody sad. I’m miserable because I’m not writing but I can’t/won’t/don’t want to write. (Yes, all of those contradictory and self-sabotaging things.)
But this paragraph in Nerys’ blog (amongst other advice on getting through the doldrums) in particular resonated with me:
4. Pretend it’s the first time: A shaman I met used to talk about ‘practicing beginner’s mind’, to always approach your life and your passions as if it were the first time. This is a handy trick when facing the doldrums, to write as if it were the first time you ever attempted a story, with no expectations and with all the excitement of something new.
This resonated because that’s what I miss: that feeling I used to have, when I began writing, of being enthralled, in love with what I was writing (LIVING in my head, even more than writing), unable to think about anything else. I haven’t felt that for a long time. I think I stopped feeling it once I got some edumacation under my belt, if that makes sense: not that I know everything there is to know about writing (ha ha ha, far from it!!), but in the days when I had no clue what I was doing (and producing terrible fiction, great 200,000-word swathes of it within a couple of months), I was blissfully happy. Once I started to realize everything I didn’t know, it stopped me dead. Kind of like learning to drive a car. At the beginning, you’re trying to remember to change gears and use the pedals correctly and not kill any pedestrians, and trying to do everything at once feels overwhelming. Eventually of course, as you drive more, it becomes second nature, and you don’t have to think about it much. So I know that the only way to get better is to practice (i.e., write more), but everything I write seems like utter shite, so I don’t want to write. I come in with expectations blazing (“I have an MFA! Of course I can write like Jhumpa Lahiri right from the get-go!” or, to go back to the driving analogy, “I have my driving license! Of course I can drive the British Grand Prix this weekend!”) and promptly fall flat on my face.
So I think that above, Nerys is onto something. You have to take a step or two back. Approach it like it’s the first time. Maybe for me that means forgetting everything I do know, at least for the proverbial shitty first draft, and just trying to channel the blissful ignorance I used to have, then fix the resulting awfulness in revision. It sounds so doable, doesn’t it…!