I have been in several writer groups in my life. All of the members of these groups (with the exception of my current one—but give it time—these ladies can write!) have been published, some several times and by major publishing houses. Some were published authors before they joined the writers’ group, while some had their first novel picked up after they joined the group.
The only one out of all of writer group members that has never been published is me.
When I think about this grim statistic, the lyrics to R.E.M.’s Losing my Religion pop into my head:
“That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough.”
I stand before thee in the spotlight of shame, naked with nothing to show for myself. Pelt me with rotten vegetables and insults, with your empty bottles and vitriol. I deserve no less.
Ok. That was a rather overly dramatic image. But you get my drift. This failure to produce anything palpable, something I can take off the bookshelf and show to people, makes me feel like I have been exposed for the fraud I am.
What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?
I will spare you the spiral of self-hatred that accompanies thinking about the fact that I am the only one who has not successfully launched a writing career in all of my writer’s group friends. Suffice it to say it is an emotional swamp I have to cross everyday just to get to a place where I can start typing.
Writer’s week offered some more insights into why I have not been able to dedicate my time to writing more as well as what would happen if I did. Here are a few things I learned about myself.
The day goes by very fast when I’m working on my own writing.
Frequently, my day job can seem like a marathon at the 30 km mark: interminable. Don’t get me wrong. I like my work. I am lucky to have it. It is interesting and meaningful and I get to delve deeply into subjects. The problem is, it is always someone else’s project.
It turns out that I can very easily work on my own writing every day. I did not know this before this week. The secret fear that if given the gift of time I would not know what to do with it has stalked me forever. That I would sit there all day with nothing to say and nothing to show for it, thus proving that I am indeed the most useless person on the planet. I am happy the opposite is true, that days spent writing go by fast. Of course, this is a bittersweet revelation given that I spend over 8 hours a day, 5 days a week doing other work. But hey. You can’t have it all, right?
Writing time should not be gifted but taken.
Peacefully if possible, but in a violent coup if need be. While writing the above section I realized one of the big misguided beliefs that has held me back: I have been waiting for someone/something/some situation to present to me my own time on a platter, preferably surrounded by soft cheese and grapes and accompanied by a glass of prosecco.
You cannot gift to someone what already belongs to them. I own my own time. Every hour, second, minute I choose what I do with it. The problem is that since having children I have fallen for the mother trap, where I felt that all my time needed to be devoted to my kids and my family. And when you have freely given up your time to others, have staked no claim on it, have let them believe it is theirs to do with what they will, it is really hard to take it back, to assert your sovereignty and kick out the colonists, so to speak.
It is also hard to decolonise yourself, to unlearn the habits and underlying beliefs that shaped that worldview. Even though I have more time than I’ve had since 1999, the last thing I think to do with it is to write. I am used to being the second-class citizen in my own time country and those habits, those belief will only fade with some loving practice.
I am very bad at boundaries.
Just as I have to figure out how to govern my new sovereign state of time, I need to figure out how to defend its borders. This writing week showed me how hard it is for me to not get distracted by people and household tasks. I don’t know how to ignore people (or a dirty bathroom) and my guilt threshold—defined by me as the ability to live with a sense of guilt when you say no to someone—is very, very low. I can’t stand disappointing people.
And yet, if I am going to carve out more than a measly half hour a day to write, I am going to have to get better at this, because something or someone is going to have to go. As a side note for something I will explore in a future post, I am still shocked by how very extreme my gender responses are, how I have unconsciously bitten hook, line and sinker into the norms around femininity. But that’s a bigger conversation for another day…
Owning my creative self means my relationships work better.
When I am writing—just as when I get enough sleep, go running, eat well—I am more grounded, more likely to stay in my emotional lane. Though my writing might be as meaningful as the dribbles of cream I inadvertently spilled on the counter, just the fact that I am doing it makes me a better person. I can be more present with other people because I have been more present with myself.
And I guess that is about the best argument I have to put my foot down and say, “no, I can’t [watch a show/go for coffee/make dinner/insert distraction]. I’m busy right now.” And then shut the hard-won door of my new office and get me the hell to work.