I’m having a bit of a crisis at the moment. I’m finding it difficult to write.
It’s not that I have writers’ block exactly, just loads of things I could – and want – to write about. The issue is there are too many ideas to choose between and in constantly weighing them up, I’m ending up focusing on nothing.
My children’s book took on a life of its own for a short while, the writing flowing beautifully when I put my mind to it, but has dropped to the bottom of the heap since December. This is partly because things other than writing kicked in but largely, truth be known, because of a chat I had with an agent, who told me, in a nutshell, I’ve no hope in hell of getting it picked up by a publisher. Its subject matter is too ‘different’ to current trends, she said.
For a while I was okay with this, thinking it frees me to write the story as I like rather than trying to hit some publisher-generated format. But mostly it’s made it harder to clamber onto the writing bicycle at all, given that I’m now having to pedal twice as hard up Self-doubt Hill. For the moment I’ve more or less left my bicycle in the garden, rusting in the winter rain, and hopped on a bus in the opposite direction. Literally.
I’m six months into my new ‘creative career’ and beginning to panic that there’s no money coming in. True, there’s still a couple of months’-worth of redundancy money left, but I’d assumed that by now my plans for earning at least some income would be considerably further on than they are.
And it’s not as if I haven’t set lots of things in motion to try to achieve this: I’ve registered my own creative company – a social enterprise – and applied for a grant; I’ve had an interview with the WEA with a view to leading writing classes and have attended some of their training (with more to come); I’ve applied (unsuccessfully) for several short-term creative posts and had meetings with people about potential writing workshops. And volunteered to lead any number of activities for adults and children, on the principle that this will build my profile and generate some paid work.
So far the free stuff has gone down very well. Mentioning payment, however, has caused people to blanch at the writing-industry rate I’ve asked for and to send me emails of a ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ nature.
Oh, and as well as all that, I signed up for three-months’ free training as a local tour guide. Hence the bus reference. Half a century after being born in this county, I’ve discovered how easy it is to get into and around its City. And not just by bus – those of you who know me well might be surprised at how often I drive there! Amazing. (And just think of all the shopping years I wasted!)
Danny Wallace and his ‘saying yes’ theory has a lot to answer for and I’m not entirely sure where this tour-guiding lark is going to take me, or how it fits into my writing life. It’s certainly dominated a huge chunk of the last three months, though, and running alongside me touting for business and dabbling with volunteering, it’s seriously squeezed my writing time. But I know that’s partly an excuse: if I’d really focused on doing some, I would’ve found the time.
To return to the cycling analogy, you’ll note that I didn’t say I’d put the bike away in the shed. That would be too final a thing – to give up on the idea of being a writer – though it has been suggested I might consider it, for a while. To ‘park it’, shall we say. But I’ve already used up too many of my working years parking the idea of writing and I may never get this opportunity again.
The niggling worry that eats into my sleeping hours is that maybe I’ve been kidding myself all along and in truth, I can’t cut the mustard. Or reach the peddles. Or ride the damn bicycle, now that the stabilisers of a structured Uni course have been removed. Have I totally exhausted the analogy with cycling now or do I have room to ask someone to lend me a map?
In fact, I’ve been offered a few maps since I finally gave voice to my doubts last week. Or if not maps, exactly, suggestions that I stand a moment and look back along the way I’ve come. “Remind yourself how far you’ve already travelled,” suggested the lovely Lynley (in my first-ever skype call!), and Dave W took time out of his own writing schedule to point out that self-doubt about our writing serves a useful purpose: to make us better writers.
Perversely, I found the sagest bit of advice this morning, on a fluorescent-pink stick-it note hidden under clutter on my desk. I’d written it several months ago, a distillation of my research at the time on ‘how to be a writer.’ Heavily influenced in style by the writer Oliver Burkeman, it says, simply, “stop whining and get on with it.”
So it looks as if I’d better do just that.