Neuroses & Nirvana

BY DAVID WHITAKER

 

My first book was self-published. I wrote every word and illustrated it myself. I also cut all the pages, and stapled them together. It had a print run of one, a readership of two, and was about butterflies. I was four years old.

I love books. When I was young, I loved them so much I wanted to create my own. I still do, though I lost my way for a while.

I stopped writing when I was around sixteen.

I fell into the trap of doing what I thought I ‘should’ do, rather than what I actually ‘wanted’ to do. I focused on my studies. I got a ‘responsible’ degree, something with‘real-world applications’. I joined a global corporate behemoth, earning a decent salary, steadily climbing the ranks. I relocated across the other side of the planet, moving to a veritable paradise, all in the name of career progression.

Yet I was miserable.

I naively thought that I could write in my free time. I believed that my work would give me a stable income, help me to survive, while I penned my novels.

What I hadn’t realised was that I would be so stressed, so exhausted, that after work each day I wanted nothing more than to curl up in a ball and fall asleep. I spent years wondering why I was so unhappy, before I realised that I already knew; I wasn’t writing, and I needed to be.

The day I handed in my notice, after almost a decade of service to the same company, is one of the happiest of my life; it marks the day I learnt to stop living in fear and pursue my dreams.

I no longer stress over money; I know that I don’t need it in the way I once thought I did. It’s not ‘things’ that make me happy, it’s a blank page and a pen in my hand or a keyboard at my fingertips.

It’s been over a year since I dedicated myself to writing full-time. During that year I’ve learnt many things, and I still have a great way to go.

I’ve learned that my frame of mind is important and, as much as it pains me to say it, I need to be in the ‘mood’ to write. If I’m not ‘feeling it’, the words come out of me like blood from a stone; they’re clunky, rough, and unnatural. However, if I’m comfortable, if I’m at ease, they flow like water; a tidal wave of words that pour out of me, allowing me to write for hours at a time with ease.

My surroundings are key. I cannot write if there are things nearby to distract me, and people talking to me, or even around me, is a form of creative death. Unfortunately, as easy as it would be to sequester myself in a dark alcove somewhere underground, devoid of anything but the bare essentials, for the words to come I also need light, space, and air. In the last year I’ve lived in three different countries, and one of the first things I assess when moving into a new home is where I can write; I literally build the space around it.

Planning my writing is important, however I cannot allow myself to be bogged down. If I plan every chapter to the tiniest detail I feel like I’ve been robbed of creative freedom. Without a base outline I often wander too far off course and end up spending most of my time reworking what I already have. Balance is everything.

Overwhelmingly, the greatest challenge I face is myself; specifically, my self-doubt. Near constantly, I believe myself to be incapable of writing; that my efforts are worthless; that I will never be able to succeed. I read back over previous works and cannot comprehend that I could ever have thought them good. I search elusively for validation; for a sign that I’m not just scribbling or typing in vain. I lie awake at night, wondering if I’m doing the right thing or simply deluding myself.

I adjust my writing habits accordingly. I move from writing novels to novellas; novellas to short stories; short stories to flash fiction. If they’re bad, at least they’re only a thousand words or so; in my head, I haven’t wasted that much time.

During brief periods of confidence, those small windows of irrepressible self-assurance, I know that I’m actually moving in the right direction. My current task, penning one hundred pieces of flash fiction, all inspired by an illustration, all thought up on the spot, is improving my writing. My ideas are coming faster; my words are flowing more naturally; my comfort zone is steadily growing. A year ago I could not have written romance, but now I can, love blossoming from the page without restraint. This time last year horror would have been a struggle, but now it slithers from the shadows with ease.

I do not submit as often as I should. Competitions and publishing opportunities regularly pass me by. I find it hard to write on the same day as I submit, the effort of one typically robbing me of energy for the other. However, I am starting to turn that around. I am striking a balance, submitting more, and I am building up a backlog of pieces I can submit at the drop of a hat, or expand into full length novels if I so choose.

At the back of my mind, the thought rattles slowly around – “perhaps if I get some recognition, some validation, I’ll stop doubting myself so”. I suspect it always will, even if I did get the recognition.

The road ahead of me is long, and arduous. It is one in which I must exert a great deal of effort, for potentially no reward. However, through all my doubt, all my self-deprecation, I am still the happiest I have ever been.

I am a writer.

 

Photo credit: Flickr.com_Katrina Ramser

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