As a young child I was told a joke* that made my friends laugh but puzzled me. I never got the punchline. Years later, I was in university (yes, that many years later) and suddenly, from out of nowhere, I began to laugh. I finally got the joke. It wasn’t funny – my laughter was at the realisation of how obvious it all was.
I recount the story to demonstrate how my brain works. Sometimes it takes a long time for me to get something which to others is obvious. In my defence, there’s a lot going on in there.
Earlier today a similar thing happened: I suddenly got what it means to be a writer – you have to write. Obvious I know, at least on the face of it, but for the last year I’ve been having a crisis of confidence when it comes to my writing ability. Almost every time I’ve sat down to continue working on my book, I’ve frozen. On the days where I have written something, I’ve ended up extensively rewriting before ultimately deleting. It’s been my main source of anxiety, which is saying something given that we’re still in the midst of global pandemic and I remain in one of the high risk categories.
This despite My Heart’s Content being longlisted for the Mslexia Memoir and Life Writing competition 2020. To be fair, the news offered a moment of respite, before the doubt crowded out the euphoria: ‘I won’t be shortlisted; I’ll never win’. I wasn’t and didn’t. Case in point. Prophecy self-fulfilled.
There’s a saying in yoga (and probably in other areas of life) that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. My teacher materialised this morning, via an email from Mslexia, featuring advice to writers from Hilary Mantel. Among her many pearls of wisdom was this:
There isn’t any failed writing. There is only writing that is on the way to being successful – because you’re learning all the time. It follows that nothing you write is ever wasted, and that to become good, and better than good, you need to write a lot.Hilary Mantel
And just like that, something clicked into place.
To be good at piano, I practise daily. I’ve only just started so my playing is limited at best but already I can play a tune with both hands, whereas six weeks ago, I could barely play a scale.
For yoga and meditation to work their magic on my body and mind, I practise regularly. To begin with I couldn’t touch my toes and my thoughts never stopped racing. Today my body is comfortable in downward facing dog and I can comfortably sit in meditation for 20 mins (my thoughts a meander rather than a full on sprint).
It all takes practice. Regular, sustained practice. Obvious, and yet when it came to my writing, I just couldn’t make that one stick.
I write this not to look for reassurance about my writing ability but to make myself accountable. To me. To the writer I long to be. As from today, my pledge is to write. Preferably daily but certainly as often as possible. No matter the subject. No matter the number of words. No matter the result.
Not procrastinate. Or doubt my ability.
And to heed another piece of Hilary’s advice:
Don’t try to edit while you are writing. Your first draft is all about energy and unleashing your power. Respect the process of creation and give it space. It’s like planting a seed. You have to water it and watch it emerge and grow before you can prune it into shape.Hilary Mantel
Finally, I’m going to celebrate the amazing personal achievement of being longlisted for a national competition by singing one of my favourite songs, loudly, and without apology.
For those who are interested, here’s the article from Hilary Mantel: What I wish I’d Known
*And finally, the joke:
A kid riding their bike in the street:
“Look mum no hands.”
“Look mum no feet.”
“Look mum no teeth.”