A slow dawning

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.

Until now.

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.

Just write.

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.”

Aye Write! 2021

The email asked if I would be interested in taking part in this year’s Aye Write! book festival, to talk about My Heart’s Content. I read it three times to be sure.

What you grinning at? Paul asked. I read him the email.

Well are you interested? he said. I nodded vigorously and asked if he wanted a cup of tea. He raised an eyebrow.

I’m playing it cool, I said. Don’t want to appear too eager.

Half way to the kitchen, which in our flat is around 10 steps, my coolness, such as it is, dissipated and I rushed back to send my reply, fully expecting to see a message telling me my window for responding had expired and I’d missed the opportunity. Or dreamed it.

Let me set my excitement in context. For those of you who aren’t aware, Aye Write! is Glasgow’s annual book festival. As with the city in which it’s based, it is big, bold and friendly. And this year, it was online, which means you could buy a pass for the whole festival and watch at your convenience.

There were sessions about dealing with grief, and the healing power of nature. Rock stars talked about memoirs and authors talked about fiction being the new rock n roll. There were authors talking politics and politicians, including Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, talking books.

Participating authors included big hitters Andrew O’Hagan, Douglas Stuart and Maggie O’Farrell, alongside those less well known but equally brilliant, such as Helen McClory, Ruth Thomas and Jenni Fagan. And there were those just starting out, like me!

Scottish Debuts: Aye Write! Festival 2021

The Scottish Debuts, of which I was one, opened the festival, with a flurry of Tweets and a dance around the living room (in our house at least). The event was pre-recorded, which given my nerves, was just as well. We were each allotted a few minutes to do with what we wanted – read from our book, talk about our writing, grin inanely. I opted for all three.

And so, on Friday 14 May, there I was, reading from the book I had written, to an invisible audience (which would have included my mum, if she had been able to get the link to work on time) as part of one of the UK’s biggest book festivals.

Just another ordinary day then: aye right!

*Although the main Aye Write! festival is now over, you can watch the events online for up to three weeks from the date of their release. Check out Glasgow Life TV to find out what’s available.

The Scottish Debuts event is free and still available to watch for a couple more days.

To buy a copy of My Heart’s Content: A Journey to Transplant, visit Liminal Ink.