Journey to Jade: Art therapy & the high bar

Not long before The Yearning was released I signed a contract with Simon & Schuster Australia based on the 30,000 scratchy words of my new novel allegedly titled ‘Saint’. It was April 2013 and I hadn’t written a fresh word on the manuscript since November of the previous year. With a contract and a deadline looming, I now had no choice but to keep going. But.

But...

Banjo was dead. Jade was comatose. And I had no idea who Lissy was.

Or why I’d chosen to write a story that was mostly flashbacks.

I felt like I was on a one way path to literary oblivion.

Every time I sat down at the computer I felt anxious and uncertain. No, it was worse than that. Way worse. I was terrified. I made myself sit there and write and I moaned and groaned and chewed my nails and drank strong coffee and wondered if anyone would notice if I started drinking wine at 11 o’clock in the morning. I took any excuse to get out of the chair: I needed another drink, the dogs needed to go outside, was that someone at the door, I was hungry, surely I was hungry? but I should make that call to the school now, what was happening on facebook and twitter, Oh LOOK A KITTEN IN A HAT PLAYING THE PIANO!!! Must share that!

My partner would come home and the wine would already be half gone and he’d say warily ‘So, how was your day?’ and I’d throw my hands in the air or shake my head in despair and reply ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t think I can pull this off, what if I don’t pull this off, the world is unkind to failed writers, I’ll have to get a real job, god, what made me think I do this? I must be mad!’ by which time the back door was swinging shut.

Serendipitously, after weeks of agonising gritting of teeth as I literally FORCED-WORDS-ONTO-THE-PAGE, I received a phone call. A neighbour was doing an art therapy course and needed a guinea pig for an assignment.

‘Sure, come on over,’ I said, thinking it would be a welcome distraction from the desk.

So she came and over a cup of tea we chatted about what was bothering me. This book, this terrorising monster of a book I absolutely HAD to WRITE. And she pulled over a sketchbook and opened a tray of gloriously coloured pastels. ‘Can you draw how you feel?’ she asked.

I stared in rapture at the colours. There were chalks too, and pencils, but the pastels, the pastels. It woke the sleeping child in me. I selected a beautiful chunk of orange pastel and began to draw. Now, I’m no artist, and she assured me it didn’t matter, I could make shapes or draw stick figures or just swirls of colour if I wanted. Whatever I drew was okay. So I drew this...
(Note: LLG's are my writers group - the Little Lonsdale Group)

 

(Not sure where the sporting analogy came from. I'm not in the least bit sporty.) So we talked about that big black pole sitting way up high above my head and what it meant. There I was, gazing up at all the expectations of everyone around me – my agent, my publisher, my editor, my readers, my writing community, my friends and family – wondering if I could jump the bar.

A bar I’d set all the way up there for myself. Notice how everyone in that picture is happy except me? I realised nobody else was worried the way I was. I’d set myself up. And the anxiety, the weight, of all those assumed expectations was crippling me and getting in the way of writing. So, after talking some more, I drew this...

 

...and as I speed toward the lowered bar with a smile on my dial the anxiety released some of its grip.

This picture – juvenile as it is – now sits directly above my computer monitor. Whenever I get scared I look at it and remember that people are on my side, they have faith in me and aren’t waiting for me to fail. And if I do, they won’t be angry or upset. Disappointed maybe, but I know their main concern is for my welfare, not what I can or can’t do for them, and this is an enormous relief.

After drawing these pictures I understood how much pressure I put on myself, how when I start to panic my creativity dried up.

Sometimes we get in the way of our stories by over-thinking or worrying that they are not good enough. We compare ourselves to others and think we’re not good enough to write. We lament or envy others success and in the process kill off our own grace. We forget to trust ourselves and our unique writing process.

I returned to the desk, still bewildered and intimidated by the story, but determined not to be beaten by my own stupid panic. I found I was able to write again, but doubt was a constant companion. One I had to confront if I was going to finish a first draft.

Next week on Journey to Jade: Holding your nerve and 'You want me to do WHAT?'

Comments

I just choked up reading that. So true what you say about setting bqrs too high and people bipeingon our side. beautifully put, as usual, Kate.

KateBelle.X's picture

The interesting thing is where we think the bar is and where the bar actually is, Jenn. We are victims of our own imagination when it comes to that. I knew you'd relate, though, they are the writers darkest hours.

Gawd the pressure!
I'm enjoying these Journey posts. I'm glad you told me it was a high bar! For some reason when I looked, it looked to me like a set of scales. Like you were weighing something up with the heavier weight towards the publishers/readers etc.

KateBelle.X's picture

Ha! Lily I had to go back and look at the picture. You're right you know - and there may well be something in that. Maybe I felt the weight of the publishers/readers expectations more heavily. Very observant of you.

Kate, I know this will probably sound stupid but this post just made me cry. (And that's not good as I have to meet a friend for a "writer's lunch" in 15 mins - might need to wear sunglasses!)

Thanks for sharing this. It's given me a lot to think about.

KateBelle.X's picture

HI Lisa, no it's not stupid it made you cry. The honest to god truth is all writers suffer from crippling self doubt, especially women. We feel guilty for doing it becuase it seems such a selfish pursuit. It's not, of course, and we have to remind ourselves that we are allowed to follow our passion and we don't have to expect to be criticised for doing it.

Have a lovely lunch.

I am up there with the crying too Kate... and I think (and see by these comments!) that the terror freezes each of us, and perhaps a bit of an art therapy exercise would assist us all to get out of our heads and into the open WHAT it is, and how many people ARE on our side??! THanks for such a great post!!!

KateBelle.X's picture

Glad you related to it Amanda. It's true, we need to not be so hard on ourselves. We all have cheer squads.

OMG Kate - thanks for writing this. I think so many of us relate, but it feels like you wrote it for me this week. Can't wait to read Jade, am already hearing so many fab things about it. xo

KateBelle.X's picture

That's great Rach! I knew a lot of writers would get it. Good luck with climbing out of your pit! You can do it!

I love this post (and I love the idea of the pastels - they look like so much fun!!).

I'm so glad you overcame your fear of the bar :)

KateBelle.X's picture

The pastels were almost edible!

Thanks for writing this, Kate. I think I'm at the exact same spot you were at. Only last night, I told friends I was thinking of packing it in, but not any more. I will lower that bar, stop panicKing, and soldier on.

KateBelle.X's picture

Good on you Maureen. And the very best of luck.

Adorable and profound! I love your agency, moving the bar yourself like that x

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks Jenn. Did you like the pic of the LLG's? you all look so cute!

Kate, I'm half way through Being Jade… so far you have given me everything I want in a story and so much more… I go from extremes, I love this character, then I hate her… Banjo is weak then he's insightful and wise… Cassandra, I get her, relate to her.. but I don't like her… and as for Lissy she pokes a little too hard at all my sadness. I can't recall a book taking me on such a journey and I am loving every little bit of it. I can see this book has come from the heart, and to write from that place is a little, no a lot scary. This reader is grateful that you've taken that chance and understands the how much courage that took.

KateBelle.X's picture

Dina. Dina, Dina, Dina. Such beautiful thoughts touch me deeply. Thank you x

Kate, this is such an honest and lovely post. And, as you know, I am a big fan of stick figures :-) so very much appreciate the illustrations!

Writing is tough - but even more so when you're not 100% sure that the way you're telling a story is 'right'. I have so much respect for your determination to put everything in perspective and get to the end of your Jade Journey. Bravo!

Loads of love, Jane xxx

KateBelle.X's picture

LOL! I knew you'd appreciate the stick figures Jane! I did think of you when I put the picutres in this post!

Funny thing about the timing of this post; I find myself staring at my screen and my next WIP wondering what on earth I was thinking of when I subbed the idea.

Thanks for being brave and sharing your fears and your journey, Kate. :) I can't wait to read "Jade".

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks Susanne. At least you know you're in good company.

Like your books, this post jabs at the heart and exposes the truth of us as writers. I am hopping around the end of my latest book...can't write an ending and will do anything to avoid it. It's driving me crazy. In the past the end has been the easy part.

KateBelle.X's picture

I've Always had trouble with endings, Joanna. I guess you just have to have faith that it will come.

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