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.
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?'