As some of you will know who follow my blog I am in the midst of rewriting a novel I wrote some years ago. It needed bringing up to date – smartphones have rather taken over our lives and I needed to address some inherent problems with the plot. I blogged about it here in Easy Option – https://goo.gl/qPP5SO
Now I am deep in the heart of the rewrites and my confidence is sometimes high but mostly low as I grapple with the mess that was once a cohesive novel albeit a troubled one. I am sure you are all familiar with the saying ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’. Well my desk is covered in broken eggs right now and it is hard to keep the faith.
One part of the story was giving me more trouble than any other and I spent a couple of days beating myself up at the keyboard wondering why I just couldn’t make it work. Sometimes you can just be too close to a piece of work and all it takes is a little distance to see where you were going wrong.
Exhausted by the process of getting nowhere, my brain aching from turning the same problems over in my mind and not reaching any satisfactory conclusions, I decided to take a complete break from writing for a couple of days.
It was a brave thing to do (some might say foolhardy) given I had a self imposed tight deadline but that in itself was adding to my stress levels. When you can no longer see the wood for the trees your writer’s spidey senses are hardly going to be at their best. So I decided to pull the plug for a while.
I stopped being Ellie Holmes the writer and just enjoyed being me. It took a few hours for the white noise of a busy writer’s brain to calm itself. A dose of reality TV and comfort food helped. And once peace reigned, I lived for a few days like normal people live. You should try it some time. I highly recommend it.
As you can tell from this blog, it didn’t last long. A brief holiday from my writer’s self was all I needed to recharge the batteries and rev up the creative engine. But as with a traditional mini break I came back refreshed, reinvigorated and ready for the challenge.
When I was young I wanted to blend in. Standing out from the crowd wasn’t seen as a good thing. If your friends were into something, it was good to be into it too. I wanted to feel as though I belonged.
Somewhere along the way, my feelings changed. As I grew up, I began to realise that I no longer wanted to conform or blend in. Being part of a crowd, particularly if it meant suppressing who I was, became anathema to me.
Now the thought of being part of a homogenised whole makes my heart sink. Today if everyone else is turning right I will turn left just because I can. Being different is no longer something to be shunned. Now, it is something to be embraced, cherished and encouraged.
Partly I think the change is down to confidence. As you grow up, you discover who you are as an individual. If you are lucky you become comfortable in your own skin and no longer need the comfort blanket of others’ opinions to know your own mind.
Partly I think it is the nature of society today. When we are children we are learning how to survive and thrive in the outside world. The group represents safety in numbers, the camouflage of others. When we grow up we find ourselves surrounded by subliminal messages of how to behave and what to aspire to. The power of advertising and social media can make it all too easy to live in identikit houses, eat identikit food and live an identikit life. No wonder so many people find the pressures of modern life suffocating.
As the John Donne quote says ‘No man is an island’. I have recently been working on a large project for my day job. The scale of the job was huge and the logistics of it were all a little terrifying. Having identified a problem and offered a solution it was down to me to put the plan into action and make it happen. The weight of responsibility I felt was so heavy I tried not to think about it too often. If you’re walking along a ledge don’t look down!
There were a few occasions in the planning stage when I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew but I was so far in there was no way out by then. I did a lot of planning but the best bit of planning I did was in picking the team of people I would be working with. I asked two colleagues to assist knowing they were hard workers, sensible and trustworthy. I also hired outside help, working with someone with whom I have worked before and who, again, I knew to be hardworking, sensible and trustworthy. He then brought two more people with him. When you trust the person you choose to work with, it becomes easy to trust their judgment on the people they are bringing along and so it was.
The six of us made a formidable team. There were no weak links. We all brought something slightly different to the project and consequently the mountain of a task that had seemed so unassailable a few weeks ago has now (almost) been scaled.
It is amazing what a strong team of people can achieve when working towards a common goal.
As crucial as it is to pick the right people to work with it is just as important to lead by example. You should never ask someone to do something which you are not prepared to do yourself and you should never allow your team to put themselves in danger, even if it means taking on those tasks yourself if they absolutely have to be done.
A strong team that brings the best out of the people within it is just about invincible as I have discovered this week. So next time you have a project that is too big to cope with alone be sure to pick your team wisely and part of the battle will already have been won.
So here’s the thing, I’m an introvert. You may be one as well. Chances are if you’re not you are probably sitting near one right now. There are a lot of us about. More than you think, probably because a lot of the time we hide our introverted natures behind a carefully constructed extroverted mask.
Why do we feel the need to do that? Probably because we fear judgment. We fear being singled out as being a bit odd. You want to leave the party early and be home in your jim jams on the sofa? Why, are you sick? No, I’m an introvert and I need a break from all these people. Okay?
Being introverted is a bit like being a geek (and there are a lot of those out there too!). We’re a source of wry amusement to those who think and feel differently.
I happen to believe being a geek is cool and so it being an introvert. I have accepted that if I am going to be going to a social event, even one I am looking forward to, I am going to find it draining and I am going to need some serious down time afterwards to refill the well. I have learnt the hard way that scheduling too many social commitments in too short a time period is going to lead to last minute cancellations on my part (which is something I hate doing) or exhaustion.
I can be as bright and bubbly in company as the next person if my energy levels are up. If not, forget it. So, over the years I have learned to pace myself. Whenever I take on a social engagement I always weigh up how long I’m going to be there for and schedule down time immediately afterwards and perhaps even the next day too if the social event is lengthy and particularly taxing.
Extroverts will struggle to understand this. Extroverts thrive off the social interaction. To them attending party after party is like plugging themselves into the grid and firing up. With introverts it is the polar opposite. Situations that fire up the extroverts will nine times out of ten drain the introverts.
If you are, like me, an introvert then embrace it. Don’ try to be something you are not. Trying to keep up with the extroverts in your life will not end well. Trust me, I know!
Listen to your body and if you need to refill the well then do so – without apology. We all love time in our PJs on the sofa watching bad TV or in solitude reading a good book. As introverts we just need more of it, that’s all.
The cover of The Flower Seller is taking part in Author Shout’s Cover Wars during the week of 24th July 2016 – 30th July 2016. If you like the cover I would be thrilled if you would show your support by voting for it. To vote you need to click on the link below, click to like the Author Shout facebook page, tweet, or link through Google+ You can vote once every 24 hours. Thank you!
Even before The Flower Seller was launched I had already turned my mind to my next book conscious of the mantra of write, publish, repeat. My next full length romantic novel White Lies will be out in June 2017. White Lies was written a few years ago and did the rounds of the main publishing houses (as The Flower Seller did). I had some nice comments but no takers and so it went into a box and was tucked away. In my blog on 12th May 2016 I talked about Diamonds in the Drawer https://goo.gl/AchuZW those pieces of writing that have been discarded for various reasons but which might, with a little loving care, live to see the light of day once more.
So it is with White Lies. It’s been a number of years since I last looked at the manuscript. I remember the characters and the main plot points but I couldn’t remember every little detail because so much time had passed. In one way I found that exciting – how often have we wished to have the ability to see our writing through the eyes of a stranger, as if reading it for the first time. Now I would come as close to achieving that as possible. But I’ll let you into a little secret. I was scared of starting the read through.
I’m a busy person so finding reasons to put it off was easy, so easy in fact that I didn’t even consciously register I was avoiding it until the avoidance became extreme. When I did finally grasp what was happening, I knew I was running scared in case reading it with fresh eyes opened my eyes to the fact it wasn’t very good and perhaps it would be better not to find out.
But I’m a practical person who believes in meeting problems head on so I pulled myself together, poured myself a stiff drink and started to read. Three days and one hundred thousand words later I was finished. My assessment? It needs work but not as much work as I’d feared. The characters and the plot hold together. It needs a good edit and some finessing and I need to tinker with the structure at the end but it’s all doable. I even started to feel excited at the prospect of tackling the rewrites.
A couple of things struck me as I read the story through. I began to remember the scenes I had struggled with and sure enough they still don’t read as smoothly as the ones which came easily but at least now I could spot why this was. What really irked me, however, was the fact that on three occasions I ducked the scene.
Crucial scenes were told either in flashback or reported by one character to another. Reading the story in 2016 I can’t now remember why I did that. Perhaps it was the pressure of the word count (the story was bouncing up at 120,000 words at one stage) but I think it was more likely the case that I considered the scenes too big for me and the coward in me ran and hid instead of toughing it out and getting the scene down on paper.
I stopped ducking scenes years ago but remember this was a story from a long time ago, I obviously still had the habit back then. My writing has now matured and instead of being scared that I’m not capable of doing justice to those scenes they are the scenes I am actually most excited about working on, their potential has got my mind fizzing with enthusiasm. I wouldn’t be surprised if when the book is finished, those scenes don’t end up being amongst the stand out scenes in readers’ minds. We’ll see.
The moral of this story is don’t duck the big scenes through fear. Readers are likely to feel cheated if you do. Back yourself as a writer to do them justice and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised…..I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
Belief is a fragile thing. Self-belief even more so. My belief in my own abilities washes in and out like a tide – sometimes I’m riding the crest of a wave, other times I’m submerged and overwhelmed. It’s at times like these that you have to find the strength to push through and carry on regardless.
It’s especially hard to keep that enthusiasm going with no input or encouragement from others. We tend to think we are alone in our struggles, that we must be the first to experience these feelings and that no one can truly understand but we are wrong. Even the most outwardly confident person battles demons of doubt.
Whilst we are all special snowflakes I bet the majority of our angst has been mirrored by others and that someone, somewhere will have been brave enough to blog about their feelings. That’s why it’s good to look beyond the boundaries of the world we have constructed and seek out new people. You may find a kindred spirit.
And how much easier the struggle would be if someone believed in us and what we are doing. What a shaft of sunlight that would be on the days when we are convinced the world is a cold and unfeeling place. I was delighted to discover my humble little blog and I had been nominated for a Liebster Award. What a wonderful validation. A pat on the back for all those times I have dragged myself to the keyboard when I literally wanted to be anywhere else. Finding out someone cares can make all the difference.
In April I blogged about the importance of having a cheerleader and crucially being a cheerleader for others. You can read that post here https://goo.gl/f8LFc7 The Liebster Award is cheerleading in action. If you can take part, do so – you won’t be disappointed.
Bravery takes a lot of forms. To step up and put yourself forward to do something for your local community is brave, to defend someone who is being bullied when they are too beaten down to defend themselves is brave, to return to the hospital for your next bout of chemo even though you know you are going to spend the next twenty-four hours being sick is brave.
Some bravery is obvious to anyone looking on. Most bravery, however, is a subtle, very personal thing. The person silently coping with depression, the person moving slowly through the grieving process for someone dear to them, the single person battling loneliness. Getting up to face another day is an act of bravery for people like this, a supreme effort where the only satisfaction comes from challenging themselves and not giving in.
We all have different boundaries. What may seem easy to one person could be a mountain to climb for another. A while ago I was listening to a drive time show on my home. They had been running a call in for people to ring in with stories of a ‘first’ that they wished to achieve. The idea being the show would run a follow up in a couple of weeks’ time to see how they had all got on. There was one story that captured my attention.
A quietly spoken man rang in (an act of bravery in itself). I cannot recall now if he had been suffering from agoraphobia (a fear of open spaces) or something similar but the first he wished to achieve was catching the bus from the end of his road, riding the bus to his nearby town, getting off the bus and going to a café for a cup of tea and then making the journey home again.
There was something about his softly spoken but determined manner that made you listen. He told us how he had been practicing by walking up to the bus stop and then going home again, how he had studied the bus route so he would know which stop to get off at, how he had been rehearsing ordering his tea at the café. He then admitted the trip was something he had been trying to do for a while now and had always failed often getting to the bus stop but simply being unable to bring himself to board the bus.
But he had decided he couldn’t continue like this and needed to challenge his fears and by publicly declaring his intention it was almost a dare to himself. His story moved me and I thought about him often in the intervening two weeks, wondering how he was getting on. I pictured him clutching his timetable nervously, counting out his change to the driver, alighting at the café (or so I hoped).
I eagerly awaited an update. The radio show ran the follow up piece and covered many of the other ‘firsts’ but there was no mention of the man undertaking the bus journey. ‘Oh no!’ I thought ‘He’s failed to do it. How devastating for him.’ But I was wrong. Such had been the overwhelming interest in the man’s story, so many hearts had he touched with his modest tale, that they were giving him his own follow up slot the next day.
I tuned in and the man slowly began to recount what, for him, had been a momentous journey. He described his nervousness on the walk to the bus stop, his anxiety that the bus wouldn’t turn up or if it did he would not be able to summon up the courage to board it (as had happened so many times before). As a listener I lived and breathed every part of that journey with him. When he made it to the café and ordered his tea I was punching the air in triumph for him and when he laughed and said it was the best cup of tea he had ever drunk I had tears in my eyes.
It was a simple tale of one man’s struggle, one man’s sheer determination to overcome a barrier to him living the kind of life he wanted to lead but it touched a nerve with a lot of other people. He joked that his next goal was to go away on holiday. I hope he achieved that aim. I like to think he did.
There are enough boundaries put on our lives by circumstance, social convention or lifestyle. It’s so important that wherever possible we don’t let fear hold us back or fence us in. We mustn’t settle. We must be like that man on the bus and take our courage in our hands and be brave. He was glad he did it and we will be too.