A blog for everything bookish

Monday 4 August 2014

Do or do not, there is no try

Star Wars has its silly moments, in fact as an adult watching Star Wars it’s hard not to become absorbed by its plot holes and pseudo-science, but that little quote by Yoda I have taken as a little bit of useful wisdom that I try to incorporate into my daily life. There is much to be said for the idea of just getting on with it, forgetting about fears and the risk of failure. Even practicing is doing.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, as it’s something that applies to my approach to writing. In many tasks in my life, I just get on with it. Work I get on with. Cooking I get on with. Reading certainly so, I do it without hesitation. All of the things I manage to do successfully have been things I’ve just got on with. This has been proven quite recently, when we had a limited amount of time to prepare for Comic Con. We decided to cosplay this year, and as is often the case this involved a certain amount of hand-crafting. In the case of my daughter’s outfit, I had to make a complicated cloak/mask combo as well as a simple white tabard (she went as San, from Princess Mononoke). For my son I had to make a hood and, in the end, a happi coat as I could not find anything suitable to adapt for his top (he went as Ashitaka, from Princess Mononoke…there’s a theme here). With limited time and budget I surfed the web, found some instructions, dug out the sewing machine, shredded paper, blew up balloons and papier mache’d and sewed for two weeks solid and in the end they had passable outfits which were recognisable enough that they were photographed copiously at Comic Con and had a fabulous time. My husband blew us all away with his hand-crafted No Face outfit (from Spirited Away) which he couldn’t then wear because it was blazing hot and dehydration would have ensued. Still, it proved that facing a task with a lack of fear and an open mind (and a touch of desperation) go a long way towards resultant success.

When I read the Dorothea Brande book on ‘being a writer’ there was one piece of advice which stuck in my mind. Brande refers to the importance of learning to write to a schedule. There is a process she lays out which leads to this, but in the final part of the chapter (p. 79) she says this:

Succeed, or stop writing
Right here I should like to sound the solemnest word of warning that you will find in this book: If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late.

I have been thinking about those words a lot recently, because when it comes to writing I do not considerable more than I do. I have been able to get into the habit of morning writing, that comes easily but it comes in the form of journaling rather than exploring creative writing. What I haven’t been able to do, and what I think I may never be able to do, is get into a regular schedule of writing. In fact whilst I think a lot about writing, I do very little beyond this blog. The truth is, I have failed Brande’s test. Now, whilst I understand that there are many routes to writing, that Brande’s advice must be taken only as that, I have to admit that there is much truth to it and if I do not write I cannot become a writer. In a way the what of what I write isn’t important, but being committed to writing and actually doing it is quite critical to success (by success I don’t mean multi-million copy selling or even published, just a ‘writer’: being someone who writes). I have always, in the past, been able to hide behind that villainly ‘procrastination’, as most writers would admit to falling under its terrible thrall. In fact, I remember being heartened by these words in Renata Adler’s strange book Speedboat (which I will, honestly, one day read in its entirety):

“That “writers write” is meant to be self-evident. People like to say it. I find it is hardly ever true. Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers who write at all.”

Somehow I think I am more the kind of writer that Adler is referring to (ranting, drinking and sleeping. Not phoning, however) than the kind that industriously turns out books. Unfortunately, I think you really need to be the latter to call yourself a writer at all.

I am trying to be honest with myself, and the honest truth is that I am over-committed to everything and at some point I have to choose to do something. I have a new job, and to do it successfully I will have to devote myself to doing it. I know I can do this, I have done it before. I want to be successful in my job (and I will, I am committed to it). I have a family which is less needy but still needy, in the sense that I have to devote at least some time to them (and I want to, being the more important point). I want to learn Japanese and how to crochet, and both of these things seem possible not least of which because I have attempted both before. At a recent camping trip my daughter had a go at archery, and now she’d like to try it more seriously but she is too young to go alone. I understand her desire. At sixteen I too had a go at archery and I loved it and I was a bowman for two years until a car accident unexpectedly knocked me back and then life took over, and I have, for a long time, wanted to take it back up but haven’t had the opportunity. Archery takes time, and having a family with small children simply doesn’t allow for that. But now it does. I think I can easily commit to archery. I have done so before, and somehow I understand it all a lot better now. It is something we can do as a family (guess where I met my husband?).

Stacking everything up I realise I cannot do all of this. I can learn Japanese and crochet, these are things I can fit around my busy life by doing just a little every day. What I can’t commit to is writing. I want to do it, I’m scared of doing it, it makes me frustrated and angry and absorbs hours of my time sometimes just in thinking. I’m not ready for it. I’m nearly 40, and am beginning to wonder when, if ever, I will be ready for it. Maybe never. That’s a chilling thought.

So I’m giving it up, for the time being. I feel quite strangely about it, though perhaps I shouldn't. A friend recently, quite astutely, commented that I'm something of a 'serial starter' which suggests, also astutely, that I don't finish things, which is true but also not true as I do finish a lot of things. I finish meals, for example, and drinks. I finish washing and then I start it again because washing is one of those tasks that never ends. I finish movies and books, quite regularly. I finish small projects like making Comic Con outfits and cross-stitched bookmarks. I finish a considerable amount at work, in fact I am a project completer. Perhaps that is why, in my personal life, I'm not so hugely keen on finishing. Perhaps because, in the final analysis, actual finishing is death and I'm not hugely keen on getting there fast. I do feel strange not finishing this. Being a writer has been a lifelong dream, but perhaps what I am finally learning is that dreams are not real. To make it real, I have to do it and that seems to be the one thing I simply cannot do. I don’t have the talent or the skill, or the commitment to develop either. Of course I will still write my blog, I don’t think that counts as the kind of ‘writing’ I mean (though I know it is writing). I am an excellent reader, and perhaps I have to learn to be contented with that. For the time being, anyway. I can still be one of those lady-writers who writes her first book at 50. I’m not giving my dream away quite that easily.  

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