Ironing tea towels, that’s where I’m at. I’m even contemplating addressing the blocked plughole in the shower. It is most unlike me. What ails you, SWB? I hear you ask. Well I shall explain. I have an assignment to complete for the novel writing course I started in September with the School of Open Learning at Queen’s. I am thus doing just about anything to avoid getting down to it.
I am wracked with self-doubt and crippling insecurity. Who am I to think that I could even come up with the idea for a novel, never mind start to write one? (I should add that the tutor requires 2500 words of said novel, not the first ten chapters).
I’ve been listening to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird on audiobook, and she’s full of good-humoured advice on helping me shout down all those mean voices in my head who whisper “you’re shite, who do you think would want to read your drivel anyway?” Sometimes I attach a face to one of these voices and to them I say SC-REW YOU , like that cake-chomper played by Matt Lucas in Little Britain. In real life I’d scuttle on past, head down, so it’s all quite liberating really. “Just keep writing,” urges Lamott, “and churn out that shitty first draft.”
Colm McCann has some sage advice too, but my favourite is quite succinct: Put. Arse. On. Seat. It’s not easy, I can tell you. Even trying to get this post out has been a challenge. So far I’ve done a few squats, been to the loo and had sharp words with the small child who’s not in the form for sleep.
And then there’s the mindfulness approach, where you just sit for an hour and attempt to keep your mind on track, and concentrate ONLY on the task at hand. This means reining in the red setter that runs amok in your head pulling your attention in every direction, other than your writing. (I use the red setter analogy because I’ve met a few in my time and none of them have been near wise.)
But the biggest obstacle is just myself. I’m not great at saying “Give it a go! It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit pish. Lives won’t be lost if your character’s under-developed or your dialogue could be sharper.”
You will see in the photos I’ve included a bunch of flowers from Memento on the Ormeau and a pink, leather bound notebook, adorned with the bird the moment, the flamingo. My friends brought these the other night when they came for dinner. I swear to goodness, they could have eaten in James Street South by the time they came armed with wine and gifts. (Still, I’m not complaining since I’ve met enough stingy folk to last me a life time.)
I’ve used these gifts as an analogy to highlight my fear of failure. You will notice how the flowers are still arranged in their gift-wrap, and if I were to open the book you would find its creamy pages unmarked. I fear, of course, that if I took the flowers out I would never get them to look as perfect as before, and I don’t want to demean such a lovely book with my inane ramblings. I’d rather leave it blank than see it thus debased.
But I won’t. I’m going to stop being a wimp and set to it. A while ago I watched Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability in which she advocates that we start opening ourselves up to risk and possibility. In not doing so, she suggests that we will never live the lives we really want. And if you think all this stuff is total bullshit then you REALLY need to watch this Ted Talk since that’s exactly what Brown thought herself before devoting years of study to it.
So I may produce some God-awful drivel for my course assignment, or it may be just about alright, for a first attempt at writing fiction. But I’ll still feel better than if I spend the next week just folding those frigging tea towels.