Monday, 12 May 2014

Stepping off the treadmill...


Golly, a whole month seems to have gone by. A momentous month in a lot of small ways.

Those who have been following my blog and the previous one, for a while will know that I discovered four sisters a few years ago - a joyous and poignant thing. And on Good Friday, a few little weeks ago now, one of them died. I’m still coming to terms with that - the loss of a sibling - a younger sibling - is a salutary thing, and can not help but make you reappraise your own life and what you are doing with it.

This year, as I said in the previous post, my esteemed other half has a specific job to do, which can be absolutely wonderful, but is also onerous for him. I don’t think it is good enough to disappear for weeks on end, as I’m used to doing, or indeed for my focus to be almost solely on my work, which it has been for a decade. So writing is, I’ve decided, going to take a back seat for the next year. 

I find it surprisingly easy to write that! Maybe it’s a good thing to happen, too. Novel no 2, is half there - and half not. The events of the last month or so led me to wonder why I’m chasing my tail worrying about it all, trying too hard to get this one right, and getting it wrong as a r esult. Mainly, I was responding to the expectation that once you’ve had one novel published, you have to do another. Quick!  Or critics nod sagely and say, “There you go, told you so.” Then you do another, because that’s what the  industry wants. But do I want to do that over and over? I’m really not sure.  Whatever, I certainly do not want to fall into the ‘bad second novel’ trap, just to get one out there. Put simply, I am stepping off the industry hamster wheel for a bit, to see what it feels like, and goodness it feels good a few days in!

I’m not forsaking the wider writing life altogether. Still running some very interesting workshops over the next few months, and look forward to putting my creative energies into those. The Word Factory, The Short Story Conference in Vienna among others - I’m looking forward to those with real pleasure - in the knowledge that I have the time and the peace to have fun planning those.  

Poetry, and the collaboration with Caroline Davies, a collection inspired by memorials and rolls of honour from WW1, is well under way. That causes no worry, just pleasure, as little pieces surface, are worked on, and add to the kaleidoscope. It can chug along as it needs to. And I can’t wait for a whole week in Ireland doing some learning - working with Bernard O’Donoghue later in the year. 

The realisation that I can step off the treadmill is wonderful. My lovely characters will breathe deeply, a sigh of relief, and can have a well-earned sleep for a stretch, and I can come back to them when it is right to do so.  They, and their maker, have nowt to prove to anyone - and if peeps think I do, well that’s their issue, not mine!

22 comments:

  1. What a wise and welcome post, Vanessa. I'm actually breathing a sigh of relief for you just reading it. I think often the pressure can come from within ourselves, and I've found even 'allowing' myself the small breaks, to look after a sick child or to spend a family holiday actually being a family come as such a relief. And nothing bad ever seems to come of them. Sending big hugs, and thank you for continuing to provide writerly inspiration even when it's about having taken a decision *not* to write!

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    1. Thanks Claire. Sighs of relief all round - not entirely sure this counts as writerly inspiration, just one person stepping off the wheel - but I do know what you mean "allowing" yourself the small breaks, etc. Nothing bad will come of a year off, here. Or two years. Or more. Not for me, anyway! xx

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  2. you may find that, when you return (which I am sure you will) you have been working subconsciously, I don't think writers really stop, just pause for a moment.

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  3. I thought I was having a break from creative writing but following in your footsteps on First War Battlefields, I've found that I'm my notes (for a newspaper article) and getting longer and longer and morphing into something else......aargh!

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    1. I am looking forward to hearing all about the trip, and to seeing what words are flowing!

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  4. I have a rule that I live by: I won’t carry a donkey for anyone. If I can explain: In Aesop’s fable a miller and his son who are accompanied by their donkey meet constant criticism from passersby of the way the animal is used or treated by them; some say the son should ride, some the father and finally some suggest they should actually carry the donkey which they end up doing and this ultimately results in the death of the beast. People are entitled to their opinions and it does no harm to listen to what they have to say but at the end of the day it’s your life. There are precious few authors out there like Anthony Trollope—I’m thinking of the 3000 words a day he set himself before going off to work and that at soon as he’d finished one book he’d immediately start another—and that’s probably a good thing; it’s not as if the world’s short of books or anything. I took breaks in the middles of my third and fifth novels, a couple of years in both cases, and it them no harm whatsoever (quite the opposite) and before I wrote my first book I wrote nothing for three years or at least I committed nothing to paper. What I’ve come to realize is that putting words on paper is only a small part of what it means to be a writer. A year is nothing. Okay, maybe an eightieth of your life. I’m a big believer in boredom. I’m never bored enough these days. Boredom is the Petri dish in which ideas often form. As long as it’s the right kind of boredom. It’s hard to think of not writing as an integral part of the writing process but it is. Writers don’t switch off. They may get off the treadmill but they never stop dreaming about running.

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    1. Wise words, Jim, thank you for those. I intend to chase boredom. The trouble is, there are so many ways not to get bored these days. I shall have to retrain! All best.

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  5. Wisdom from you, Vanessa but also from some of your readers, such as Jim above. I feel I only have things to reiterate and nothing new from what has been said - but sometimes strength comes in numbers too, doesn't it. So, yes, take time out, do all those other wonderful and exciting things you keep doing (including being part of your writers' group!), but also the great things that are happening with Chris this year.

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    1. Hello Gail -thanks for the kind words. I am looking forward to turning up to meetings with nothing at all!!

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  6. Phew. I'm relieved to hear that taking a break doesn't include forsaking poetry. It does sound like the right decision to take a break from novelling. I'm sure the characters won't mind being woken up when you're ready to go back to them.

    Caroline

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  7. Vanessa: I wish I lived near enough to you to give you a big hug. Such a tragedy is hard to take - especially as you came together with your sisters so late. And as for stepping off the treadmill, I fully understand as I've done the same thing since family medical health has taken on more importance in my life. I will never not write fiction - it's in my veins - but I am no rush to finish my WIP and I never creaved literary stardom. The relief has been enormous. Good luck and be kind to youself. xx

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  8. Hello lovely Sally - I feel the hug anyway. Thank you x

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  9. The lovely thing about living is that it changes all the time, so I am happy for you and know you'll find the will to return when it's right. It's just a piece of the pie, the writing. You have so many more slices in your life, dear Vanessa. So sorry about your sister, and I'll be thinking of you. oxox

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    1. Thank you so much - just a piece of the pie indeed.

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  10. How bittersweet to find then lose a sibling. My brother died young and so I am sending you empathy and also luck with your other projects. I question why I write. Occasionally the word elf sits on my nose and jabs me in the eye. I take this to mean, either: get on with it, or: I am hallucinating an elf on my nose. Either way, enjoy the time away from pressure to perform.

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    1. Got to love that word elf! Thanks Kerry x

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  11. So very sorry to hear about your sister Vanessa, an awful loss. A break from those novel writing demands etc. sound just the ticket, particularly when there are so many other things that need some space too – particularly your good self! Hope the break proves refreshing, re-invigorating and just plain enjoyable. All the very best to you.xx

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  12. Aww, Jacky, you are kind - thank you. Still listening to music... !

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