To write is to move outside of your comfort zone

I have always found it difficult to find the right words. My writer’s block has always been about having a snapshot of an idea, a desire to write, but the chaos of never having the right words to set it down on the page. Case in point, this piece has taken me twelve months. 

When it comes to writing, I would describe myself as a perfectionist. I’ve envisioned my pieces to be the perfect mirror image of the idea or message I wanted to convey. The story had to be just as I imagined it to be, or I’d become disillusioned with it altogether. I’d end up abandoning half-baked stories and lines of poetry because they were never ‘right’. It’s my Achilles Heel and one that has given me this crippling sense of self-doubt. How can I be sure that the words I write were true to me and what I want to say?

Perhaps that was the answer, or rather was. For me, writing has always been a deeply personal exercise. It’s a way for me to cope with my own emotions and a way for me to understand the changes that have happened in my life. I’ve also written for the pure and simple joy it has given me, and my late granddad.

He was one of the first to hear my stories and in exchange, I’d sit by him and listen to his stories. I got to see a world completely different to my own, or one my imagination had created. He showed me what life was like during the war, how he was in charge of the family’s ration book and shopping with his mother. How he and other neighbourhood men pushed a bus up the hill on a cold and snowy day; and I couldn’t forget his sense of pride about his time in the RAF. He was a hero to me, and one who always knew the right thing to say.

I would race to him with a scribbled story in hand a sheepish grin on my face. He would offer me a warm smile and listen to my stories without judgement. His favourite was my story of a rainbow zoo which only opened at midnight; and I think it was his gentle encouragement, and his patience, that inspired me to continue writing.

It was something I never grew out of as I wrote well into my teens. I’ll admit, there is a part of me that wishes to I could skip past this as I was always so awkward. I devoured books and spent lunches in libraries. A typical outcast in the school’s hierarchy. There was something to be admired about it though, I felt more liberated and fearless when I wrote; my pieces were odes to great writers like Oscar Wilde, lyrics I scribbled in lessons and angst-filled poetry about being misunderstood. I was, back then, a walking cliché (I probably still am at heart), but I wasn’t phased by that. For me, any feedback I got only made me want to improve and be a better writer.

My teenage self was, in a way, brave. She may have hidden in libraries and books, but she made friends in fellow writers too. One of my friends had encouraged me to join her in the school’s book club. It comprised of about seven of us, that included our favourite librarian. We were this little band that talked about great books and we’d share our own pieces. I loved every moment of it. However, in the next year or so, it would change. All but two of us left for uni, even the librarian moved on for pastures new, and the book club ceased to exist as we knew it.

The book club did live on in my friend and I, with our love of books never wavering, as we created a new group. With the support of our English department, we launched a writer’s group as a way to celebrate the books that inspired us and encourage other likeminded people to create their own stories. It was we could grow as writer’s by sharing our work and getting feedback on how we could grow. I treasured those meetings as they made me a better writer and pushed me to work with them in publishing work in writing forums. It was exciting and brilliant – a creative haven for me.

In a way, my regret now is that I have, since then, passed up on joining other writing groups for fear of never being ‘good enough’. My fear was that I would be judged, or worse, that my pieces wouldn’t hold up against other writers. How did I go from leading a writer’s group to avoiding them at all costs?

You could argue that the seed is always planted after you say that you want to become a writer. You’re faced with the eye roll, the questions or being reminded how competitive it can be. I can count the times that I’ve been asked if I’m sure I want to be a writer! I’d heard it all through my entire time at college. Nothing could dissuade me, thankfully. I owe that, in part, to my mum. She always said that as long as I was happy that nothing else mattered. Along with my granddad, she was incredibly supportive of me being a writer; even if she never understand what I wrote.

It was my time at uni that made me question myself as a writer. When I first applied to uni I had, what I thought, the perfect reply to critics. I studied journalism, it was a more accessible route for me as a writer (after finding no creative writing course that I fell in love with); and I thought it would open more doors for me to experiment with my writing style and talk about more topics. I naïvely looked at it with rose-tinted glasses. I imagined combining my love of rock music with that of my passion for writing as I longed to be a music journalist.

I was taken with this idea after speaking to my aunt. She had a great career as a journalist, one that enabled her to travel and eventually find a home with her husband, in New Zealand. It was hard not to fall further in love with this idea after hearing stories like that; it even seemed like fate, writing ran in the family. I was ecstatic when I got into uni, and began daydreaming of my life as a journalist. Which country would I travel to first?

My hopes and dreams were high, how could they not be? It seemed like the perfect fit. My lecturers only seemed to stoke the fires of this dream with their own experiences in journalism that they wove through their seminars. There seemed no downside. I was spurred on and went out to get my first work experience at a local newspaper. It was while working there that I hit my first stumbling block.

In short, I hated it. I struggled with their house style, there were clashes in personality and, I was told, it was a ‘slow news week’. My heart sunk into my shoes and I remember wanted to walk after just three days. In hindsight, I wish I’d had the confidence to stand firm in my convictions and requested more detailed feedback. I couldn’t grow with, ‘I’ll fix, just do another bulletin’. Instead, I crumbled, slinking away from my mentor with my tail between my legs. It made me miserable and I was grateful when five o’clock came on Friday. I may have gotten my first byline, owed only to my contacts and connection with the sports team I interviewed, but it didn’t feel like much of a reward after a hard week.

My confidence was knocked, I’d gone there expecting a much different picture. A busy newsroom, interesting local stories and having that confirmation that I was on the right path; that I could make it as a journalist. What I saw was a small office, where everyone worked in their own silos, and most of the stories that came on my desk were those of library book sales. I felt like I had failed to make the cut at my local newspaper; and I did appreciate what this experience taught me, and I’ll admit a little guilty of what I expected and my deflated attitude.

How could I make it at a national magazine if this is how one week in a local newsroom left me? Truth is, I never tried. I’d like to say it was because I got distracted with other things. Maybe it was in part, but I felt it was something more. Doubt creeping in as to whether I could be a serious journalist. I stopped writing outside of my course, disappearing from writing forums altogether, feigning writer’s block.

By the time second year had come, I no longer considered become a journalist and I was barely calling myself a writer. I was in dire need of lifeline, failing that a miracle! One of my favourite lecturers managed to come to my rescue as we began learning about online journalism and how to run a blog. We were encouraged to come up with social media plans and experiment with different themes and niches. I tried my best, starting plan after plan and blog after blog – I never quite managed to nail it. If I was completely honest, I felt stifled, overwhelmed and out of my depth.

My worry was becoming a one trick pony, I could never understand how people managed to stick to one subject. I thought that if I tried that I’d come across boring and one of those people who bleated on and never went anywhere new with it. I’d either write the same post in a slightly different way every time or run out of new things to say entirely. Now, if there were a few topics in the mix, maybe that could keep things fresh and interesting (for me and the reader); and I’d always wanted to write about everything under the sun. That has never changed.

I had this picture in my mind of how it would be, and when it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, it only dented my confidence. By the time I went into my last year, I had given up on my dream of being a writer. There was no more desire to write or create, and when some old friends decided to share (and ridicule) a story I had created as a child my dream of being a writer faded away. I just wanted to pass my course and move on, but I had to write ten thousand words for a dissertation, create a portfolio and create a magazine with some of my classmates.

After I climbed that mountain of work, I graduated and took a break from writing as I landed an office job. I lost myself in work, travelling to visit old uni friends and books for the most part. The only time I opened my laptop was to stick a film on or binge something on Netflix. I was on an almost permanent hiatus from writing.

Of course, I realise that I sound as if it was all over, but if it was, this place wouldn’t exist. I slowly came back to writing by writing lines and poetry on the back of envelopes and on my phone when a pen wasn’t to hand. It wasn’t the same though, I missed sharing what I’d written. There was something therapeutic about it and I wanted to relive that feeling I felt in that writer’s group years ago.

With that in mind, I created this place and I haven’t looked back since. I started it with no expectations or idea of what it could be. It turned into an escape for me, a sounding board where I could try a few different things out. I used it to reconnect with what I loved about writing, to make it less of a chore or obligation that I owed my younger self.

You’ll no doubt wonder why I don’t refer to this as a blog, that I see it more of a place. It’s because I see this as somewhere I can turn to, somewhere that belongs only to me. There’s no expectation for me to be something or someone, I don’t even have to share if I don’t want to. A piece can sit in the drafts if I want it to. It’s my space to create and say what I feel. That’s what I love about it.

My curiosity and excitement for writing was reignited, and I began researching for ways to branch out and continuing improving my craft; and it led me to a postgrad course in Creative Writing, one that I fell in love with. It would be the best thing I could do if I wanted to work on improving my writing so before I could overthink it, I applied.

In less than two months, I had enrolled and started studying, spending the last year on the course. Was it what I thought? No. It was a huge learning curve, with a lot of mistakes being made. I felt out of depth all over again, and I haven’t quite decided if I loved or loathed it entirely. Maybe I never will, I think I need more time to digest the whirlwind of the year. What I do know was that those same doubts came knocking, as a voice in my head began taunting me with, ‘never study what you love, it only leads to heartbreak’.

That voice was silenced by my mum, bless her soul. I went to her wanting to quit and give up on writing all over again. It was the same old frustrations, I was back to feeling inadequate because I wasn’t picking things up as quickly as other students. I feared not making the cut once more, struggling to find where I fit in, in the course. She sat me down, listened and somehow helped me see sense. I had come so far already, especially on the course, why give up now? It may not have been what I envisioned, it was certainly harder than I imagined and I wouldn’t change it.

I am grateful for the experience it helped me understand so much about the craft. Without it, I wouldn’t know how to be an independent writer, plan a story from start to finish (something I hadn’t been able to do prior to the course) and write a story that helped me deal with my grief. It also introduced me to new works and writers who I felt akin to.

In short, my entire experience when it comes to writing has made me realise that I need to put more faith in myself. As a child, my imagination was endless and writing was what I made it. There were no rules, just simple joy at creating something. That’s what I had loved about my courses and about sharing my work online or in groups. Why restrict myself or conform to expectations that I didn’t set? It’s never been my style, I don’t want to constantly worry if I am getting things write or if I’m enough. I know I can hold my own, alongside other writers, because I am just by writing and enjoying what I create.

Have faith in your creations.

~ E

P.S. For those curious to know, I passed my postgrad and I graduate at the end of the month.

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