How to Write a Book (for those who want to, but have a hundred excuses not to).

Consider this post both a gentle, supportive hug, and also a loving butt kick. I’ve had too many conversations in the past month with beautiful, talented, creative women that go something like this:

  • “Yeah, I’d love to write a book but I don’t want to do it and have it be bad.”
  • “I don’t want to write a book and have people criticise it.”
  • “I’d love to write a book but I know it’s so hard to get anything published [and therefore why would I bother].”
  • “I really want to write a book but I know hardly anyone makes money out of it and I need to be able to support myself… I can’t give up my day job.”

Look, to be blunt, none of this is new. All of this has been said before, by me and every other person with a creative wish. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “your fears are boring”. (Ouch! Hurts just a bit, doesn’t it?)

People get so messed up in their heads thinking about the outcome of their creative project that they fail to even start it.

And in my experience, what happens to your book  after it is finished is largely out of your hands. You have very little control over it after it leaves your laptop and flies off into the world.

Maybe it will sell, maybe it won’t. Maybe it will start a revolution across the world, or maybe it will change a single person’s life and help them through a difficult time. Maybe it will make you really rich, or maybe it will pay a phone bill, or maybe you’ll end up in debt.

Like bringing a child into the world, there is only so much you can do to protect, shepherd and guide her where you want her to go. She has her own journey.

Is this poking at your deepest fears? Can you feel your stomach knotting and your breathing constrict?

Here is something terrifying.

That fear never goes away.

I emailed my lovely fairy godmother, Monica McInerney, not long after getting my contract for The Tea Chest and The Chocolate Promise and asked her how to deal with the paralysing fear that was stopping me writing. She laughed (lovingly) and told me it wouldn’t ever go away and she was going through it right then too, on her tenth novel.

Julia Cameron, master of living a creative life (and famed author of The Artist’s Way) confesses in her book, The Creative Life, that as time goes on, the mind’s tricks, which it plays to stop us from writing, only get trickier.

Please, beautiful people with creative dreams, don’t be a slave to the ego’s fear.

You are stronger than that. You are wiser.

Accept it.

Name it, if you like. (My creative monster, my ever present fear, is called Maureen. Julia Cameron’s is called Nigel.) It is like an unwanted relative. You can’t get rid of it. It will always be at the table, eating your food.

Give it a job if you like. Many years ago, I listened to my saboteur tell me that everything I wrote was crap, turned to the corner of the room and said, ‘Really? Thanks for that feedback. Now go do something useful and find me a book contract.’

But please, write.

Please write.

Write.

Write for the sake of writing. Write because you want to. Write because in this hour, this day, that is what your soul calls you do to. Write because you love it. Write because you have something to say.

What happens to it after that?

It’s irrelevant. The important thing is that you wrote.

Much love,

Jo x

 

 

Creative Breakthroughs: My Writing Room

I had a huge breakthrough this weekend and for me it’s so important that I’m going to continue posting about this topic every so often over the course of the year. It started like this.

IMG_1930Recently, I was invited to submit a photograph and some words about ‘my writing room’ to a UK website. I’ve harboured dreams of a magical, inspiring, nourishing writing room for years. And you may know that I’ve written about my intention to create a wonderful writing room for the past two new year’s resolutions. But I keep failing to achieve my dream.

Now, I’ve dithered about this photo task for weeks (I’ve lost count of how many). And the reason is this: my room isn’t what I want it to be. It’s not finished. I still have an unpainted wall and door, broken and missing glass in the French doors, unpolished floorboards covered by a rug, and the cheapest curtains (for want of a word) I could find as a temporary stop until ‘the real curtains’ arrive.  It’s not pretty enough. I don’t have everything just as I want it. I cannot begin to tell you how much time I’ve spent lying awake, stressed about this task!

I’ve been writing seriously now since 1999 and I still don’t have my dream writing room. But, over that time my writing space has improved. I actually wrote an entire memoir on my laptop in bed at one point because I didn’t have any space just of my own. And this time last year, I had just one corner of a room that was also shared by our senior cat and her kitty litter (so lots of smell and grit underfoot), her frequent deposits of cold vomit on the floor, the baby’s change table and the nappy bin (more smell), and the dirty clothes basket. Life in my writing room has, absolutely, improved.

IMG_1920But I’m still not where I want to be—somewhere in the gypsy cave with silks and lanterns and fairy lights, a desk made of gnarled wood taken from an enchanted forest and carved by elves, magical doorways, couches, cushions, a music player, candles, perfect lighting for day and night, perfect temperature control and aromatherapy. Somewhere peaceful with beautiful scenery. Oh, and somewhere my toddler can’t find me.

And what I’m really saying is my room is not perfect. No wonder I think I keep failing to achieve my dream.

*** And this, my friends, was my breakthrough. ***

Perfection—the deadly word for all creative types. Perfection, the unreachable, the unattainable. The tortuous quest to find the worst in ourselves (not the best).

The excuse to stop.

The excuse to not finish.

The excuse to not enjoy ourselves.

The excuse to hide our creativity from the world.

The excuse to fail.

  

From one recovering perfectionist to another, let me be clear:

PERFECTIONISM IS AN EXCUSE.

But it’s not ready. It’s not finished. It’s not good enough. It’s not what I want it to be!

Excuses. All of them.

Oh, they may be well founded in core beliefs, inherited expectations, fears that pretend to protect us from shame, punishment or embarrassment. But they’re still excuses. And they can sneak up on you and sidle into your mind very quietly and sit there for weeks, months, or years. Just as they did with me, provoking anxiety over my writing room.

But after years of stressing about it, I’ve found freedom.

I now know the reality is this: Creating and decorating my writing room is limited by the structure and size of the room; the fact that we’re still renovating a 113-year-old house and the rest of the house isn’t ‘finished’ yet either; and finances and priorities like, you know, essential plumbing, seven horses to feed and food and bills. There are limits to what I can do and that’s okay. That’s life. In fact, we need limits or we’d lose our minds. It doesn’t mean I have to stop, or have to hide what I’ve done. It’s a work in progress. Nothing in life is ever finished. Nothing. It just changes from one thing to another.

And the lesson here is that this applies to every creative aspect of our life. Everything that seems big and overwhelming can be done by breaking it down into its components. If you want to be an author, you’re going to have to write a book. (Better yet, you’re going to have to write a page, and then another page, and another.) If you want to be an opera singer, you’re going to need to take a lesson. Want a holiday but can’t afford one? Go to the beach for the day. Want a horse but don’t have land? Go to a riding centre and ride for a day. Want to change the colour of the walls in your bedroom? You might first need to de-clutter the room so you can actually reach the walls.

And if you want the perfect writing room? Start with the perfect potted plant… which I did, this weekend, by the way. Isn’t it lovely? And I bought a lamp, too. Just two things for my writing-room-in-progress. And I can’t tell you how much joy that fern and that lamp bring me when I walk into the room. The whole space suddenly feels welcoming and nurturing and I want to spend time there.

So, loud and proud, I’m sharing this with you. This is my writing room. Not finished. A work in progress. And it will probably always be a work in progress for the rest of my life. I accept that now. And I am amending my new year’s resolutions from ‘create my perfect writing room’ or ‘fix my writing room’ to ‘continue to nurture my writing room’.

Because nurturing—of ourselves, our family, our careers, our creativity, and our living spaces—is a daily necessity. I will nurture my writing room and in return, my writing room will nurture me.