The terror of writing; confessions of a coward in Sevilla

Writing produces in me this fear so profound, that I become the Master Procrastinator, and end up hating myself.

Is this normal? Here I am in Sevilla, southern Spain, the ‘frying pan’ of Europe, or so it is called. It’s August 2018, and I am free, free of responsibilities. I am an empty-nester, adult children flown the nest. I can now roam the world and live as I please.

I have a little bit of saved money in my pocket, enough to rent a gorgeous attic hotel room with a private courtyard garden, enough to buy my beloved cafe con hielo (iced coffee), and eat tortillas and jamon, enough to feel calm and happy, but here I am, in the midst of an existential crisis. About writing!

I have a beautiful story idea, one I am in love with. I have made notes and have started to build the foundation of the story, the structure on which the poetic elements will be woven, but I am terrified and this terror is like a silk handkerchief tied tight around my mouth. It goes something like this:

I am going to die, and death is coming and I need to tell this story because nothing else matters, and I don’t want to vanish and not have told this story. This story is in my mind and no one cares about it at the moment. It’s a story that resonates only with me because it’s in my mind.

Life is beautiful and life is tragic and life is all we have and nothing much matters except the emotional desire to be free and pure and live experiences as they arise.

The internal crisis continues: I have written novels before but can I write others. Why should I bother on this path, when it’s a path littered with disappointment and invisibility? Can I write? Do I have the energy to write? Should I open a shop and be a grocer, after all people will always need to eat but they don’t seem to want to read books anymore.

Can I compete in this world? Do I want to compete in this world? I am getting older. Is it too late for me? I am invisible so perhaps it doesn’t matter. Maybe all that matters is the universe and nature. Does this mean I am becoming religious? I don’t want to become religious because religion scares me. Everything scares me. There is a fork in the road and one says ‘die’, the other part of the fork says ‘live’. Which do I choose?

Humans are complicated and we are our own worst enemies. Just write, my annoying inner voice says. I will try. 1000 words today. Amen.

edf
My private writing space, Sevilla, Spain, August 2018
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Adios, au revoir, aufwiedersehen, ta ta

This will be my last entry for a while. I am going off-line to concentrate on a story I want to write, without distraction so ‘Adios’ for a while, and enjoy your summer. Before I go, I want to tell you something. I read today another article on the sorry state of affairs relating to authors’ incomes and it got me thinking – again – about the notion of being a writer and what that means.

The article here states that authors’ earnings are falling dramatically and that publishers are not taking chances with new voices. This message is nothing new. Then on the other side of the coin is the other story, that self-published authors can potentially make six figure incomes if they just follow simple (read complicated) marketing strategies that will launch their beloved series into the stratosphere.

Again, there is nothing new about this story. I’ve heard it so often it just makes me yawn; not out of cynicism really but out of boredom with the whole message; self-publish, get rich, traditionally publish, and stay poor.

But what does being a writer really mean? Does being a writer mean that you make a living out of your writing? Yes and no.

Writing is an art-form, it requires intense practice and experience. So making a living out of being a writer might just mean you’re a whizz kid internet marketeer and that your novels/stories suck. So, in essence you’re not a writer, you’re just good and absorbing and applying the billions of pieces of information on internet marketing out there in the cyber-world, maybe you’ve got more money than you know what to do with and you can afford to enter the psychedelic world that is self-publishing.

Maybe you think your murder mystery or your detective series will be the next big thing and that your writing will keep people turning the page and buying.

If any things apply to you, I say all the best to you. You have my admiration. 

But for me, writing is about something else. Writing for me is about telling a story YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO TELL. It’s not about churning out formulaic genre-pieces quickly, then jumping on the marketing wheel like some sort of mental patient, foaming at the mouth.

For me, writing is about the passion to tell a story, to go down to the subterranean depths of a story and take your readers there, living in that world. It’s about knowing that it doesn’t matter who reads your story or if anyone gives a shit, that story must come out, must be told, because the world needs that story, and you’re the one to write it.

I’ve said this many times; that writing a story is 70 per cent thinking and note-taking, 20 per cent writing, and 10 per cent editing, redrafting, many times over. If you have the time to do your internet marketing successfully, how do you have the time to create the best story you can write, the story that must be told? Perhaps this is the difference between mass market fiction and literary fiction, I don’t know. 

That might sound arrogant, but it isn’t really. Writing the story that simply must be told is nothing to do with wanting to make money from writing, it’s simply about writing a story that must be told, a story of humanity.

I don’t make any money from my writing at the moment, so does that mean I am not a writer? Probably. So what am I? How I make my money is not so glamorous, it’s a pain actually, but there you have it. In writing, I just want to take a story that the world must hear and tell it in the written form.

The marketing and the brain-screw of internet marketing is actually not for the writer to do. Now, we have been told, we have to market our work – fair enough – a little bit – but not spend our lives doing it. It’s for someone else, someone who’s skilled in the methods.

People have told me they make money from their writing, enough money to live on. I am doubtful but no one out there is prepared to be honest and bust the lie that I feel exists when it comes to self-publishing. I am always happy to be wrong. I don’t care either way, but I want to start a conversation about quality stories and who writes them, and why artists, creatives, and writers are always the ones who get dumped on. We know who is getting rich out of our content, and it’s not us. I hate to mention names but I will; I once read a Lee Child novel, and I was shocked at how bad the writing was.

His style, sentences with two words, a lame plot, unbelievable characters, this I found incredibly depressing. Lee Child is considered a top writer, successful beyond belief, but can he write? In my opinion, he writes genre fiction, badly. But then that’s just my opinion and my opinion does not matter. I suppose it’s about taste. Writing well takes talent and experience, and it’s not something that can be conjured up overnight or even over a few weeks with the help of that god-awful piece of software Grammerly to help you with your sentence structure.

Were writers ever supposed to make money and be rich? Probably not, and if it came to them, it often did so very late in their lives. Perhaps that is OK, or perhaps that’s the way it has always been. Look at history, George Orwell (Eric Blair), Virginia Woolf, D.H Lawrence, Anais Nin, to name a few and you’ll find the truth of the above.

Take care. Sending love. Jo x

Rebel Yell, a word to my younger self

I’ve always been ‘weird’; that’s what my parents and siblings called me growing up. My father told my mother I would ‘calm down’, that the love of good man would quieten me and calm me and make me OK (meaning more feminine), but none of that has happened. 

If anything I have gotten more rebellious as I have gotten older. I have always loved rebellious people, those who jump outside society’s ‘normality’ boxes, those hard lines that define our lives every minute of every day. 

I meet rebels (whether they be quiet grandfathers, old ladies at bus-stops, secret rebels who clothe themselves in the conventional outfit of ‘normal’ life) and they become instant and life-long friends. 

To my younger self I say, life is a bloody roller-coaster but the rebel is still in you, and you’ve gotta live that type of rebel life until the end. 

That rebel life is saying: no, I am not going to accept this or that, I am not going to stop challenging this or that, I am not going to stop being curious and young at heart and determined to make a difference. 

My nine-year-old self wanted to run away and be a gypsy. Decades on, I still want to run away and be a gypsy, and a laptop and social media is my megaphone to the world, so I’ve gotta get this social media thing down, and quit the overwhelm of it all. 

xx