Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My Brilliant Career

I am considering the old potato in the vegetable rack who, in spite of being long past it’s eat-by or anything useful date, still sprouts and puts out ridiculously hopeful white and green shoots according to the life force that is still in it. I am not an old potato but it must be said that I am possibly (think Jean Brodie here) “past my prime.” This is fine by me. My prime would have been useless to me anyway, even if I hadn’t got M.E. which scuppers all possible plans. I would have gone on bicyle rides and proper camping holidays (I don’t mean Eurocamp) with my kids is all. I would have written more and/or earned a bit more money is all but whether the world would have been a substantially better place as a consequence is unverifiable. I never knew what I was really for in any case. The schools I attended – at least eleven, but I have lost count – mostly looked at me as though I were a peculiar variety of potato that was best not cultivated, and this, with absence of “proper” career, has left me free to be more or less concentratedly myself for most of my life. It might have helped if I had been able to identify what that was earlier on, but in the grand scheme of things this also doesn’t matter. I am, as I've said before, a very late developer.

Still, it’s time to get a bit of a move-on now. As filling up cheap notebooks with blue- ballpoint words does seem to be my metier I am concerned about how little of this I have managed to do in my gap year which has already gone past the half-way point. In September I will again be focussed on others’ creative potential and development and pleased to be so – the more pleased, however, if my own work is on some kind of a roll. Basically, I am stuck at the moment because I can’t decide whether to focus on poetry or prose-writing and am beyond the point where it is ok just to fill up notebooks and see what happens. I really need a proper task. The only one who can give it to me is me and I am blocked by, strangely, a sense of having too much (rather than nothing or too little) to say and how to choose and find a form for all or some of it. I suspect that even Natalie Goldberg, who has been so helpful to many writers, especially those who are just starting out, suffered at some point from this kind of thing. She could write beautifully, especially (imho) in Wild Mind, about the writing process, but when it came to writing her own stuff she petered out and some of it was bad and almost embarrassing to read. It was as though she never really found her sense of direction outside of writing about writing and perhaps that was what she was really for. My case is different: I’m not famous as she was so don’t have that pressure and I have a sense that once I’ve settled on form and task I’ll be able to take hold. Meanwhile, back to the notebook, it’s the only way in and out. Physician heal thyself.

15 comments:

That's so pants said...

Hi Signs - you write very well indeed about not writing - if that helps. I always say write it - don't fight it because it seems to me it takes a lot more out of you thinking of ways to avoid writing than actually doing it. But you shouldn't listen to me because I am the most unsuccessful writer EVER. I love NG as well but never really understood the concept of writing practice - it seemed like a waste to me. Since I've been blogging it makes more sense because I think of blog posts as writing practice. I've always thought it doesn't matter what method you use, as long as you stick to it. It does work for me because I do finish things.

Reading the Signs said...

Thanks Ms P, I am writing but feel I haven't yet hit the "seam" so it's bits and pieces which can sometimes feel to me like not writing. I think writing practice is great for people starting out and for all sorts of things - not the answer for me at this time, though. I'm probably making a mistake waiting for the Big Thing to announce itself.

nmj said...

Hey Signs, I agree with Pants, blogging is great writing practice, without you even realising . . .I used to feel quilty when I wasn't writing (when I was writing my book) but I wasn't writing because I often wasn't well enough, and as you know, you can't fight that. But my pre-ME personality was so self-disciplined (too self-disciplined perhaps)and thankfully there is enough of that left over that kept me writing, when I was able, but I did have a huge passion for what I was writing (haven't had it since).. I was also in the unusual position of starting out with an agent (even though she turned out to be useless, left without telling me) and that definitely helped a lot, the sense that it would be published, even although it wasn't, not by that route anyway. I have a copy of Writing Down the Bones, but I think, like you, it is more for beginners. But I think for any writer there are always periods of things not flowing. I think the Big Thing will find you, or you will find it, but in the meantime, filling up those blue notebooks can only be good! As you know, I love reading your posts (and yours, Pants - I will get to your novel extracts soon, I promise, my head's a bit chewed just now), bits and pieces can be just as rewarding to read, but maybe not to write . . .

nmj said...

. . .i didn't feel quilty, i felt guilty!

That's so pants said...

I'm more inclined to feel quilty as I love to write in bed.

cusp said...

I'm not a writer. I'm a visual artist but the dilemna sounds terribly familiar.

Whether or not I have been struggling with M.E., I have always worked much better and been more focused when working on a commissions. Those dried up after I became ill because I simply coudn't meet the requests. Now I'm in a kind of limbo where so much time has gone by when I was unable to make proper sketches and notes of ideas/feelings etc. that they are, not lost, but being consumed by the brambles and thickets of time and confusion.

I often think that if only The Next Big Thing would come along then it would provide the focus to kick start me. It won't of course and there is no Next Big Thing until and unless I get my proverbial brush out of my backside and start to do something, anything. You are at least doing something and not squandering your time.

I suspect that the jottings in cheap note books and pieces for your blog are actually your next big thing in disguise: they will either lead you to something as yet unknown or be revealed as the practise for something apparently greater.

This reminds me, to a degree, of 'The Artist's Way' 'morning pages' with which you are probably familiar. Personally I find all that Julia C. stuff slightly american and cloying but she does have a point in her methodology.

In the meantime just keep on keeping on ... it's all you can do.....and recognise that you are maintaining a discipline and practising your craft.

Reading the Signs said...

Hi nmj, thanks - this is all interesting and I'm intrigued to know how you found an agent before having written the book - if you don't mind discussing it. My pre-M.E. personality was all over the place as far as discipline was concerned - still is, but I do have the drive to do it when able. Yes to the other things you say. My head is also chewed. So chewed!

cusp, your predicament is similar to a writer's and I can well imagine how the commissions were a spur as well as an overwhelming pressure. Of course the focus must come from within and does - as every creative person knows - as long as one keeps on keeping on.

Oh god, the morning pages! For people like us the danger is that they disappear into the black hole of relentless symptoms. When I do them it's on the strict understanding that I don't write about those however ill I'm feeling - which can make for very interesting pages full of expletives.

Reading the Signs said...

I'd like to be more quilty. I just can't get comfortable, I need one of those special tables that slide under beds and servants to bring hot drinks (to the top of the house).

nmj said...

signs, i'm sorry you are head-chewed too..i feel like such a bore talking about my book & the snakes & ladders that lasted six years (it's all on my blog),& i will blog soon about the good news . . . but to cut a long story short, since you asked, i had written a long short story (!) years ago, & it got me on an arvon course, you had to be selected for it rather than the usual first come first served basis, & when i was on it the agent there said she wanted to sign me up & to her credit very much encouraged me to make it into a longer piece, which became the book, but i don't think she realised just how slowly i write, anyway it's history now . . .

Reading the Signs said...

- well I'm not bored, these sort of details interest me! Ta.

The Moon Topples said...

RTS: I feel for the poor potato.

I've struggled with indecision and the sense of too much possibility myself, and for me the solution seems to have been to just choose something and go. If it isn't working, choose something else.

You're a gifted writer, that's clear even from the short bits you share here on your blog. Whichever path you take, I hope the results are made public at some point.

MP said...

Hi - I came across a quote you might like. Sort of feel it's at the heart of wanting to write. It's by John Muir, an early conservationist who believed in preserving the wilderness for its own sake: 'I only went out for a walk ... and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.' Keep your blog going. And all the rest.

Reading the Signs said...

hey Mr. Moon, thanks, it's a strange one, isn't it? I must follow the advice I often give others.

mp - (hello, nice to see you) it's a lovely quote and apt. I will keep up the walks.

goodthomas said...

Signs - I have never read Ms. Goldberg but I would assume it would be a rare individual who can write fiction and also write about writing. -- who can "teach" and "do."

I don't know a great deal but I am constantly amazed by the power of a written word. One, two, seven, 50 thousand. Your words hold such power. You may not have written best-selling novels that get four stars on Amazon, but I would venture to say that you have touched many, many writers, many, many people during your day. That is based merely on what I get from you here, the power of your words, your observations, your talents via blogland.

You are amazing. May you always sprout and put out "ridiculously hopeful white and green shoots."

Reading the Signs said...

goodthomas, many writers have to teach as well as do or they'd be hard-pressed to live, and the two can be compatible as long as all the vital energies don't get used up. I suppose Natalie Goldberg's books are about the "Zen" of writing practice - it really did become her path and she was encouraged in this by her Zen master.

Thank you for the generous words - which I don't deserve. I am even now putting out the shoots.