I confess that for a while back there – when I was laid up with a seriously bruised leg and a double bout of grief – I lost my confidence to write. It was a strange process; it didn’t happen suddenly. Things had been slipping gently away from me for some time, seemingly hidden under a pile of suddenly very urgent, and very important, tasks. Tasks which have to do with other parts of my life.
Make no mistake, these tasks were real. All part of my commitment to various groups I belong to, or related to the management of my self-employed status. They were genuinely tasks that had to be done, and done to a deadline. But I knew in my heart that something was going on at a deeper level, because I was finding it harder to find the time to write – and that’s always the first sign.
As these tasks crowded into my daily routine more and more, I realised there was apparently less and less time to sit and write creatively. I began to compromise – by doing writing-related tasks. These, again, were all tasks that needed doing. Like editing, formatting, research. Tasks that I’ve never tackled before – such as understanding keywords and discovering how to use the headings function in Word.. All tasks that will, in the end, contribute to my success as a writer, I’m sure, but tasks that currently involve a lot of learning and therefore a lot of time. And none of them including any actual new writing.
And so when I came to the unbearably sad place I found myself in, during August, unable to do much moving about, but with plenty of time to write – I found I couldn’t. That is to say, my inner critic – a voice I haven’t listened to for years – suddenly took unfair advantage of the situation to inform me, in no uncertain terms, that I was rubbish, I didn’t really have any talent for writing and my dreams of getting anything published were ‘pie in the sky’.
To my shame, I listened, then told myself this was just a phase I was going through, then decided to ‘be kind to myself’ and take some time off from writing while I convalesced. All three actions were, to say the least, misguided. The more I didn’t write, the more I couldn’t. And of course, the more I couldn’t, the more I didn’t.
I suddenly had a glimpse of what sportswomen and men mean when they say they’ve lost confidence. It’s a strange and very bizarre place to be because you know perfectly well that you have ability, the necessary skills, a degree of experience, even previous successes, but somehow, in the midst of a crisis of confidence, none of this has any meaning. It’s as if you no longer believe the things about yourself that you did before.
The experience for me is akin to being the heroine in a fairy tale – the heroine who falls under the spell of the wicked stepmother or the night-visiting ogre. Those whispering creatures of the forest who mock and challenge every step the princess takes in trying to find her way, until she feels so tired that falling asleep becomes an easier option than remembering her path…
I love fairy stories. I love the secret truths they hold for us if we take the care to look. I love that they will never quite relinquish their hold on us, despite our best efforts to mock and belittle their importance.
Somewhere, somehow, after weeks of attempting to write using all the ‘writing-by-numbers’ methods the creative-writing gurus offer, and feeling myself becoming smaller, tighter and drier as a result … Somehow, watching the spider in the garden and writing about her astonishing webs last week, reconnected me to this beautiful process of tapping into what my soul has to say.
I began to write again, the way I have before. No preconceptions, no planning, no expectations. Instead, I sat and listened. I listened for the next scene, the next character, the next line of dialogue. I listened very carefully and then I wrote it down.