Permission to Stop

A few weeks ago I finished a big project: the ‘final’ draft of my novel-in-progress. I sent it to trusted readers, and waited… Their comments came winging back: lots of great suggestions for strengthening the plot, improving the pace and deepening character motivation. Plenty for me to work on.

I sat down at the p.c, ready to hit the keys.

I got up again. Made some tea. Did the washing. Got out the vacuum cleaner. I went back to my desk and stared at the screen.

I created a new document and typed in headings. I deleted those headings and typed in new ones. Hour after hour I fiddled about, going nowhere. Outside, the temperature rose. Inside, the temperature rose. It felt like the whole world was on holiday.

After a week or so I was still moving headings around and writing Plans, and fighting a rising sense of panic. Sitting at my desk was a chore. I had nothing left to give.

Eventually I realised – I’d lost touch with why I was writing in the first place. Why not do what I encourage my writing students to do, and have fun? Take some time out to be playful, to read, and learn from other authors. Then turn up at the page and see what happens.

I covered pages in freewriting. I tried memoir; produced some (terrible) poetry. Picture prompts were great. There were seeds of stories in strange combinations of words, and half-sentences that promised a whole world.

Moaning to a writing friend was therapeutic. She’d felt the same. Just sharing the thought with her was liberating – it gave me permission to take my foot off the pedal. I remembered a story I wrote years ago that I’d always loved. I went back to it and found a detail that made me want to know more. I wrote more; moved paragraphs around. I began to feel the pull of the story – and the fun of writing again.

Sure, taking writing seriously means treating it like a job. But the pressure to stick to a daily routine isn’t always conducive to creativity. Anyway, writing’s a weird job: a mixture of lonely toil, flinging work out into the void, and scanning ‘Results’ lists in nerve-shredding hope. Learning to expect rejection – but believing in yourself enough to keep going. Recognising, in saner moments, that each of us is different; that we all write in our own unique way, and that we all take different routes. Clinging to the hope that hard work and persistence will get us there in the end.

It will. But in the meantime, it’s a great idea to take a holiday. See you in September!

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