Aspiring. Abandoning the “writer” drama. Getting on with it.

I wasn’t sure whether to leave this as a “Found thing” here or not. Or maybe comment a little.

J C Hutchins on being an “aspiring writer“. A witty and smart approach to the game.

I have been accused of being an “aspiring author” by somebody, which when you’re on your twenty-second book might be a little silly.

Part of me wants to duck my head in shame: I’m aspiring because I’m not published. Or at least, Amnar has not been published by a mainstream publisher of whom the world can nod and say “Yes, we know about them.”

I always thought I could call myself a writer (or an author), when I was published, but not before. Ah, the yearning for recognition!

It’s a modern thing. A lot of authors we now consider classics were… gasp! self-published.

Hutchins is right. And not just about that.

It’s the drama of the writer. The artist being far too introspective and self-obsessed. In The War on Art, Pressfield says something similar.

Real writers don’t worry about identifying themselves as writers, or sit about considering whether or not they are aspiring or actually there, or whether you have to have won a Pulitzer to finally put that ego down.

They aren’t the only ones.

In Peter Selgin’s 179 Ways to Save a Novel, he discusses the various ways this insecurity, this anxiety about ‘being a writer’ ruins your work.

Firstly, you can’t even get started.

Secondly, when you do get started, you get so obsessed with creating perfect, gilt sentences of such astounding beauty that editors over the world will orgasm at the sight of them (my words, not Selgin’s), you can’t get past the first one.

Thirdly, pretty much everything you write is so lost in the beauty of stringing words together that it is, essentially, meaningless. You write to impress, rather than express.

I think maybe we use “aspiring” because we’re scared of being knocked down by somebody rampaging into our lives with their own insecurities, telling us that we aren’t all that.

I suffer a lot of this.

I don’t struggle to write. I struggle to deal with that insecurity that I thought would pass after I was first paid to write, and didn’t. I simply upped the ante.

Instead of being paid to write, I had to be paid to write fiction.

If people paying hardback book prices for your e-books counts as being paid to write fiction, I’ve managed that.

Oh, no, it’s not that. You have to be paid by a publisher.

Still working on that one.

Yes, that’s where my insecurity rests now. I’m sure it’ll find a new home soon. It’s like a small, lurking rodent, seeking out confidence and nibbling away at it, certain that somebody is going to call me out somewhere.

“You’re a fraud because you haven’t achieved X yet.”

There’s always one. Well, there’s always one imaginary one. The one in your head, telling you that you aren’t good enough.

But, as Hutchins says, perhaps it’s a good thing to be a little insecure.

It keeps me working harder, trying to improve.

It means I’m not so confident about my work I’m blind to its flaws.

I recognise my own limitations. Possibly a little too much of that, but no need to dwell…

We’ve developed this idea that there’s a gateway when you can call yourself something like “writer”.

I know painters. It exists for them, too.

Pressfield is right again. The only answer is to get on with it, because that’s the important bit.

Posted in Personal, Writing

Found thing: A mysterious incident at Via Salaria

An incredible piece written by Ian Thomson and published in the London Review of Books. It’s long, but it’s very much worth reading.

Aside | Posted on by

Don’t forget the people on wheels

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m embroiled in a Herculean Feat of Organisation. I have a book club meet to set up.

I thought it was set up. Except that I asked if we could set up the meeting for a rolling date, say on the third Sunday of every month, so I don’t have to exchange emails over an entire week to get this set up…

No, wait, let’s start at the beginning.

I wanted to set up a book club. Simple, huh? All I need is a venue, people, and books. The people side of things is sorted because this book club is part of a larger organisation, so I have an audience already connected to the group to invite.

I also have a plan for the books side of things: I can ask the attendees to pick books. I start out with an idea for a free venue and contact them. I like this place because they’re cool and groovy and into cooperatives and all sorts of other good stuff. They’re geeky, basically.

I send an email, get an initial, cheerful, welcoming response and then nothing.


I speak to a friend who also uses this venue and eventually get better contacts. I make sure to ask for disabled access, as I know I may have attendees who have wheels, or canes. It’s not just the able of body who reads books, amazingly enough.

That was simple.

Until I showed up on the day and discovered we’d been moved somewhere beyond disabled access.


Since I’m not in the mood for being messed around I insist we are given access to the area where people with wheels or canes or any other physical limitation can reach. Thankfully, the other group meeting has a sympathetic (or terrified) organiser and we reach an agreement.

A few days later I give feedback and ask to arrange the next meeting, again saying we need to make sure we get disabled access. I get a new date, and all is apparently well.

Then, curses, I decided to ask for a rolling meeting date that would make all our lives easier. This takes a long time. I’m trying to fit into their calendar on a day when they don’t have a big event, to ensure we get the easy-to-access space.

I’m given a date, and then check the calendar to see lots of other events taking place at the same time. Won’t there be a clash? I ask.

Oh no, you’ll be upstairs, out of the way.

Where the people on wheels can’t reach.

I point this out. I’m reassured that things can be arranged so that we can do this. I’m starting to feel a bit frustrated. I decide to cross my fingers and hope, because for some reason, I’m not so certain about this.

Of course, then Facebook decided I couldn’t access my event page to edit the event. It’s already set it up for 1969 once, which baffles me because it’s quite difficult to change the year on Facebook events.

Mystifying. Now I can’t access my event at all. It’s “unavailable”. I have to cancel, apologise to attendees, set it up again and ask my caterer if he’ll please do the new date, thank you.

And to think I woke up this morning after having a lovely dream about puppies.

No, really. Puppies. My subconscious must be sick of all the time I spend writing about the violence of despots at last.

The first lesson in all this is that organising events is very likely to drive you mildly insane very quickly. My mellow, which isn’t terribly mellow at the best of times, was thoroughly harshed.

But I take a few things from this: If you’re a community thing, and you’re aimed at “the community”, or “building a community”, it all falls down if the only people you’re accessible to have working limbs and don’t require wheels or other forms of assistance.

The other thing is this: It makes it very hard to want to support a community thing that’s doing really cool work, if you make it difficult to work with you.

Wonderful community projects and ventures fall down because without a strong organiser behind it, the whole thing struggles to keep going. You want to support them because they’re cool and groovy, but there are some boring, straightforward things you have to be able to do in order to keep functioning.

Then there’s this: As an organiser, I have to learn to be insistent about getting what I want because it’s not really about what I want. It’s about making what we’re doing accessible to everybody. Because a cool and groovy community thing isn’t a cool and groovy community thing if some people can’t even get to it.

Posted in Personal

This can change

Inspired by this post, by Danielle LaPorte.

I get tempted sometimes to blog about recovery, about all the bad stuff, the past, the things I’ve been carrying around, or the things I’ve dropped.

I haven’t wanted to blog or write in a long time about my personal life. I think I know why.

It’s because it’s changing so much, the old subjects aren’t worth writing about anymore, and the new ones haven’t settled in yet.

I’m not sure if people want to hear how excited I get about fitness, trying out some new plan, or going swimming, or experimenting with Amnar. I’m not sure how to form the words yet, where to put them.

I’m still finding my way into a new place.

I had a comment a little while back on another blog from somebody saying they felt the depression, the anxiety, never ends, that change isn’t possible.

I know what that feels like. It seems so huge that you can’t get out. And that it’s endless.

That’s the time when it’s hardest to think anything will change at all, and you feel useless and hopeless.

But it’s not impossible. I used to think, if I just go out, or if I just check the post, or if I just do one thing, that’s all that really matters. Or even just get out of bed. That’s enough.

It’s about the tiny little steps.

It’s also about reminding yourself that what’s in your head isn’t necessarily real. You don’t have to believe it. But it’s OK if for now, you totally do.

Keep pushing just a little bit. Yes, it can be a hard slog. It means looking at things that hurt a great deal, accepting deep wounds.

Eventually, you realise they can heal, and they make you stronger.

I keep thinking to myself, “I don’t want to be like this.” Today, I realised the only way out was to accept I’m like this, that my life is like this, and move on from that.

So I start doing a few more little things. Cope a little better. See where today’s change comes from.

It doesn’t happen if you sit around waiting for it, or endlessly complaining that you want it but it hasn’t happened. You have to take the steps yourself, no matter what the obstacles are.

They’re smaller than they seem.

(Sometimes, they’re imaginary.)

You can believe it’s totally impossible to have a better life, and work toward it anyway. Odd, that.

Change happens in a thousand tiny little steps, not one momentous leap. After all, we’re not talking about climbing the north face of the Eiger here.

But even that’s not impossible. They ski down it these days.

One thing at a time, even if it’s a tiny thing, is worth doing. And just because it doesn’t look major, doesn’t mean it isn’t. We’re not prone to be objective about our own sense of who we are, anyway.

That’s how I do it, anyway.

Posted in Personal | 2 Comments

Writing, or even talking, about the bad stuff

This is one of those recovery oriented posts. I feel like I’ve lost my blogging voice, and although I’ve kept going with gratitude posts on the Zen blog, I haven’t really felt comfortable writing anything very personal.

It’s odd, because I used to write everything on a blog people could read, and I’d spew out three or even four posts a day. I thought nothing of it, and I miss that. Now it feels like a big deal to write anything publicly.

It’s a struggle to talk about what I’ve been experiencing with friends, let alone blog about it. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m afraid of people’s reactions, or because I feel a degree of shame that I’ve been so knocked back by what happened.

If you’re used to working hard, and if not that, working harder, it’s difficult to put your hand up and say you just can’t. I was thinking about this last night, when I realised for the first time I feel as though I’ve let everybody down by being this unwell. I feel as though I should be stronger, and pull myself together.

Oddly, I’d never expect anybody else to do that. And I know, on an intellectual level, that pushing myself too hard to recover too soon is just going to slow the whole process down. But on an emotional level, it’s much harder, especially watching other people’s lives taking off while I still feel overwhelmed by pretty much everything other than the gym.

There are good days and bad days. This has been one of the bad days, mostly because I was awake most of the night, and going without sleep makes it harder the next day. It didn’t help that I’ve just started a new programme update at the gym, so my muscles scream at me every time I move.

Time for Change has been pushing mental health issues for a while now, with a “Time to talk about it” campaign. I still feel uneasy about discussing it, but to be honest, I’m not sure why. I’ve never encountered any particular discrimination myself, but I think I have a personal sense of shame about it, as though it’s a failing that I don’t just step outside what I’m experiencing and carry on regardless.

Discussing mental illness isn’t really like talking about a broken leg. The causes of mental health problems, especially if they’re tied to things in your past, are really personal and private. People hedge around them, tentatively wanting to know why you’re like this, especially because it’s not something visible.

Well, I say it’s not visible, but a few people see it. People who’ve had serious problems themselves know about it. A couple of weeks ago I had a great conversation with a friend who said he could feel the anxiety radiating out of me. I wasn’t insulted, in fact it was a relief.

It’s very hard to talk about right now, because I’m at the point of recovery where I finally bring down the walls between me and the pain. I feel shaky discussing it with anybody, especially in public, as though I’m a little ball of explosive tears just waiting to spill out everywhere. Having kept it inside for so long, and not having cried, it’s frightening to think it might let loose at any moment.

Then, of course, in the things I tend to read, there’s a dislike of confessional writing. I’m not sure if it’s because that sector is particularly uptight, or prefers intellectual debate over discussions of the more personal, but it does leave me feeling as though writing things like this is somehow a lower form of work.

I have no solution to any of this. I know that the more we talk openly about mental health problems, the more acceptable it becomes in society, the less people can dismiss it as weakness or fear it because of media hype, but when you’re actually one of those people with a problem, and you’re suddenly in the spotlight when your head isn’t exactly working right, that’s a much harder thing to do.

Posted in Personal | 3 Comments

Reverb11 April: What’s blossoming?

I’ve been avoiding Reverb11. Or at least, I haven’t paid it much attention since I finished Reverb10 on my Zen blog and decided that I had very mixed feelings about it. I certainly wasn’t sure how to answer the last prompt, but I’ve decided to have a go at this one, since it feels relevant.

I feel as though I’ve been in a seedling state for the last two years, and being asked about blossoming now is suddenly very appropriate. I had no idea when I broke down back in late 2009 that it would take this long to recover, but then it’s taken almost this long to work out why it happened in the first place.

The year began with a few new routines, and a solid burst of hardcore exercise focus. I hadn’t been swimming in seven years, and suddenly I was in the pool for an hour, three or four times a week, as well as running and weight training. Alongside it, I got more involved in Skeptics in Manchester, and both have been the foundation for something bigger.

At the end of last month I decided to put The Inheritor on the Kindle, because Smashwords wouldn’t do it, and this month has seen a steady improvement that really does feel like blossoming, at last. Perhaps it’s just a few buds at this stage, but it’s definitely progress.

This time last year I could barely leave the house and couldn’t speak to anybody. I still experience an awful lot of anxiety, but that’s probably because I spend a lot of my time doing things that tend to set it off, rather than hiding and letting it rule my life.

I have a few specific things still to get over, things that I hate to admit have obviously traumatised me to the point where I have to go back over them, and come to terms with before I can move on. It’s a daily process, which can be tough at times, but worth it.

I’ve also managed to finish The Expulsion, which has been hanging over my head since last year, and get started on The Excision, the final book in the Execution trilogy. Although I’ve been able to write in bursts before, until the last couple of weeks, it wasn’t solid or consistent, and I felt painfully detached from Amnar.

It is very tiring, but I’m encouraged by the way things are changing, sometimes on a daily basis, in a way that I can appreciate. In the dark days of last year it felt like all of this would take forever, or I might end up trapped in my own head for the rest of my life, but time has proved that’s obviously not the case.

It feels like a long ride, and I’ve only really started now. I’m enjoying the sunshine and the feeling that I’m actually able to do things and make things happen without breaking myself. Just a few buds, but important ones.

Posted in Personal | 3 Comments

The tyranny of cake and cliché

This might be considered a rant in the vein of David Mitchell, and his comments on phrases such as “I could care less”* on his last YouTube video series.

I happened to be watching a documentary where somebody said, “I think you’re just trying to have your cake and eat it.”

And the thought occurs, as it did to George Carlin: What the hell else am I supposed to do with cake that I have? Is cake intended to be purely ornamental now?

If the phrase ran “You just want to have your cake, and everybody else’s as well”, whilst be less snappy off the tongue, it would at least make a bit of sense. But when you think about it, the phrase doesn’t make sense. If you have cake, and you didn’t eat it (unless you’re on a diet), wouldn’t it be foolish not to eat it?

It’s just one of those peculiar phrases that pop into the language and we use without thinking. I discussed this on Twitter and somebody remarked that “Cheap at half the price” is also rather disingenuous a phrase.

If something is cheap, it would be cheaper at half the price, but if the point is to discuss the value of the product compared to price, you’d be better off saying that it would be cheap at double the price.

These phrases are so often repeated we don’t really think to question them out of context. I’ve always found traveling to other countries that when people speak English to me, and run into one of these little clichés, they’re more likely to notice when they don’t make any sense.

Eating cake you have is apparently a terrible thing, if the cliché is to be believed. I had a brief search for the origins of the phrase, to see where it came from, and it apparently is supposed to mean that a person is trying have the best of both worlds.

Early uses switched the terms, which in modern parlance would be “you want to eat your cake and have it”, alluding to the impossibility of having cake you’ve already eaten. That’s reasonable enough, but as often happens over time, the phrase has become reversed and lost meaning in the process.

I prefer the related French term, myself, which makes more immediate sense: “vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre”, to want to have butter and the money for the butter at the same time. It conveys greed, or the desire to want to have things both ways at once.


*We say “I couldn’t care less” in Britain, which does make sense. If you could care less, you obviously care. I’ve never understood why people say “I could care less about…”

Posted in Personal, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments