Writing cycles

Artichoke II

Dead-headed queen

crownless in a devastation of hay

inflorescence grounded

thick timber uprooted

your fibrous globes

from fresh leaves

cut loose from glaucous leaves

 

Wisdom’s rattling weight

Weight of bract and choke

cast down

overthrown by cultivation

sacrificed as life-blood

for budding usurpers

 

Your fallen head

Coarse crown disguarded

tragically close

mulching in nettles

watched by the spinney greenery

of the next generation

of your thistley children

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The hump

The hump is always there.

It doesn’t matter how much I want to write. It doesn’t matter how much I love the process of writing. It doesn’t matter how hungry I’ve been to get to my desk and get pen to paper, finger tips to keys. Every time I want to write, I have to heave the baggage of my intentions over the hump first.

The hump is a hybrid creature. It’s a living, breathing thing that changes shape, size and consistency depending on my particular mood. Sometimes it’s a laziness, a desire to stay in bed that little bit longer rather than pull myself out of sleep and onto the page. Sometimes it’s a stack of More Important Things demanding my attention and insisting that I Must Complete These Tasks First before I can spare the twenty minutes of head-space I allow myself six days a week for writing.

But sometimes it’s something less solid, less obvious than these ploys to stay away from the page. When the hump is about choosing a ten-minute lie-in over an extra ten minutes with a pen in hand, I can judge the height, width and texture of what I’m doing battle with. When it’s a Papier-Mache mound of bills, emails and to-do lists, I can get my gait right and hurdle over its hollow shell. It’s when the hump is transparent that I have real problems, when it in fact denies its very existence.

Like when I watch yet another episode of The X-Files rather than picking up that novel I’ve been dying to read for months. Or when it’s composed of Big Questions about Who I Am and Why Am I Doing This. At its most insidious, the hump is made up of the crazy springs and snares of justification, reasonable explanations as to Why I Shouldn’t Write Today. It’s particularly nasty then. Brush up against the rust and jagged edges and justification is infectious, will run riot across you.

This time, the hump was perfectionism. I don’t like this post. Something in the imagery is not working for me. So I’ve sat on it for weeks. And let its draft-y presence stop me writing anything else.

Recognising that there is a hump, always a hump, has been the thing that’s starting to make a real difference. Now I know getting myself to the waiting page is a similar process to cycling up hill. I know when I crest that summit, the view from the top and the free-wheeling down the other side will not only make it all worthwhile, the rush will make me feel so alive I won’t even remember the slog to get to the top.

But that doesn’t stop the lactic acid making my muscles moan and the little demon on my shoulder insist that I really don’t need to put myself through this, so why don’t I just stop? Certain days, that demon barely gets a whisper in before I’m at the top, over the hump and letting gravity take the reins. Other days, he’s in full voice before I’ve even gotten to the base. Either way, when I’m really out on my bike, I’ve never once gotten off and pushed the bike back home. Nah, that promise, that distant memory of what’s over the other side is enough to keep my teeth gritted and my legs peddling.

I don’t even have to peddle to get over the writing hump. Just got to grit those teeth, keep breathing and pick up that pen. That’s it. Hump surmounted. Time to let the words free-wheel across the page.

The fallows

I’ve been floundering. It’s taken me a while to notice what’s going on, and I’ve still not managed to get my head above the waves far enough to see for certain where I am, but at least now I’ve noticed the waves. The reason it’s taken me a while to notice is because I’ve kept writing. Pretty much every day, I leave some kind of stain across a page, be it ink, tears or sweat. Something gets put down and recorded.

So it didn’t immediately sink in that I’m treading water, occasionally going under before bobbing up again. Previously, trouble has come raging in, a cavalry of panic and anxiety storming in under a banner of blank pages and sleeplessness. The trickle of words I’ve been leaving in my wake, the calm, steady practice of writing a little every day – this doesn’t look or feel like trouble. But I have been treading water rather than swimming, diving, moving through the ups and downs of writing. And now I’m getting tired.

There were some tell-tale signs. I’ve been doing a lot of ‘writing up’ rather than writing on recently, focusing on getting my scrawls typed up so I can share. Except now they’re all typed up and I still haven’t shared. Then the small part of the day I carve out for sitting at my desk and just getting words down has gradually become shorter and shorter. Somehow unloading the dishwasher or doing my (very short) hair expand into tasks that chisel away at those few minutes I try to keep for writing. And then there’s my blog, perched on my shoulder, singing out that I haven’t posted anything.

I admit, I started to panic last week when the truth finally reached me. Things had been unfolding at such a fluid pace that discovering I’d lost forward momentum was a shock. My first response, of course, was guilt. It’s because I’m not dedicated enough, because I’m not sacrificing enough to the writing gods – or worse, it’s because I’ve committed the sin of thinking that I had anything worthwhile to write in the first place.

Then comes the Voice of Truth, which tells me in loud ringing tones that real writers don’t have these problems, so just give the fuck up, because you are clearly not a writer. Chalk this one up as another one of your misadventures, your failed enthusiasm. Go back to the day job and embrace that as all you can possibly be.

Luckily, I’ve had it up to here with that fucking noise. That Voice of Truth, with its shoulds and don’ts has had all the attention from me it’s ever going to get. It took me to some very boring places. These days, I’d always take actually being in the water – albeit floundering – over standing on a barren shore looking longingly at the waves.

I can’t stop the Voice having its say, but I can try and get some other voices to do battle with it. Reading other writers talk about their writing cycles has been hugely helpful. Seems that what I’m experiencing at the moment is a fallow, a time of rest after a time of plenty. It’s a time to take stock, read and think, perhaps edit and plot, perhaps work on something else before returning to the main project.

Hence there’s no panic, no anxiety – I’m recuperating, pooling my resources to take them in the next direction. It makes perfect sense. I’ve reached something close to 30,000 words of what will hopefully turn into my first novel. That’s a lot of work and words and ideas. Of course I need to pause, take a breath and survey the horizons I’m creating before I move on. And actually, the words that I’ve eeked out in the fallows are full of potential, my pen seems to be discovering a new aesthetic for me all by itself.

So I’m going to rest in the fallows for a while, get my strength again, let the ideas break over me and refresh these hard-working senses. No panic, no guilt, and definitely no bloody shoulds.