Tag Archives: being a writer

We NEED to Look After Ourselves

I was going to write some informative writery stuff this morning, but actually, after the week I have had, I feel like there is a pressing need to say something crucial:

We Need to Look After Ourselves

A dear friend of mine wrote in her blog yesterday about how she forgets to take preventative meds for her migraine when she doesn’t sleep well, and the result is, well, a migraine.  She rants in her post at herself because this miserable agony of a head storm is totally preventable.  And I really sympathise.

Because I am lying in bed right now, typing upside down on my laptop because my back is wrecked and my stomach is a painful disaster.  Both entirely preventable conditions.

1) I haven’t done any really consistent yoga since I had flu last Christmas.  I was so ill, and it took me so long to recover, that exercise didn’t seem possible.  Besides, writing has been my priority, so everything else took a back seat.  As a result, I have lost the muscle mass, flexibility and strength inside my torso that is really needed to hold me up and make my limbs work effectively.

2) My posture is just appalling, and it isn’t helped by hunching over in an inadequate office chair at my desk, or slouching on the sofa for hours on end, typing.

3)  I carry the majority of my stress in my spine, which means neck and shoulder pain unless I take time to release the tension by relaxing or stretching.

4) Its so easy to eat rubbish.  I have a delicate gut that is sensitive to all kinds of crud they put in food these days, and I have to be so careful.  But being careful is pretty much a full-time job, and I would rather be writing.  And I can’t be bothered much, either.  I mean, that chocolate ring donut?  Why not? Just one wouldn’t hurt, would it?  So I’m not careful, and then I develop terrible stomach pains, and then I can’t write. (Are you starting to see the pattern here?)

5)  Stress and anxiety play a big part in my ill health, and I know I am better when I meditate.  But I don’t.  Because it takes time, time when my brain isn’t in its dream world, playing with gorgeous men and exciting stories, and generally having more fun than in real life.  I don’t want to expend the energy on being away from my fantasies.  But when i don’t tackle my tension, I end up with debilitating headaches, back pain, anxiety attacks, insomnia and stomach flair-ups.

None of this is rocket science, as they say.  I know what does me good, but I compulsively and consistently fail to do it.  And judging by my friend’s blog post, and comments from others, I am not the only one.

Lying on my back on the bed this week, working my way through various ‘back care’ books gleaned from the library for research, it became clear to me that this back care thing is a lifelong commitment.  It requires me to be present at every moment in my body, to think about the way I stand, move, sit, lift, twist and bend.  It means getting up from my desk every 20 minutes to move around and release muscles.  It requires learning how to sit and stand correctly.

And my guts?  Well, me and my innards have been fighting a war of attrition for four decades, but I think I can say without doubt that these days, my innards are winning.  They need to get what they ask for, because if they don’t, they stop me doing what I want to do.  So I need to commit to making and eating clean, healthy, nondairy, gluten-free food AT ALL TIMES, not just when its convenient.

I know this.

What I didn’t realise is that these commitments are actually part of my commitment to being a writer.  It is as much my job to look after my body and keep it healthy and functioning as it is to back up my computer or buy ink cartridges for my fountain pen.  All that stuff about writers drinking themselves into cirrhosis and death to write great novels is frankly, and not to put too fine a point on it, bollocks.  I’ve been in pain for the last fortnight, and believe me, it isn’t fun and its not a life plan I want to pursue!

The body is not just transport, as dear Sherlock likes to point out.  It is the foundation stone of our beings, and foundations have to be strong and sure to support the growth,power and creativity of which we are all capable.

So here is my commitment:  I am writer.  That means writing.  And it means creating an environment in which writing can happen, both within my home and within my body.  It means my writing MUST be embodied.

I am making self-care part of my job.

(Because if I don’t, the rest of the job can’t happen.)

Happy Healthy Creating,

EF

Outflow: What is Your Definition of Success?

I was having a conversation yesterday with my therapist about the definition of success, and Life Purpose.  If you are a bit of an addict for self-help blogs, as I am, you will be familiar of the idea of Life Purpose.  Everybody talks about it.  Why am I here?  The self help industry wants you to define your Life Purpose, because they say it will help with setting goals and achieving success – yes, there is that word again.  The thing we all want to achieve, or are told we do.

I always believed that my Life Purpose was to write and publish books.

Unfortunately that sentence has a big fat bear trap in it.

When I meet someone new at a party, and they ask me (as people invariably do when they are making small talk with strangers) “what do you do?”, I have always replied:  “I am a writer.”  Two questions then follow:

“What sort of books do you write?”

and, “Can I get your books in Waterstones?” (Insert the name of your local bookseller chain as appropriate).

When I explain that I haven’t been published by a conventional publisher yet, I can see the light die in their eyes.  The words are practically written in neon on their faces:

“Oh, well you aren’t really a writer then, are you?  You’re just one of those hobbyists who likes to talk about themselves like they are the next JK Rowling, but what you actually do is write crap that nobody wants to read!

Society’s definition of success is publication by the conventional publishing trade.  You aren’t a writer till you are in print.

The fact is, I have written seven novels.  I have published nearly thirty short stories and novellas which get an average of 100+ readers a day on the internet, an audience size which most conventionally published writers would kill for.  I have taught writing dayschools, mentored other writers and judged short story competitions.  I have written a monthly column for a paper with a circulation of 7000, and have two academic papers to my name.  And I have kept a diary for more than thirty years.  What part of this does not constitute success?

The more I have written, the more I have realised that my definition of Life Purpose is flawed.  My purpose is not to get published, because that is only half the story, and frankly, its really not the important, interesting or exciting half.  I have realised that the part of writing I really love is the writing part, the process.  I love coming up with new stories and characters.  I love visualising scenes and dialogue.  I love the rush I get when I am in full flow, in the middle of writing a scene or chapter, when I am in the action, experiencing what my characters do, feeling their feelings, seeing through their eyes.  And I love the sense of satisfaction when I come out the other end  and look at what I’ve done.

My purpose is to write.  Simply that.

Because the thing is, you are a writer if you write.

Talking about getting your novels published, dreaming of a bestseller, imagining yourself on talk shows explaining how your stories have been adapted for film or TV – none of these things are what a writer is, although it is true that they may occasionally have to do these things.  To be a writer, you have to love the process enough to do it.

The point I think I am trying to make here is this:  what is your definition of success as a writer (or in whatever art form you choose)?  Are you measuring yourself against society’s outdated or material idea of success, or do you really see what you have achieved, regardless of what other people think?

I struggle continuously with the idea that I have failed in life or as a writer because I am still at the bottom of somebody’s slush pile.  I have to fight constantly against that prejudice within myself, as well as in others.  But the truth is, I am a writer because I write.

These days, when someone asks me what I do at a party, I say:

“I write gay erotic fiction for the Internet.”

This solves both the patronising questions at once, gives me a sense of my own achievement, and also tells me a lot about the person I am talking to, through their response.  Either they blanch and change the subject, or they look fascinated or perplexed, and want to find out more.  And then we really have a conversation worth taking part in!

Happy Creating,

EF