Tag Archives: Speak Your Truth

Writing is not a Performance Art

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Sometimes, we write what we most need to hear.  And this is one of those moments.  So pull up a chair and a cup of coffee, because I have something I want to tell you that I need to hear:

A friend was publishing a new story in a new fandom. The fact that she was not getting the readership and the number of comments she wanted was causing her great distress. Her predicament got me thinking.

So often as artists, we base our self-esteem, our value of our own work, on what other people think. The family who surround me, for example, do not view me as a ‘proper’ writer because my work does not come neatly packaged between two cardboard rectangles with the name of a reputable publisher stamped on the back. I do not make money from my work. Therefore I do not ‘work’, and I am not a ‘proper’ writer. I am not a stranger to the humiliation of being told at a family dinner to move over because: ‘There’s a writer at the table’, when another relative, a talented journalist (whose work I greatly admire and whose success I happily delight in, I should point out) arrives to sit down.

At our recent writing retreat, my fellow writers and I had a long and animated discussion about the ever-present problem of how other people react when we tell them what we do. One friend told the horrible anecdote of an acquaintance’s response to the news that she was a writer – ‘Never mind, I’m sure you can get a job at Tesco!’

(I know, right?)

I suspect that writers are second only to actors in the low opinion the public has of our earning power. Either you’re Benedict Cumberbatch or you’re unemployed. This completely ignores the thousands of jobbing actors who make a reasonable, if somewhat precarious, living doing low profile but necessary jobs in voice-overs, radio, small TV parts and rep. Indeed, Benedict Cumberbatch has spent a substantial proportion of his career doing exactly that. (If you watch and listen carefully, you’ll see and hear him pop up all over the place!)

The point I am trying to make is that creative people don’t do it for the money. And if you think that, you have missed the whole point.

Modern society, where success in any endeavour is measured in filthy lucre and TV appearances, clearly has failed to read the memo.

Another friend, who has been a visual artist as well as a writer all her working life, which I suspect helps, responds to the dreaded question about earnings thus: “I don’t do it for the money. I do it because it keeps me sane.”

And that is the point.

Writing is not a performance art.

At least, fiction is not. (Journalism obviously is, and I’m still on the fence about poetry!)

Writing is not about the number of comments or reviews you get.  Its not about the number of ‘shares’ on Tumblr.  Its not about the number of hits you get in a day.  Its not about being published by Harper and Collins, or getting an agent from a top agency, or being on an arts programme on BBC4, or giving author readings, or getting your picture in the paper,  or winning the Booker Prize, or making the bestseller lists on Amazon or the Sunday Times, or getting a three book deal, or selling your script to Warners and getting a theme park made out of your book, or making £100k a year.

Writing is not about how many people like you.  Its not about applause.

Writing is about making stories.

We do it because we have to. Because we have a compulsion to tell our stories.

I am delighted to tell you that my fanfiction friend soldiered on against the tide with writing and publishing her new fanwork. Over time she accumulated a substantial following, but more importantly has rejoiced in an explosion of creativity, producing more works and excelling in other art forms as a result.  And I’m thrilled for her.  She is going through a renaissance of creativity because she refused to give up.

“How people receive your gifts is none of your business. You were given a unique set of gifts, life experiences, and passions. Your only job is to share them.”

Rebecca Campbell, ‘Light is the New Black’

When it comes down to it, it does not matter whether family notice that I get over 100 readers a day, a tally that most conventionally published writers could only dream of. (I’m the only person who is hung up about that, after all!)  It does not matter whether they read my work. (Actually, I’m quite glad they don’t!) It does not matter whether they like it. It does not matter whether they think I am an idiot not to charge for it. It does not matter how much I earn or don’t earn, or what other people think of that sum. It really doesn’t matter what people I meet at dinner parties think when I tell them what I do.

And really, it doesn’t matter what my audience thinks either.

The point is to make the art.

And to keep making the art.

To keep on speaking my truth.

Because the people who need to hear that truth will find me. And the rest don’t matter.

Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it so beautifully:

“If people don’t like what you’re creating, just smile at them sweetly and tell them to GO MAKE THEIR OWN FUCKING ART!”

Happy creating,

EF

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The Muse with the Limp

Walking with my Muse

Walking with my Muse

My Muse is limping.

I’ve only just noticed. I think she has probably been hobbled her whole life. Or at least since my teens. Perhaps even since my childhood.

Since the moment when what other people thought became more important than what I thought.

I didn’t know until I looked at her. I didn’t know until I began to think seriously about her, about where we are going together, about what we want. I think most of all she wants to be set free of expectations.

Other people’s expectations.

Or rather, the way I constrain her by caring what other people think.

All the ‘how tos’ and ‘SHOULDs’ and ‘OUGHTs’. All the maxims and formulas. The schemata and diagrams and plot arcs and exhortations about what ‘The Market’ is looking for next.

Most of all, the Rules. You know the ones. About what is valuable. What is Serious. What is High Art. What is Literary.

I’m ashamed of the art I make. I’m ashamed of the fact that I write fanfiction. I’m ashamed that I write about sex. And about romance. Because romance is tacky and pink and very definitely NOT Literature.

(Never mind ‘Pride and Prejudice’ being a romance. Never mind ‘Jane Eyre’ being a romance. Never mind pretty much every great novel there has ever been having a love story at the centre of it, because this is what we do as human beings – we fall in love. Barbara Cartland made it cheap. Barbara Cartland has a lot to answer for. Or perhaps it wasn’t her fault. Just the fault of the patriarchal publishing industry which packages ‘women’s fiction in pink, tacky covers and gives it all the seriousness of maribou feathers, in order to keep us girls in our place. But I digress….)

One day I was walking along, enjoying the chilly afternoon sun, head in the clouds, and a revolutionary thought came to me:

I can do what I want.

I don’t have to listen to anybody else.

I don’t have to care what anybody else thinks.

I can do what I want.

I cannot tell you how extraordinary that thought was, coming to me not long after I had offered a story to a friend for feedback, only to have it be ripped apart (in a loving way, of course) and then to be told how to rewrite it – as she would have done. I should have known better, of course. The story wasn’t cooked yet. It was still in that wobbly, puddingy state when it hasn’t yet set. Not ready to be seen by anyone else, in other words.   And because I respect her opinion, because she is a SERIOUS writer, a Literary writer, I listened.

And my Muse has needed a wheelchair ever since.

(I note the use of the word SHOULD in that sentence earlier by the way. You see, I’m getting quite good at spotting them these days!)

But what would happen if I decided to disregard what THEY think. All those people out there whose opinion I value above my own?

What if I listened to my gut?

Medical scientists have discovered recently that there are more neurons, using more serotonin, in the human gut, than in the brain. That’s where the majority of your serotonin goes, in fact. That’s why we have what we call ‘gut feelings’.

Maybe I should listen to my gut. And give my poor, battered Muse a bit of physiotherapy. Perhaps I can set her free from all the OUGHTS and find out what she wants to do. Maybe we could have a bit of fun together, the first unrestrained fun we’ve had since I was writing Blakes 7 fanfics when I was about 8!

I’m not expecting to write the Great Novel that way. But perhaps I could just write MY novel.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to throw out all of my ‘How to Write’ books, so I can discover how I write.

Happy creating,

EF

It’s OK to be Different

bowie

Bowie as Ziggy

I guarantee this is not the post you are expecting.

In fact, I suspect its probably going to be the most contraversial post I have ever written.  But I’m going to write it anyway.

David Bowie died today.

Amidst the media hysteria and blanket coverage, amidst the tidal wave of mourning on social media, I ask you to spare a thought for those of us who are different.  For those of us who, while recognising that he was a cultural game-changer whose contribution to altering the way society views androgyny and the transgender community was incalculable, just never really liked the music.

(Cue cat calls and howls of disgust.)

I was not one of those teenagers who lay on their bed in the dark, listening to his music and wanting to be him.  He did not appeal to the need to be different in me, mainly because I didn’t have one.  I was too repressed. I didn’t like his voice and I found the majority of his songs rather boring.  I still feel that way.

OK, I like ‘Let’s Dance’.  But Major Tom left me cold, and lets not even go into the whole gnome thing, however satirical.  When ‘Ashes to Ashes’ came out, I remember the misery and boredom of it being at the top of the charts for week after week after week.

On the other hand, I do have an important Bowie memory, one that in many ways affected my life.  It happened in 1986.

Before I go on, I want to explain a little bit about my life before that time.  It was only four years after the Falklands War.  I lived in a Naval town, and most people I knew at school had fathers in the Services.  All my parents friends were in Naval jobs of some sort.  I knew people whose fathers were killed in the sinkng of HMS Sheffield.  I knew boys, whom I had grown up with, boys from my street, who came back from that war irrevocably changed.  While other British kids were struggling with the issues of poverty and unemployment created by the Thatcher government, I was worried about war.  We lived  between two major installations which we had always known would be prime targets in the event of nuclear war.  That sharpens the senses of a sensitive child no end, let me tell you.

One day in 1986, I was in the art studio at my college.   I was working towards my art A level.  The radio was on.  We heard news of the US air attacks on Gaddafi’s Libya.  The air went still.  You could feel the fear.

The lad whose cassette radio it was switched the radio off.  He rummaged in his bag and pulled out a tape.  He put it on.  It was David Bowie’s greatest hits.  And yes, it even included the gnome song.  We played that tape all day, only breaking off to listen at the top of the hour to the news.  We worked quietly at our paintings, and we listened to Bowie over and over again.

That experience taught me two things.

One was how music can transcend fear, can bind a group of people together and rescue them from their worst worries about the future.  Because yes, we really were afraid that Armageddon was about to begin. (Remember, this was a time before America was habitually involved in wars in the Middle East.)

The other thing it taught me that Bowie, however trendy it was to like him, however much I was told I SHOULD like him, sounded a bit boring to me, and I didn’t much like his music.

This latter fact I have hidden, along with not liking Kate Bush, throughout my life, for fear of relentless torment by the trendy and the snobs.

But now as I reflect on his life, I suspect that Bowie would have championed my difference.  After all, he stood for those who stand up to society, for those who are unashamed of diverging from Society’s norms.  He was truly a great cultural icon.

I just didn’t really like his music, that’s all.

 

Lemon Lessons

Hilarious card sent by our niece to cheer us up.  It worked.

Hilarious card sent by our niece to cheer us up. It worked.

You may have noticed a distinct absence of Evenlodeness on your dashboard lately.

This is because here at the Evenlode Burrow, we have been struck by a hail of lemons.

Yes, I was ill.  Quite ill. Verging on very ill.

And then Husband got diagnosed with diabetes and taken into hospital overnight.

This was, despite all expectations, a major shock.  Diabetes is endemic in his family, so we can’t say we weren’t expecting it, but somehow seeing him in a hospital bed still felt horribly distressing, not least because he is close to the same age that my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Both my father and grandfather died at the age of 52, and Husband celebrates his 50th birthday this year, so the rational part of my brain sort of went AWOL.

Matters were further not helped by the fact that the doctors can’t decide which sort of diabetes he has.  Type 2 is what you would expect given his age, but apparently his blood tests are not clear.  Trust him to be awkward!  He could be either, so the quacks are going with treatment for Type 2 for the next fortnight, and if the tablets don’t work, reassessment will follow.  Cue uncertainty on an epic scale.

So many people have been telling me how their relatives live healthily with diabetes of either type, and believe me, I know, I know.  Husband’s brother has been living well with Type 1 for thirty-odd years.  I’m well aware that its not a death sentence, and that it could be a lot worse.

But it has still rocked our world.

There are, however, unexpected gifts even in this hail of lemons:

1) Yay for the NHS

Here in the UK, we have the National Health Service, and it is one of our national sports to complain about it incessantly.  But when the s**t really hits the fan, the NHS is there for you, BIG TIME.  Yes, we had to sit in a corridor for three hours the first evening, waiting for a bed to become free.  Yes, we had to wait two hours for a doctor to be free in order to prescribe two paracetamols for Husband’s headache.  And yes, the information we came home with was not what you might call exhaustive, to say the least.

BUT, and this is a HUGE BUT, we didn’t have to worry about paying for any of it, a fact that we were profoundly aware of, and grateful for, throughout the whole process.  We were treated with unfailing kindness and courtesy, and given everything we needed.  Husband came home with equipment and medications without paying a penny.  He can ring up for help any time he needs to.  He has a series of further support and assessment appointments to attend, none of them requiring him to cover fees.

To me this is a sign of a civilised society.  Anyone who thinks people should have to pay for healthcare needs to reassess their capacity for empathy, which is the key quality of a human being,  And anyone who has ever had a sick relative or partner knows just how important it is.

2)  Hey, I just stopped giving a stuff!

When the life of the person who is the centre of your world is threatened, suddenly everything becomes very, very simple.  All the things that seemed so important have now become completely irrelevant.

Please note the use of the word IRRELEVANT.

I no longer care about all the SHOULDS and OUGHTS that seemed so important to my future last week.  I don’t care about having the right filofax or whether the kitchen floor needs mopping, or what people think about the fact that I don’t work, but don’t look sick either.  I don’t care about not having a career at 47.  I don’t care what people think about me not having children or an income.  I don’t care about the piles of stuff we are keeping in the house. It doesn’t matter what people think of how I wear my hair. It doesn’t matter what I think of how I wear my hair.  It doesn’t matter if there is nothing in the house for lunch, or the DVD player gets bust – we’ll just buy another one if we have to. (We did!)

Because its all IRRELEVANT.

3) Pure Freedom

The consequence of all this IRRELEVANCY is pure freedom.

I can concentrate on being here, now, with the man I love, which is all that matters.

This is a freedom I have never been able to give myself.  The freedom to concentrate on getting both of us well.  The freedom to be myself and not worry about trying to start a business or get published or do all the other things that my friends and acquaintences think would be the sign of success, but mainly, the things that I put myself under pressure to do because I don’t think I am enough as I am.

I don’t have to think about any of that now.

My sole intention for the next year will be to get both us well, and to enjoy every single second of the time we have together however the hell I can.

Because nothing else matters.

4) Creativity Caveat

This doesn’t mean I am going to stop writing, or being creative.  Rather the opposite.  It frees me up from all the SHOULDS and OUGHTS.  I can do whatever I like, whenever I like, whenever I am well enough.  And I can concentrate on him whenever I need to.  I can use my creativity to process and express this new journey we are on.  I can enjoy doing it for the first time, instead of making it a labour of OUGHTS.  (In fact, I started a new story today.)  Its just that from now on, I don’t have to apologise for doing what I want.  All that matters is to be happy and healthy with the man I love.

Because when it comes down to it:

from @geraintgriffith on Twitter

from @geraintgriffith on Twitter

I don’t know where this journey will take us.  I hope that you will join me as I endeavour to go on using my creativity to live up to what is increasingly speaking to me as my own motto:

SPEAK YOUR TRUTH

In the meantime, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported us during the last week as we have negotiated this crisis.  To all our dear friends, supporters and readers, we owe you a huge debt of gratitude, and I hope that you know that if you ever need us, we will be there for you too, no matter what.

With love and gratitude to you all,

EF

 

 

 

Unexpected Attack of the Killer Critics

“Well, it smacks of arrogance to me,” she said, when I explained to her what a blog was.  “To assume you have something to say that anyone would want to read.”

After that, I admit I lost track a bit of what she was saying, distracted by the fact that the word ‘ARROGANT’ seemed to be written above our heads in flashing red neon capitals.

And then was somehow branded on my forehead.

This, from a long-time friend, someone I have known for many years through both ups and downs, hers and mine.  I thought she knew how much my writing meant to me,  I thought she understood,

Of course, it all comes from fear.

Fear that the world is changing, and she doesn’t understand it.

It is fear that makes a person, however intelligent, assume that because they don’t understand something, it has no value.  The irony of this position is that it puts the fearful person in the centre of their universe, which is as good a definition of arrogance and egotism as I have seen.

Driving home, I realised my heart was hurting.  I looked up at the sun piercing shafts of silvery light through the evening rainclouds (“God speaking”, as my mother says whenever she sees such a sky) but I couldn’t see the beauty of it.  I was hurting too much.  But it won’t stop me, her criticism.  I will make lemonade.

Why?

Because I can’t not write.

Regardless of whether anyone thinks that what I have to say has merit (and I know some of you do because you kindly subscribe, favourite, like and comment, for which I am eternally grateful), I will go on writing because I am compelled to write.

Because its my job.

It’s my life’s work.

Its what I do.

I don’t get paid for it – not yet anyway, though I have hopes.  Some friends still don’t get that, either.  Their measure of success comes in pound notes.  They can’t understand my ‘failure to monetize’.  They don’t understand that to me, success means averaging 400 readers a day of my fanfiction, over 400 subscribers to this blog, or on some days, just managing to write two or three coherent sentences.

My critical friend doesn’t understand the compulsion to be creative, to have a voice.  She doesn’t get that if I don’t write every day, I turn into the Evil Twisted Passive-Aggressive Psycho-Bitch from Hell.  And she doesn’t understand that:

EVERYBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO SPEAK THEIR OWN TRUTH.

So if you take nothing else away from my work, and from my complaining about my thoughtless friend, or why money-oriented people don’t understand creativity as an end in itself, please take this:

SPEAK YOUR OWN TRUTH.

IT IS YOUR RIGHT.

This is my message to you, and whether it has merit or not, it is my life’s work to say it, over and over again.

Happy Creating,

EF