Journeys in Writing – Overcoming the Shame-Spiral

Just over three months ago, I started this blog as a means of getting some daily (well, that was the intention!) writing practice, and maybe learning some truths about myself along the way. Instead, I’ve created another task-master, another box to be ticked, another thing to fail at and feel guilty about. That’s the trouble I’ve found with writing so far. The hardest thing, for me, is to get back up and keep going when I feel as though I’ve already failed.

The more I write, the more inspired I become, so the more I write… And so the cycle of positivity continues. When I don’t write, as I haven’t been for a while, the more my page starts to look like this:

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The negative cycle, or shame-spiral as I sometimes call it, is my number 1 cause of writers’ block. I don’t write, so I feel bad about myself, so I don’t want to face the issue, so I don’t write… Thus the shame-spiral continues.

I think my attitude is very aptly summed up in this blog post by the brilliant Allie Brosh: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.de/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html. The subject matter is slightly different, but the concept is very much the same.

I know I’m not the only one who experiences this, as evidenced here. But what is the solution? How on earth can I break out of this spiral and force myself to just WRITE!!

Journeys in Childhood – My Top 11 Children’s Books

Moving to a foreign country, I have found, makes you look at the concept of home in a completely new light. This blog post, that I wrote months ago but never got round to finishing, now strikes me on a whole new level. These books that I loved so much when I was younger (and still do!), not only have inspired me to write, but provide a concrete link to a time that is gone forever, and a place from which I am separated by hundreds of miles. I hope you enjoy this list as much as I enjoyed making it!

Looking back, my fascination with literature and reading began at a young age, when I discovered the magic of books and their wonderful ability to transport you to different worlds and open your mind to new ideas. For this reason, I have decided to list the top 11 books (in no particular order) that stuck with me in some way, either because they changed my ideas about something, inspired me to write myself, or even just created a magical world I could get lost in!

  1. The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson – Absolutely bursting with lush descriptions of Viennese cakes that made me desperately want to go to Vienna! This is one of the first books that made me realise the power of setting and description, when executed well (as it so often isn’t).
  2. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman – I haven’t actually re-visited this book since I first read it many years ago, but I remember being extremely moved and struck by the issues being raised, as well as engaging with the characters in a way that shifted the focus and gave it more depth.
  3. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech – Simply written but absolutely heartbreaking, as with all of Creech’s books. She just has a magical way of capturing emotion which has particularly stuck with me.
  4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I have always found this book absolutely captivating! One that I have re-read again and again.
  5. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling – I couldn’t narrow it down to just one of the books, since it is as a whole series that they make the most impact, and that they showcase the thing that, for me, makes these books so memorable and engaging, which is the incredible detail and thoughtfulness with which the world of magic is created and sculpted around the reader. It has inspired me to try and create a fantasy world of my own.
  6. Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster – This book evokes strong memories of my childhood, when I was ill and my mum read it to me. A bit of a silly story really, but also charming, and I love how the main character’s voice is so strong throughout.
  7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – Powerfully symbolic but in a way that is understandable for children, and somehow easy to identify with, even though it is set in a fantasy world.
  8. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – Known as the Golden Compass in the US, this was recently (ish) made into a film, and I was supremely unimpressed by the way the magic of the setting was lost, even though the descriptions in the book are so visual. I suppose it is the mark of a great story, when the images in the reader’s head are so vivid that no visual adaptation can live up to it.
  9. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit – One of those books that you read on different levels as a child and as an adult.
  10. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo – Morpurgo is the absolute king of writing poignant, deep, but also fun, children’s literature. I loved this book, but found it absolutely heartbreaking.
  11. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett – This is still one of my absolute favourite books. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what makes It so special, but possibly it is the perfect balance of wry humour, inventiveness, originality and mystery (combined with great characters and plot, of course!). This book has definitely inspired me to write!

Do you agree with my list? What are your favourite children’s books? Let me know in the comments.

Journeys in Upheaval – In with the New

Today finds me writing a blog post much later than I would have liked (yet again). As I mentioned in my previous post, I have moved abroad as part of my language degree, and am currently residing in the small town of Lemgo, Germany. While this is certainly a convenient, and in parts true, reason for my silence, there are definitely other factors involved.

I started a separate blog, following a request from my sister, to document my experiences and keep everyone at home up to date with what I’ve been doing. (If you’re interested, you can find it here at http://yearabroadfuntimes.blogspot.de/ ) However, posting on this blog, along with another writing commitment and a teaching job, has been taking up a lot of writing head-space. Not only that, but I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to write a simple description of what I’ve been doing than it is to delve a bit deeper. The purpose of the other blog is just to keep people informed of where I am physically rather than emotionally, which is where these two blogs differ.

Here are some things that have changed since arriving, things that haven’t made it onto my other blog, either because they’re irrelevant to its purpose (as a means to inform rather than evaluate), or they’re simply too personal:

Writing

This is one thing that is particularly annoying me. Before I came, I had a significant writing project on the go, one that I was excited about, and was really hoping to see to completion. Since arriving, this project has hit a road-block, which I can’t seem to shift. Why have I stopped writing?* Does this mean I’m really not cut out to pursue this as my career after all? I certainly hope that’s not the case!

Language

What I’m about to say may seem strange, since I’ve spoken German for 8 years (or is it 9?) and learning the language is the whole point of coming. But it is still the absolute hardest thing about being here. Never before have I so appreciated the ability to express my thoughts without much restriction, to express my personality and desires, and to use nuance to imply my emotions. These are definitely things I took for granted before. And I just can’t do them in the same way in German. This, I’m sure, will get better with time. But for now I’m stuck…

Faith

This is a hard thing to admit. It’s always tempting to put up a front and pretend everything’s fine, so as not to discourage others. But the fact is, even the most faithful Christians have doubts, and I certainly fall far below them.  I’m in a faith-rut of my own making. I know that God’s still there, that He’s still faithful to me. But how do I get close to Him again?

So there you have it. My current biggest struggles. I must admit, they were much harder to put into writing than I’d anticipated! It’s certainly a lot easier to write about my day-to-day experiences, rather than my innermost thoughts!

Does anyone have any advice? Or anything at all that could help me? And what are you struggling with at the moment?

*I haven’t stopped altogether! I’m just making frustratingly little progress with my project. And by ‘frustratingly little progress’, I actually mean none at all! Oops.

Journeys in Inspiration – Rachel Aaron

Hooray! WordPress is working again! Finally 😀

This short post follows a spur of the moment purchase on amazon, which has completely changed my approach to writing!

Recently, a blog post on a writing blog I’ve been reading (I forget which, I’m afraid) mentioned some sort of writing guide you could pick up cheaply on amazon. So, I duly headed over there to see if it was something I could use to help me get started in writing, since I’m still in the very early stages. It was not this book, however, that caught my eye, but one by Rachel Aaron, which wasvery impressively named ‘2k to 10k’, and claimed to be able to help me increase my word count from 2,000 words a day to 10,000! Now, since I was not writing anywhere near 2,000 words a day, I felt dubious as to how much this book would actually be able to help me. But the low price, combined with the perilous 1-click purchase system on amazon (extremely dangerous, I can tell you, especially for people like me who have an unhealthy addiction to buying books!), persuaded me to buy it.

I won’t go into too many details of the book’s contents, which you can easily find out by buying and reading the book yourself (I’m not being paid commission by the author, I promise!), because that is not the reason for this post. The real inspiration came from reading her blog.

Since deciding to give writing a try, I have spent a lot of my time on writing blogs, and I have to say, although I have found quite a few good ones, hers comes out on top. Why? I think I’d have to put this down to her honesty. Her posts are personal. They are relatable. Even though she is a fully fledged author with 12 (I think) books under her belt, and I am barely taking my first baby steps into the world of writing, I still feel like I can relate to her. I’m starting to wish I lived in the USA so I could meet her!

If I have any advice to give about writing, it’s this:

Go and check out her blog! Do it. Now!

Here are 5 of my favourite posts to get you started:

 

Enjoy!

Journeys in Uncertainty

This post comes much much later than I would have liked! The reason for this is a problem with wordpress, which I now realise must be to do with my ISP, since I am visiting relatives and am having no trouble accessing wordpress here. I can only express my frustration that I have been waiting WEEKS to be able to access the site, and still am not able to do so at home. I am considering just shifting my content across to blogspot, but, as will be made clear in the content of this blog post, I will be moving soon, so hopefully I will not encounter this problem in my new place. I know I do not have a massive readership at the moment (a girl can dream!) but it has been annoying to disappoint the few readers I do have by not posting anything for ages. I do feel slightly justified in employing the excuse: NOT MY FAULT! Ok, rant over. Time for a blog post.

I am a language student. And I absolutely love languages. I adore finding the surprising similarities and the little quirky differences between the different languages I learn, and I relish the little look of admiration I get from my not-so-linguistically-minded friend as I communicate with her Austrian friend in pretty-decent German.

The only trouble is, learning languages involves going abroad. Well, it does if you want to get to any sort of decent level. And it can’t just be for a week in the Alps. Spending a whole year (at least 9 months, anyway) living in a foreign country is a compulsory part of any language degree in the UK, and it is on this year abroad that I am about to embark.

Now, for many people, I don’t suppose this would be such a massive step. But for me it is! Throughout my childhood, I have holidayed in Cornwall, and have only been on a plane about six times in my life. Besides, I like England; I like drinking tea (with milk in) and going on double-decker buses, and posting letters in bright red postboxes.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that British culture trumps all others. But it’s mine, and it’s what I know. I am a wimp when it comes to stuff like this. I like to stay within my comfort zone. But the prospect of spending a year away from my home has made me acknowledge its importance in my life, and its significance in forming a part of my identity. It’s got me thinking:

Who are we when we are far away from what defines us?

I’m talking about when we are far from people who know us, when we’re far away from places we know and cultures with which we are familiar, when we’re in a place where getting to know people – showing them our chosen definition of ourselves – is restricted or distorted by language barriers.

Who are we then? How do we find a constant in a world where anything can change?

For me, the answer is relying on God. The God that I believe in never changes, and never will change. He has known me since before the beginning of the universe, and to Him, no matter where I am in the world, I will always be His daughter. In practice, however, it can be hard to remember this when faced with uncertainty, and it’s hard not to allow yourself to be shaken when every earthly thing you use to define yourself is shifting all around you.

I guess I don’t have a perfect answer. I’ll just have to keep working on it…

Here’s to a scary year!

Journeys in Inadequacy

So, until recently I’d started to come to terms with the fact that feeling inadequate is just a part of life. I’ve played the piano for years, and I’ve got pretty good at it. I’ll admit (slightly ashamedly, but then again I started this blog with the aim of being honest!) that I got, and still get, satisfaction from being better than other people. But on many occasions, and especially since going to university, I’ve had to face the fact that there are a huge number of people out there who are better at playing the piano than me. They are also better at organising their lives (something I continually struggle with), are better looking than me, have more friends and are more talented in a million different ways. No matter how good I get at something, there will always be someone better.

There comes a point where I have to stop and ask myself, ‘why am I doing this?’ Come to think of it, why am I doing anything at all? What, if I’m being completely honest with myself, is my true motivation in life?

The answer to that question is not easy, not because it’s really that complicated, but because I’m embarrassed by it. I’m motivated by achievement. But not just any type of achievement. I need my achievements to be tangible, enviable and flauntable (is that even a word?), to be trophies that I can subtly show off. For example, I study French and German at university, and I also speak Italian. Now, while I did actually choose to study languages because I enjoy it, I do derive enormous satisfaction from the fact that being able to speak foreign languages is impressive. Studying physics or history requires the same effort, the same love for the subject, the same perseverance and dedication as studying languages, and yet they are not trophies in the same way. They are not things that people necessarily envy about you.

However, thinking about things in this way has drawbacks. I know because I experience them constantly. I know how destructive it can be to constantly compare yourself to others, bitterly envious of their success. Even if you’re at the top, it’s exhausting to try and defend that position, and you will discover that, in the end, you’re fighting a losing battle. Now, I’m not against aiming high. But I do know for sure that if your (and my) only goal is achievement and success in the eyes of others, in other words, collecting trophies, you’re ultimately destined for disappointment.

So what needs to change? What does my motivation need to be if I want to gain something meaningful and lasting, and not get discouraged?

I found my answer while trawling through writing blogs. In an article in one of my favourites (http://goinswriter.com/passion/), the writer, Jeff Goins, shares his own experiences of bitter disappointment when aiming purely for fame and success, before discovering a more satisfying, and more fruitful, path. He urges his readers to focus instead on the actual craft of writing, and on nourishing a passion for honing this discipline, rather than focussing on external rewards.

So I’m taking this tip to heart – I’m determined to embark on my writing journey with a completely new attitude! I will focus only on loving my craft, not on possible failures or successes. I will not pointlessly compare myself to others, or be envious of their skills (or, at least, I can try!).

From now on, I will (try to) take Jeff Goins’s advice, and do things for passion, not for recognition.

Besides, playing the piano is rewarding and fun, even when no one hears it but me. 🙂

Journeys in Writing

So, I’ve decided to try and become a writer.

Probably. We’ll see.

But the trouble is, getting better at anything takes practice, and I just don’t think what I’m doing is enough. I sometimes feel that there are so many ideas bubbling to the surface of my mind, but I’m not able to nurture them and turn them into anything because I lack the skill as a writer. And the confidence.

So, that’s what this blog is for. It’s a chance to hone my writing skills, and maybe find out some things about myself along the way. I’m writing this mainly for my own benefit, but if anyone else reads this and gets something from it I’ll be thrilled!

I have chosen to make ‘Journeys’ the subject of this blog, partly because (cliché alert!) I believe that the whole of life is made up of journeys that shape us and make us who we are.  I may not feel confident about my writing skills right now, but creating this blog (i.e. grimly forcing myself to put pen to paper, or, in this case, fingers to keyboard) is an important first step in the journey of improving myself and of getting where I want to be in life. Who knows, maybe I’ll make some surprising discoveries along the way.