On Breaks And Breaking

Hello my dear friends and sometime loyal readers. It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, and I do apologise. I make no assurance of coming back regularly any time soon. I’m definitely not shutting down for good, although I’ve considered it. I’ve thought about posting a few things over the last couple of months, but the thing is when there’s been an absence, a silence, sometimes you get a little afraid as to which words are powerful enough to break it with. Sometimes I’ve enjoyed the silence, too. My world has been turned upside down, taken apart and put back together again without so many broken places, with less gaps, and sometimes it’s nice to be alone with the thoughts of that, the trying to figure out what it all means, without having to explain it and without having to make small-talk in the process. It’s been good, but “big” is an understatement.

The thing is this: I’ve been busy writing. This is a good thing. And the thing also is this: before that I was busy being lost, and wondering whether I’d write again, or what that would look like, and whether my writing dreams, like so many others before them, simply needed to die.

The odd thing about this is that this started after I’d finished writing my first book, a novel I was proud of, and went to my first writing conference. I don’t think it’s meant to happen that way, somehow, although the more people I talk to about this the more I find that my story isn’t all that unique. And not only in the writing world. How often, how many times, have we been striding somewhere purposefully only to find we’re going in the wrong direction? The closed door. The no door.

It was a hard day the one I realised that the book I was so proud of had a place in no camp, made harder by the fact that there were no real, clear, obvious answers. I was surrounded by loving friends who could hold my hand and sympathise with me, and for them I am eternally grateful, but none who could say “this is the way you should go. Go there”, or at least none who knew for sure.

I did lots of things. Imagine, if you like, me standing in the middle of an open field, with nothing but grass for miles and miles.

I walked. Or, at least, I wrote. I shelved the lost and placeless novel and struck out in some direction or another, without any real sense of which way was up, and a very real sense that I was now lost and needed to move, and I wrote pages and pages and more pages. I wrote character studies and backstory and plotted out development arcs. I was angry at my own lostness, and that anger coloured my work. After a while I tried to write a new plotline for the lost-and-placeless, hoping it would redeem it again, take it back to the place where I was once so proud of it, but the new plotline for the old novel was distracting me from the vision of what it originally was, and I was no longer sure whether I was re-plotting the old novel, or whether I should be in fact using those storylines in the new one that was slowly taking shape. There were no boundaries on either novel, and at times I wondered whether I needed to combine them. I walked in circles again and again, and then again, until in the end I gave up. 

Have you ever been there, to the walk in endless circles, with a map that keeps changing? Have you felt that bitter lostness, the purposeless so bone-deep it makes you want to abandon even the most important journey?

You can’t google something that doesn’t exist yet. You can’t cheat, and look up the character notes on a story not yet written. I know this. I’ve done it.

They were hard months. Sure, it’s easy to say “it’s only a book! Why didn’t you just do something else?”, and there were times I thought exactly that, and times that I tried. But giving up is harder on a dream is harder than being lost, because giving up is forever, and you’re still walking around a grassy plain with no sense of direction.

In the end I stumbled upon a map of sorts, in the form on a 4-week online course, so I sat down, wrote nothing, and waited. It saved me. The course taught me a few things I already knew, and lots of things I didn’t, and it gave me one huge gem: the confidence I needed to trust my instinct.

That was June/July. It wasn’t so long ago.

I’m telling you all this because I’m almost finished rewriting my second chapter of my lost-and-placeless novel, and even though I’m battling with the feeling that I should have been here months ago, that I was the kid in the sports carnival who ran in the wrong direction, I’m proud of this book, and proud of where it’s going. I may not be where I expected to be twelve months ago, but at least I’m heading in the right direction. Having lost hope, having been forced to give up my dreams, I found them again.

It’s no small irony too that this is the theme of my novel. Art imitates life. Again.

Let me encourage you today my friends. Have you given up on your dream? Do you, today, feel like you’re walking in circles with no sense of direction? Do you feel like everybody else has already ran the race and you’ve just finished tying your shoelaces?

It’s okay.

I’d say a million platitudes here, but sometimes they’re more confusing than anything. I do know that hope deferred makes the heart sick, and a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. I do know that journeys suck sometimes, and sometimes it’s hard to find someone to run with who understands, or someone who is able to mourn with us as we mourn. I do know that what seems like it should take about three months can sometimes take three years – or, Heaven help us – three decades. All of that sucks, pretty much. None of it is easy. But if you feel like that today, let me tell you you’re not alone.

I’m not going to tell you what to do, but maybe take a break before you break. It may give you the strength you need to keep on going!