Wednesday 20 April 2016

The writing day that made me consider giving up writing. [OR 'Another case of an overthinker being hard on herself then sharing it all on her blog']

Well ... this is tricky

Because, I don't know about you, but I've never read any blogging advice* which tells you how much you're meant to write about an event you've attended before you get around to the part where you admit that you went home afterwards and cried

[*If you find that article, let me know. If not I guess I'll have to write it. Come to think of it, maybe this is it.] 

The event in question was a 7 hour writing day in a country hotel.

And I need to start by saying that no one I met there 'made' me cry! It wasn't anything anyone said or did. [I mean, granted, I was a bit baffled when one of the hotel staff said she had to leave our buffet lunch out for one hour only due to 'Health and Safety' ... but I'm not so attached to salad and potato wedges that their removal can bring me to tears.]  It was just ... well, I'll get on to what is was 'just ...' in a minute, but first  ... 

While I was trying to decide whether or not to go the day's host, a poet and teacher, was so genuine, friendly and helpful, answering all my questions, that there was no reason not to sign myself up... and it felt good.  
Not only was it going to be a chance to start working on some article/memoir ideas I had floating around, afterwards it was going to make such a good blog post! There was even a cake I could photograph ... which, let's not forget, is valuable currency in the blogosphere: 
And it was a fabulous sounding plan to be able to say: I was spending a whole day writing, surrounded by 10 other writers, with warm-up exercises in the library in the morning:
...leaving the remainder of the day free to work independently in the cosy lounge alongside a roaring wood fire:
... in a room with a view for goodness sake:
... and with time to wander freely around the grounds whenever you needed some bucolic inspiration: 
It felt serious, 'proper', like I was letting the world know I was dedicated to putting pen to paper.

And actually, it was indeed all of those things. For 6 of those 7 hours I had a really nice time [and even the 7th, which I'll get round to, wasn't exactly hell on earth]. Which is why, ever since, I've been torn over how to talk about that day with you here. How much to say. What tone to use. 

The thing is, it's been tempting to simply offer up the basic 'this is what I did' version. After all, that's the one I had planned from the start. I was never intending to go there and ruin my self esteem purely so I could write a misery post about it and beg you for comforting comments [although, that actually did cross my mind later on when I was still feeling a bit delicate!]

But whitewashing over life's embarrassing stains is not what I'm about here; I can't justify only sharing the shiny clean parts. Prior to this particular moment of crapping-out of 'adulting' I'd recently scribbled this in my notebook regarding what I choose to write about, that "things that hurt / feel vulnerable. I feel like this is all there really is when it comes down to it." A month later and I'm forced to put my story where my mouth is. So this is it.

As someone who's experienced anxiety in the past I can honestly report that this wasn't that. Not at first. I felt perfectly fine about going and spending the day writing alongside strangers. I felt confident. Free and easy. [Talk about setting your expectations high.]

The day before I'd picked out which notebooks to take [I took fewer than I originally planned because this amount was just overkill] and set out a nice outfit complete with my favourite boots. And on the day itself I and even captured a smiley bathroom selfie ... and who does that when they're having a sh*tty day? 
[I'm aware there'll be those of you asking 'Who does that? Full stop.' in which case you probably don't know me too well.] 

Like I say hours 1-6 were great. Everyone was really open and friendly even if it was a tiny bit awkward chatting to strangers at first, especially upon realising - as often seems to happen to me - that most of the people there already knew one another, making me once again a workshop outlier!  
And actually, this was one of the things that gave me pangs about choosing to come to this event rather than my monthly crafty meet-up with friends which was happening on the same day. Because, while meeting new people is all very evolved and everything, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. [Wow, that's good. Someone should write a song about that]. 

BTW: I'd already taken this photo of a sad, lone, broken, bulrush prior to my post-outing meltdown. Apparently there's no hiding your true feelings from your camera lens!
Similarly psychologically revealing I'd also captured ... a folly ... [which I later came to believe my thoughts of ever writing a book were]:
... and a warning sign:
But hey, you know, apart from all that I was feeling absolutely fine and dandy. Nothing else even vaguely angsty on my mind. I mean, it's not like I photographed the pet graves.

Oh, yeah, well ...
But, yes, I was actually feeling perfectly happy for the majority of the day; we'd had our useful guided warm-up exercises, we'd written, we'd eaten lunch [within the allotted hour], we'd drunk tea, we'd chatted and by the final hour of the day all that remained on the schedule was a chance to get together to share what we'd been working on and get feedback from the group if we wanted to.

But I didn't want to.

And that was where my problems started.

I need to stress that I was under no pressure whatsoever to share my work. Far from it. I even asked if it was OK for me to sit and listen to the others even if I didn't want to share, and I was welcomed warmly. Neither the host nor the rest of the group had any issue with me not sharing anything.

But someone did.


Usually, throughout my life, if I've been happy with something I'm doing, I can look myself in the eye and stand by it come hell or high water. [Which sounds like a nimble move in a game of Twister.]
At school, the other kids didn't share my taste in rock music and teased me about both it and my matching wardrobe. But that never stopped me from wearing cowboy boots on non-uniform day or playing Poison's 'Flesh & Blood' album to the class when the art teacher allowed us to listen to cassettes in our final year. [Yes, cassettes. Because I am old].

And a few years back, when I took a screenwriting class, as I believed so much in the realism of my sweary-yet-heartfelt little script I didn't back down when another student [a middle-aged man] repeatedly criticised the amount of cursing I'd used saying "Have you read this aloud to yourself? Do you really think it needs all that swearing? EastEnders manages to tell gritty stories without resorting to it." And while I steadfastly and admirably defended my work to him I think we can all agree that my biggest achievement was refraining from telling him to f*ck off.


And yet - in the writing room - I found that I just didn't dare read anything I'd written that day. Which in turn made me wonder if the real problem was not whether I was too shy to share it, but whether that deep down, I knew it just wasn't good enough for me to stand by.
[If you're only just now realising that, yes, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool overthinker then, where have you been???? Also, you've obviously never read my Pinterest profile].

Worse was to come though when I sat and listened to the others share their work which involved a fair share of serious, deep, at times moving, poetry followed by an equal level of seriousness in the group discussion and feedback.

Now - this wasn't my first time at the rodeo - I have the cowboy boots [and English Degree] to prove it. And I can be as serious as the next literature lover when it comes to analysis [just ask James who has smiled and nodded his way through many an overeager textual and structural breakdown of the latest book I've been reading]. And if we'd been talking about anything but our own work ...

I just didn't feel there was any way I could puncture this learned atmosphere by sharing what I'd been writing because - as I described to a friend the following week - what I'd been writing was:

"notes, ideas, a few paragraphs for a piece about something I learned from a trout ... [yes, the fish] and also trying to think of ways a smear test could be said to be like voting in an election [long story ...]."

Yeah. Those old gems.

Imagine me announcing that to the group. "Well, this is a piece about a trout that I wasn't expecting ...". Or "The thing with the speculum is ...".

Again this is not in any way meant as a criticism of the other writers there - I'm pretty certain that, if I had dared to share, they'd have been as supportive of me as they were to everyone else. The thing that had upset me most was that - in the heat of the moment - I couldn't bring myself to share the kind of writing that I write. 

Which led to me worrying that, if I couldn't share it with 10 strangers, how could I ever seriously hope to publish a book of it? Which, in turn, led me to feebly, amid warm, unstoppable, tears, saying to James "Maybe I should just give it up. Maybe I'm just fooling myself". 

And, when I said it I meant it. At that moment in time it wasn't hyperbole. I wasn't being a drama queen. I genuinely thought it was an idea worth considering. 

For his part he looked at me like I'd just suggested I give up breathing, or another essential part of my life - like always scrutinising Holmes and Watson's costumes when watching Elementary or buying boots for example - and declared "You're too hard on yourself.

Then he listened to my latest in a long line of self-esteem implosions before drying my eyes and buttering me a scone. [Not a euphemism].

The following week several other lovely people offered their invaluable support too [thank you] and made me feel there was hope for me yet. Which, intellectually, I already knew but it still felt nice to hear an objective voice on the matter. 

And I already knew that I wasn't entirely fooling myself, that my words were worth something because ... [and I don't want to get too emotional on you here and now, unless you've got a scone to offer me after?] ... because I know there are people here who read my nonsense, and enjoy it. 

Even though I'd felt like an oddball while sitting around that table - a trout out of water if you will - I know that I have occasionally managed to entertain people here. A fact I'd been gripping on to that fact to keep me afloat while I sat at the table. And that means such a lot to me right now.

So much so that a week after declaring that I was never going to write again ... I girded my loins and sent in an article pitch idea to a website I really admire.  
And it's a weird article. 

On a topic far more embarrassing than the ones I already daren't read to the group. And, naturally, if anything comes of it, I'll let you know. 

But we can never talk about it. OK? OK.


I wanted to be honest in this post so that - if you were feeling out of place, anxious, unsure about your work - you'd know you weren't alone. I don't mean it to be a cautionary tale against ever attending a workshop you like the look of!! Quite honestly I'm still tempted to go to the next writing day in the summer, only this time maybe I'll take some more prepared work to read ... like the majority of the others had!

I'm glad of the experience now and it hasn't done me any lasting damage, [apart from how long this post's taken me to write.]

I think of it now like when you're exercising and your muscles tear slightly, which certainly hurts you the next day, but eventually makes you stronger.

So I'll keep flexing if you will. Even when [especially when?] it aches.

Julie  x


p.s: If you'd like to read about another workshop that caused me some anxiety [I'm nothing if not predictable] then visit:

 Meanwhile, to learn why I really ought to take a plastic zebra with me to these things visit:


  1. Do not give up under any circumstances! I love your writing - witty and intellectual but also self-aware and entertaining. I will be very upset if you do.
    It sounds like an amazing day - one day I hope I'll have the courage to actually start calling myself a writer, and maybe writing something more than my blog...maybe!

  2. I echo Anna's opening sentence! Your blog posts are a breath of fresh air and reading them has helped me through these last few months more than you will ever know.

  3. Add me to the list of those who enjoy your writing (even when I don't take the time to comment), think you are brave for posting when you weren't sure you wanted to (in my experience those those posts are the most memorable), and writing your way through thinking through the problem. Like the others have said - don't you dare stop!

  4. It is slightly ironic that your blog post on fears about your writing is a witty, (if self deprecating) masterpiece of an enjoyable read. I have to lead a hour's talk on creative writing in ministry next week which I feel totally out of my depth to lead - but your words and the issues it brings up about the tangle that is creative writing would be fantastic to use. Would you mind if I did (with credit, naturally)

  5. Julie, your writing is meaningful, clever, and funny. We all have moments of self-doubt... sometimes those moments even turn into raging rivers of months and years of self-doubt. However, I will let you in on a little secret. Those who write do so because they cannot not write. You can't help it. You dream about it. You prepare for it. It consumes a majority of your thoughts. You write and share your work regularly with the blogosphere. And we love you, your work, and we always have scones. My point is, dear, you are already a writer in my book. Your words have immense value because I said so. Because your sweet James said so. And because YOU said so. Now personally, I would like to hear more about that speculum!

  6. Julie - I am another who loves the way you write - you are witty, funny, totally enjoyable to read, and you write stuff that makes me think - even though I have got out of the habit of commenting much(I blame blog reading on the iPad in the middle of the night). Your writing is still a lifeline I can cling to in the wee small hours when I wake - overwhelmed by loss, I know your words will hold my attention, distract me from the ache in my heart and bring it ease, so I once agin get back on an even keel. You do that with just one post, and that is a great gift to have - so don't you DARE stop writing - you ARE a writer - I firmly believe writers are born - not made, you write because you have to - your words have enormous value - especially as anything you have written feels like a letter from a friend - As your previous commenter has said - you are a writer because we said so - and YOU know so in your heart of hearts - self-doubt come with the territory of creation - that book will be written - might feel a bit like having a baby and giving birth - lasts longer than you think and is "f****** painful" but it will be written - so you go for it. - I'll have the scones ready!Or maybe some champagne on ice. Love J xx

  7. I'm not sure what else I could add to all the thoughtful comments above ... But to be able to reflect on a difficult experience with honesty and yet with little dollops of humour and keep us as readers engaged and responsive must, I think, qualify you as a writer :).

  8. Don't you dare give up on your writing! Your blog is one of the most original, entertaining and thought provoking blogs I have read. You have a way of captivating your audience and you must continue. There will be a public outcry if you stop - just look at those other comments!
    I love it when your blog pops up on my reading list as having been updated with a new post as I know I'm in for a good read. Your style is fun to read and you clearly put much thought into your writing.
    My idea of hell would be to stand up in front of a group of people and start a discussion so the fact you stayed for that last hour shows you're a braver person than I am.
    Any time you're in this corner of the country you can be sure of a freshly baked scone!

  9. I think it has all been said Julie, you are a very talented writer with a great sense of humour. I think we all doubt ourselves at times and it is important to give ourselves time and compassion. Ask yourself what would you say to a friend in your situation and then trust that these thoughts will pass. So glad you picked yourself up and submitted some work, I hope you feel soon feel stronger and more confident about following your dreams. It is a great post and refreshing to read about such honesty.

  10. Write what makes you happy. Coffee is on

  11. Please write a book. Please please please. Your ability to speak directly to the fears *we all feel* both humorously and self-deprecatingly is a rare talent. And reading your lovely posts makes me feel like you're a real friend.

    It's slightly shameful, but yours is the only blog post *with words on it* that I read from top to bottom ... so I'd actually pay MONEY for a book you wrote. So don't give up. x

  12. what can I say, that no one has said already? Love, love, love your writing!! The one thing that has always put me off any writing course (in person or online) is that dreaded "feedback session"! I know my writing is not intellectual, it's not even grammatically correct sometimes, but it comes from me, and the thought of anyone trying to "improve" it for me is not comfortable. You should definitely go to the next session, and you should definitely "own" your writing. And if they don't like it (which I'm sure won't be the case), you know what to say to them (even if it's just in your head!!)

  13. Ditto the above - I keep your blog in my feed (which is why I rarely comment) because it's interesting, entertaining and fun. I love what you do and I'd certainly buy any book you wrote! Keep on writing! Go, Julie, go!

  14. You are a writer - no, let me say that again. You ARE a writer. Moments of insecurity are allowed, tears are allowed, drama queen moments are essential but don't ever, EVER think you could stop writing. That would be like diverting Niagara Falls with a bucket and spade. The fact that you have written about your "melt-down" shows us how good you are at this writing sh*t, you mustn't stop! I need you to write. I cannot ever explain how much your comments on my blog and your own writing on here have helped through the last couple of years. You are good at it, darned good at it. You keep going, I'll hold your coat while you work

  15. Honestly, I can't see you ever giving up. It's in you, as we say round here. And I think you were hugely brave rocking up to a workshop about my mind they seem like the worst possible mix of job interview and ice breaker games! Really helpful, I'm sure, but, still..

  16. I really like what you have written here and nothing was inaccurately represented. The fact that Seasonal Space provoked such a strong reaction in you that you both had, and had to overcome in the same instance, an emotional response to the day is significant and positive. I hope you do return and next time I hope you feel confident enough to share your work with the group.

  17. Of all the times for me to fall behind in my blog-reading and to miss commenting on this in real time! I would have commented IMMEDIATELY to say all the things the lovely people above have said (though they've said them so beautifully that I'm glad they got here first). For all of us fellow trouts-out-of-water, you are a...well, a gulp of fresh water (because a breath of fresh would send the very opposite message I'm trying to convey, being that it means imminent death and all to a trout...) My point is that I love your writing and your style and your thought process and your voice. Bring on the funding campaign; my pocketbook is waiting!


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