From bondage to freedom – an ego trip spanning two decades

It’s well over twenty years since I started writing. I was in my late twenties and only just waking up to the realisation that writing might be my superpower.

My early work was all poetry. I liked verse because the commitment – definitely not my superpower – was very light and it felt a lot like play. But, even then, what I wanted was to be published.

My first serious attempts at publication centred around nonsense verse for children – notice the focus of that statement, as I’ll be coming back to it. A good friend illustrated several of these poems and we submitted them to every children’s publisher in the UK. Of course, hardly anyone knows about this phase of my development because every children’s publisher in the UK turned the work down. But that was where the journey, which was happy at the start, began.

Once I’d written some longer, narrative verse, I risked a short story. It was called Getaway Car and followed the last weeks in the life of a terminally ill woman who buys a second hand car for a final roadtrip. I sent that story to Cadenza, a small, subscription-only print magazine edited by Jo Derrick. I received an acceptance letter soon after and I really believed that my career as an author had started.

What had actually started was a phase of about seven years of frenzied creativity in which I wrote dozens of short stories and six novels. I placed a lot of the stories, did okay in some competitions and even got paid a few times but the novels, which were my dream-in-waiting, were turned down by agents and editors everywhere.

What had started out as fun and exciting became a long, rain-soaked march. I moved forward with jaw-clenched, single-minded determination and a great deal of self-loathing as the failures piled up. Looking back, it’s fascinating to see how the knockbacks gradually contributed to a deepening depression. Sometimes it brought me to a complete halt, both physically and mentally. I would simply cease to function.

MEAT came and went – a brief, dizzying euphoria – followed by a gradual slide back into mediocrity and rejection. But the march continued, a march a lot like the one in Bachman/King’s brilliant work The Long Walk – the end, if there was to be one, had no meaning.

What I take from this is a wonderful lesson. Not a writer’s lesson but a life lesson, though the misery that brought me to it is best forgotten. It doesn’t matter that writing was my craft and that it was largely ignored, both in the early years and latterly. The discipline is irrelevant; it could have been the desire to play football for a premier league team, to become an Olympic figure skater or a singer.

The point is that my focus was on an illusory fulfilment that lay at some undefined point in the future – when I’m a best-selling author, then I’ll be satisfied. Then I’ll be happy. I was prepared to suffer for that dream and suffer I did – mostly inside my own head.

I don’t know if you’ll find this surprising or not but, I can’t honestly say that I’ve enjoyed writing for most of the twenty-odd years I’ve been at it. I knew I was good at it and whenever I finished something to a decent standard, I was proud of the achievement. But the execution – particularly of novels – was a kind of long-drawn-out torture; all of it self-inflicted.

The fact is, there is no special moment in the future that will make everything okay. Not for writers, not for any of us, no matter what it is we do. All our experiences, whether labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’, are only relevant right now, in this moment. To look ahead with longing or behind with regret, to act as though either of those timeframes have any importance or power over us, is to give ourselves up to suffering.

Eckhart Tolle has been a great inspiration to me over the last couple of years. He expresses these ideas more simply and profoundly than I can. What I’m getting at here can be summed up in two of Tolle’s quotes that apply, not just to the writer’s life, but to every life:

“Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within.”

and

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”

Outside the context of one of his books or talks, those words might not mean much. However, they’ve come to have great significance for me, not just with regard to writing, but to everything that happens in my daily life.

At the moment, I’m not writing anything – except these blog posts; I’m too busy making my old print titles available as eBooks through my imprint, Phasmid. I’m enjoying every moment of it, though it too has its ups and downs.

When things settle down and I have time to move back into writing fiction again, it will be without some sparkling grail in the imagined future as my goal. It will, instead, be like everything else I do these days, an experience to fully occupy in the moment that it occurs. Awareness of the present takes practise but it’s very simple and anyone can do it.

And with that change of attention comes the beginning of liberation.

2 thoughts on “From bondage to freedom – an ego trip spanning two decades

  1. Wise words indeed! I hope you enjoy writing again. It was a pleasure to publish your first short story in Cadenza! x

    1. Hi, Jo! Thanks for taking time to stop by and for your kind words – a lot of water under the bridge since that first wonderful moment but much more water still coming down the river!

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