It’s taken me a bit to muster up the courage to post this blog post. Last week I was asked some questions here and it was beyond my ability then to reply. Not because I didn’t have the answers, no it’s more complicated than that. I had to work through the questions properly, let them occupy my mind.
I went to bed and wrestled with the pillows and these questions, lying awake, looking up into the darkness in figuring out mode (one hand tucked under a pillow or slipped behind my head) scrunching my face up and trying to come up with suitable replies. Each morning, I’d be none the wiser than the night before.
Then today, finally some answers. You asked “where/how do you write your Goddess Guide books?” and “what are the secrets of your writing success?” (an absurd idea, that last one everyone, but the way a writer’s life works these days…. I don’t know how many readers need to buy a book for one to be automatically labelled “a hit”. None bought my first book in the beginning. People just told each other and it just kind of grew). So what follows is my honest account of how I take the contents of my brain and tip them onto paper. The books section on this blog shows the process in pictures but this is more about what goes on behind the closed door.
Anyone who has ever told you writing is easy was fibbing. Some days it involves sitting in front of a blank page and waiting for the muse to descend. After five minutes, if nothing’s happened, undeterred, I start anyway. Most days bring elation and as many bring complete and utter despair. While most of you might not even be aware of this, I have recently adopted a secret weapon, her name is Fraidy. (She’s my cat).
Two years ago on new years eve I had a bright idea. “Why don’t we”, I suggested to my boyfriend, “let this stray little black and white kitten come in from the snow for a bit?” Thin, lonely, scared, surely she could do no harm. She wasn’t having any if it; thought it was her duty to create a feral scene for months, hiding under our couch she would try to bite every time we came near.
“Come on Peter”, I urged my boyfriend, “don’t be squeamish, it’s nature’s way, you don’t like her at the moment any more than I do, we could bet on which one survives the longest with her???”, (my money was on me, because I’d had a cat when I was a seven. I knew they liked to head butt and be ‘spoken to’ in a high pitched voice and maybe she’d come round).
“No, I don’t think we can do it,” I said to Peter after eight weeks. “Besides, he was funny about cats.” “OK”, I said, remembering hearing him become upset about some stray kittens he’d seen walking to and from work, “let’s cut her some slack. Let’s give her a break”. It took Fraidy a full six human months to stop using our couch as an escape hatch, a further six to let us even rub her head, last January she progressed to sitting on a chair next to Peter (ahem) and only recently she’s become a cuddly ball of loving roll over and rub my fluffy tummy please. She’s a lot like the writer bit of me, when I read my work, in all honesty, I want to hide under the couch like Fraidy cat. I’m afraid to let anyone near.
And so Fraidy made me question my fears as a book writer. You could be forgiven for thinking that I’m brave (yes maybe while I’m traveling and blogging ). I can blog from almost anywhere. It’s portable, more casual. But when it comes to book writing, it’s a different ask. Book writing and illustrating is so much more of a solitary task; researching, scribbling and honing behind a closed door on your own. I won’t say book writing doesn’t change me sometimes, ‘cos it does, I tend to get quiet and am at my most vulnerable. It’s the rawest time; first draft, you can show no-one because if they make the tiniest remark it kills you dead. The general advice is to put first draft in a drawer and return to it six weeks later. I’ll let you know how I’m doing when I get to that part.
Very early one morning last week, rushing for the airport, with no time for a proper breakfast, I grabbed a book from my shelves to take with me while the house slept. A couple of hours later on the flight I felt its weight drag a bit on my arm. I was holding nearly a pound’s weight of another author’s writing in my arms and I thought “gosh the time a writer has had to put in to create that weight of work. Time the author had most likely spent on his or her own with a door closed to the outside world.” In turn I the reader was about to invest time and commitment on my own absorbing it. And say what you like about flights but I tend to do some of my best thinking at 30,000 feet. Out of a clear blue sky, came “the bond that ties a solitary writer to a solitary reader is the book.” I know (it was very early).
But you gotta be your own person, haven’t you when it comes to trying to find satisfaction in your work, which is why to be any sort of a competent writer I have to read and write constantly. Two thousand words a day. There’s no way around this. No back door. And as for reading, every book I pick up is a learning tool, good or bad. When someone sweeps me away with the beauty and cleverness of his/her writing, it’s like looking at a beautiful painting or standing and gazing into a vista, the Grand Canyon say. I’ll be honest here, to any writer wanting to improve, reading is essential. Reading also creates an ease and an intimacy with words.
So when I’m asked how/where I get inspiration from I try to limit my answer. There is no magic place. I don’t know about other writers but I write my way towards inspiration. When I’m asked that question by interviewers I tell them these three things: I stay physically healthy by running, I read alot and try to tell stories like my Irish ancestors before me and oh, I have a good muse/friend in Fraidy my cat. It’s a good answer because it makes the question go away, and because it is in fact the truth. The combination of a healthy body and a loving cat behind the writer’s closed door has made my writing life better.
Oh and as for personally judging whether a book is good or bad? I believe a good book will always eventually find an appreciative audience. In saying that, I also realised a very long time ago that I was lucky. I am nothing more than a fortunate freak as a writer, not too different to an obscure model who had the good fortune, luck and right timing one day to get plucked from a bunch of girls at the zoo or while waiting for a bus on the street. I caught a lucky break and ever day since I write to try and become better as a writer. So I face my Mac book air again tomorrow and whether it’s to work on the book or to blog, either way I don’t ever write just for the heck of it. I’m only ever brave enough to publish my words when I’ve something meaningful to say.
“I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.” — Neil Gaiman