January 6, 2022
Belated Happy New Year.
2021, I think it’s fair to say, wasn’t much of an improvement on the previous cruel year. Frustrating, disheartening and emotionally exhausting are the three words that best describe my hard and bumpy journey over the last twelve months. The brain fog that plagued me throughout most of 2020 has continued to impair my ability to think clearly, retain information, and most importantly, stay focused. Whether it’s a lingering side effect of COVID-19 I may have unknowingly caught during the first or second wave of the pandemic, age, stress or the menopause is anyone’s guess, though I suspect it’s a combination of all three. Whatever the reason, it has made the difficult task of redrafting a novel pure hell.
Words have not come easily, so much so, I’ve struggled just to put together a shopping list, never mind string together a beautifully crafted sentence. Those I did manage to force out of my sluggish brain almost always failed to meet my unrealistic expectations. I know only too well perfectionism is the enemy of done. This sobering truth didn’t, however, stop me from trying and failing produce the impossible. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
A vicious cycle of self-sabotaging behaviour ensued, killing both my productivity and self-worth in small, venomous doses. They weren’t the only casualty. My Mac died from beating my head against its barely functional keyboard, or possibly from all the tears & toast crumbs I’d spilled in the past five years spent hunched over it, adding an extra thousand pounds to to my morbidly obese bag of woe.
Nagging doubt heckled me day and night.
Isn’t that the same paragraph you were obsessing over last week? You’ve rewritten it like seven times already. It’s still shit. You’re shit. It’s all shit. You’re never going finish it. You’re too old, too stupid, too slow. Stop embarrassing yourself and quit while you’re behind. Give up, give up, give up.
Sorely tempted though I was to lie down and let the snow cover me, my Scottish stubbornness wouldn’t let me. I haven’t spent over 12 years of my life creating the Crystal Keeper Universe only to freeze on the ice-fogged slopes of Mount Gloom.
‘Aye, right,’ screeched a circling buzzard. ‘Peck ye later.’
I slogged on regardless.
Sweet treats, tea glorious tea, encouragement from hubby, which usually came with a side order of unsolicited advice or a metaphorical kick up the arse, kept me going for a time. Weekly face time chats with my boys who are now both at Uni, celebrating their milestone 18th & 21st birthdays and catching up with friends & family in the real world also helped top up my dwindling positivity. As did the occasional lunch out – a rare treat these days – reading for pleasure/ research, bedtime podcasts and sporadic morning sessions of yoga with Adriene alongside making time for some long overdue inner DIY.
I thought, or rather hoped, all this soul searching would help me cultivate the healthier, positive mindset I sadly lacked. But, as most flawed humans discover by the end of January, it’s hard to motivate yourself when all you see in the mirror is a failed 51-year-old writer with nothing more to show for her twelve months of toil than excess belly fat, furnace-hot flashes and a permanent frown.
The daily mental flogging continued. No carrots for this clapped-out pack mule. No kind words. No pat on the back when I did write something half-decent. No acknowledgment of the progress I’d made thus far on draft seven of this hellfire novel, which, I’m pleased to say, is finally coming together in the way I’ve long envisaged. The yoga fizzled out. Fresh air and exercise went out the window. Even when I did force myself to take a day off, I couldn’t switch off. My inner critic kept replaying the last scene I’d been stuck on. I’ll solve it, she assured me. Just gimme a minute to think.
I don’t have a minute, I raged in frustration, waving a panicked hand toward the depleting mound of sand in my imagined hourglass. Putting the fear of death into myself didn’t make me write any faster or stop me overthinking every single word I rewrote and immediately deleted. Instead, I let my dark side suck all the joy out of my WIP and block me at every turn. I came to dread opening the word document. I was sick of looking at it. The relentless task of redrafting now seemed as impossible as conquering the mental mountain I’ve been inching my way up for fucking far too long. I lost my way, lost touch with my creative spirit, lost belief in myself.
You chose this path, I’d remind myself when it all got too much. No one made you walk it. Count yourself lucky.
I do, every single day. My inner motivation still waned. I procrastinated by wasting precious writing time on Twitter every morning, which did my mental health no good whatsoever, or distracting myself by fixating on the minutiae of my fictional world. The end result being, the victory flag I’d hoped to plant in the summit of Mount Gloom by the year’s end still lies crushed and defeated at the bottom of my rucksack. The book is still not finished. Through no other fault but my own. As bitterly disappointing as this is to accept, I know I could have accomplished more than I did had I treated my mind and body with more patience and kindness and not allowed fear of failing to sabotage my chance of success.
I used to think that meant getting published by the Big Five, hitting NYT bestseller list, glowing reviews, winning a Hugo Award, being one of the chosen few to get their book turned into a movie. These days I’m less impressed by wealth, fame or social media stardom, all of which are fleeting and rarely lead to true happiness.
Becoming successful isn’t about what you achieve. It’s culmination of everything you do to achieve it. Real accomplishment is earned through tireless effort, learning from past failures, persevering in spite of them and finding fulfillment in whatever you love doing the most. As Buddha once said:
It’s better to travel well than to arrive.
Well isn’t how I travelled through 2021 or the year preceding it. I am, however, hugely grateful that I get another chance to try again this year. Mount Gloom will still be there, waiting for me to slip up. No doubt I will, but that doesn’t mean I plan on following the same booby-trapped route. The next part of the journey isn’t going to get any easier or the view look any different unless I change my counterproductive way of thinking. It is possible to move a mountain with your mind. All it takes is a shift in perspective.
So this time around I’m going to run with the wind like I did as kid and let the creative spirit carry me wherever it wills. I won’t be flying solo either. Should I get blown off course or find myself heading into greater peril, my new wingman will be right behind me to lift me over the next knife-edged ridge.
Wont you, Grogu?
Travel well and stay safe in 2022. May the Force be with you.
Photo credit BenLoweUnsplash