Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Writer's Journey...and why it should be a personal one

If you’ve ever read a writing magazine, or friended writers on social media, then it’s fairly easy to gain an insight into the writing world and all that entails. When I catch glimpses of other published authors posting constant updates about round-the-country book tours, school visits, library talks, multiple launches, multiple guest posts, tv appearances, the #amwriting hashtags announcing that another 5,000 words are complete, I get a little bit anxious (and envious) about being tied to a full time 9-5 day job. I always like a challenge, but I know it won’t be possible for me to be able to engage in the same level of activity as some writers, at such a constant pace.

A friend said something to me the other week which resonated with me – ‘Don’t focus too much on what other people are doing. Remember this is your own unique journey, so just focus on that’.

The same friend let me read an article in Mslexia magazine (Issue 66) titled, ‘Don’t give up the day job’, by Naomi Elster. This article upset my friend a bit due to the fact she had given up her own full time job to pursue creative projects and it made her feel a bit guilty.

I have to admit when I first started to read the article, I felt an element of relief – here’s a writer I can relate to, she understands the challenges which come from working a full time ‘day job’ and writing. But I stopped identifying with her pretty soon into the article and actually started to get quite annoyed. She wrote her piece in reaction to articles from other writers who believed, ‘You can’t write if you have to work too.’ Seeing as I’m living proof, (along with millions of other writers), that yes you can, I’m not disagreeing with the premise of her article. However, what she went on to do, in my opinion, was insult and condescend the writers who have given up the ‘day job’, as well as devalue the writing profession.  Her line, ‘We live in a world with very real problems, problems that can’t be cured with an appropriate sonnet’ seemed quite disparaging. It made me think, but imagine the world we would live in if the creative arts didn’t exist? Books can be powerful, educational and magical and provide many with a very important escape from their repressed and limiting worlds.

The article continues with lines such as , ‘I doubt that any writer who isolates herself in the proverbial ivory tower will ever create stories and characters that anyone else can engage with- apart from another isolated writer, that is.’ This made me wonder ~ does she have an imagination- is she creative? If I gave up my ‘day job’ tomorrow I certainly wouldn’t be sitting in a ‘tower’ locking myself away from the world all day long, but even if I did, I know my imagination would conjure up some three dimensional ideas for me. And a lot of the time, if I’m in the middle of an intense piece of writing, isolation from distractions is necessary. An ivory tower would come in rather handy…

She implies that working a ‘day job’ is the only way to really live and experience ‘real life’. No, it’s not – being employed by a company means being restricted to a 9-5 (or set hours), often getting bogged down with repetitive tasks and surroundings. Don’t get me wrong, at times my job can be varied and interesting– I’m in a client facing job so I get to interact with new people every day, but elements of my job definitely drain my energy and stifle my creativity. I do like the routine of a job,(though would prefer a more part time routine!), and get fulfilment from it, but I have a much more fascinating and enjoyable time outside of work.

This writer then goes on to talk about how she had to spend a lot of time at home during long term sick leave, saying, ‘When I did venture out the house, the only people not at work were a handful of self-styled artistes who were permanently unemployed, by choice, and seemed determined to be misunderstood’.  She doesn’t stop there but goes on to say, ‘(I)…found myself writing affected pretentious prose in a voice that didn’t suit me…’ (Implying this was due to hanging around with these artistes and attending too many spoken-word events). A helpful friend then told her, ‘Your writing just isn’t accessible anymore.’ She doesn’t specify why she was on sick leave, but I found this a poor example of visualising what life would be like if she didn’t have a ‘day job’. Physical or mental illness would clearly drain your energy levels, so few would be able to write anything worthwhile during that time.  I've also hung out with some great, inspiring writers who treat their writing as a profession by day, and by night, and certainly don't act like misunderstood 'artistes'.

As you can probably tell this article provoked a strong reaction in me. This has made me even more acutely aware about how important it is for writers to focus on their own journeys and what works for them. As this writer is in a similar situation to me I thought she would be able to offer me some invaluable insight and advice into managing a busy life. Instead, it just made me realise how we are all very different in our approaches and that it can be wrong to categorise writers as those who have a supplementary ‘day job’, and those who don’t, as ‘work’ and responsibilities come in many different forms.

What is a good plan for you, won’t necessarily work (or be possible) for me, and that is ok. It’s still nice for writers to share advice and tips, (and I’ll certainly be picking brains on promotional aspects), but when any aspect of ‘advice’ starts to feel like pressure or judgement, I’m going to make a conscious effort to tune out. And that applies to the pressures I tend to put on myself too!
Tune out, and write on...

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Living Fearlessly

Last week myself and two friends went along to a meditation talk titled 'Living Fearlessly' which was led by a resident teacher, (Kadam Morten Clausen), of the New York Kadampa Meditation Centre. Kadam, like all of the Buddhists I've encountered (which isn't many), emanated a sense of calm and joy and led us through an insightful hour and a half's talk and guided meditation.

The talk centred around the Buddhist teachings of  Kelsang Gyatso - at the heart of which is the simple philosophy that true happiness occurs when we feel at peace within ourselves. A lot of the philosophy I had heard before at the few meditation classes I have attended at the Glasgow Kadampa Centre (which I've also made reference to on here before), but the more you hear the simplicity of the philosophy, the more you do realise how much we tend to let our negative (or panicked) thoughts get a bit too loud.  Even if you're a positive, upbeat person most of the time, we all have an abundance of moments which make us over-analyse, along the lines of: 'but what if that were to happen' 'why is this happening???' or the torment of, 'if only I had that/did that/achieved that/they noticed me,' I know I'd be truly happy.

I can't even begin to capture half of what this Buddhist teacher said on here because it always sounds too basic when I attempt to explain it. I think the thing which resonated the most with me was when he kept saying the words, 'We need to learn to let go'. As in, let go of everything you believe will make you happy - external goals, the reliance on others to achieve your happiness. And accept that everything which has a beginning, also has an end (scary, but that's ok).

He said Buddhists like to recognise the truth -that trying to control your external world, which is always going to be in a constant flux of change, is a bit of an impossibility and shouldn't really be your focus. If you let go of that idea of control, then you can free yourself from a lot of anxiety and fear. The focus, they believe, should be on striving to have a happy and calm mind - an inner peace (so that when bad things do happen you have the strength within to deal with it), which is why they practice meditation.
I'm rubbish at trying to meditate myself at home, but I really get into the guided meditation (sometimes too much, nearly dozing off. My friend nearly fell asleep at this one - Hi Rebecca!).

I'm not saying I agree with everything that was said, but it certainly made me think, and made me want to write this post as I know a lot of people who have had a bit of a rollercoaster of a 2015 (sometimes in a bad way, sometimes in an exciting way).

I also had the chance to talk to an ordained Buddhist Monk afterwards and he very kindly answered my nosy question, 'So what exactly does your day to day involve?' (This guy leads the Glasgow meditations and always looks so happy and has the most calming presence ever). His day looks like this: Get up early - meditate, study meditation, eat lunch, teach meditation, study some more, teach mediation, take a turn cooking dinner within a shared house of Buddhists, maybe socialise, then meditate before bed.

The simplicity of his life wouldn't be for everyone, (I know I'd love it for a few weeks, then probably get bored), but it did make me wonder: Do we all follow a more complicated path than we need to, just because society has brain washed us into thinking it's normal? I sometimes worry about that, that we've all lost our so called 'free will' somewhere along the way because we're constantly being fed messages of what we think we need and what we think we want.

I'm going to finish this post with an image I came across a while ago, which I really like, and which I think is fitting for this post. Night all!