1st November 2014 was one of the hardest days of my life.
“My childhood wish was to have a Golden Retriever. I was very fortunate to have that wish granted twice. Thank you, Lucy; you changed my life. I am grateful to have shared such a bond with you, and although I can’t believe you’re now gone, I don’t see that bond as being broken; you’ll forever be in my head and in my heart. You’ll always be my little knuckle-head. Picking you up from out of your brothers and sisters and choosing to take you home is the best decision I have ever made. I miss you so much.”
I posted this to Facebook in the early evening of that very day, having spent the entire afternoon alone in my bedroom, slumped in my computer chair, feeling the most empty I have ever felt. By then I was already in a lot of pain, though I didn’t yet know how long it would last, or how deep it would go.
I’m not usually one to post an emotional status. In fact, I’m not usually one to post any status. But it was important to me that I said something, even if I couldn’t quite match the words to my feelings.
1st November 2014 was a dark, dark day and it didn’t stop when midnight came. It continued into the days and weeks that followed, filling them with blind, floor-bound stares and muted thoughts. Comfort disappeared from between the covers of the book I was reading. Comfort which, until that point, I had always managed to find on a daily basis. There was, however, plenty of teary eyes on the train home from work. The one thought I did have was more of a wish: to fall asleep for a long, long time and to wake up in some distant future.
I retreated further into myself, only to find a I wasn’t there.
When studying my reflection in the mirror, I was unable to recognise the bluey-grey eyes staring back. It wasn’t a stranger I saw. I still looked like me, of course. But it felt like there was a stranger beneath my skin.
It took me until mid-December and two conversations, the first with my mum and the second with my doctor, to realise I was struggling from depression and anxiety.
Things didn’t stop there. All that changed was I now had a label for my self-alienation. And medication. But it would be some time before that kicked-in.
I had not only lost Lucy. I had also lost a part of myself. Lucy was, among other things, a trigger that lead to me lose another part.
A part, which if I’m being honest, I’m not convinced I ever fully recovered.
I’ve never been very open about my mental health; I can count the people I’ve told on one hand. I’ve certainly not been public about it. [It’s taken me over three days to write this post, owing to a strong cocktail of tiredness, tricky personal subject matter, and a reluctance to publish the post.]
Shame is one very secure, complex lock.
So why am I bringing this up now? Well, aside from the recent, unexpected stirrings of past feelings, this is my roundabout, contextualised, self-indulgent (and, I might as well add, therapeutic) way of saying that it was important to me that I resumed writing on 1st November 2017.
I had talked about breaking my seven-month-hiatus from writing around the middle of November, yet part of me had begun to think that I still had a few things to sort out and that January was a much more symbolic month for new-beginnings. . .
Beneath the excuses, I knew it was impossible to be a hundred percent prepared. In the last month, I had felt the flames of imagination snap more than once in my mind. That was all the preparation I needed.
This year was the third anniversary of Lucy’s passing. In the lead up to it, I wasn’t only thinking about her, I was also thinking about how much my life since that day has been defined by it. And I realised something.
I wanted to redefine it.
By the time the fourth anniversary came around, I wanted to have a one-year anniversary to go alongside it: the day I started the manuscript that became my first published novel. (That will probably take a couple more anniversaries. . . If it does, I welcome them.)
So what’s it like to be writing after seven months?
Short answer: Good but a little tough.
Figurative answer: Like a fatty lamb shank. (Gettit? Good. . . but a little tough.)
Long answer: Having already felt the flames of imagination, I had a few fragments and a mixture of vague and strong notions to get me going. I didn’t worry about the word count, or the quality, or the length of time I sat hunched over my laptop looking sanguinely at the keys. I just wrote.
The words were slow coming to begin with, like honey being poured for the first time after a long stay on the shelf. I would have bursts of furious key tapping, followed by much longer periods of idleness. Eventually, the two began to reverse, with the keys tapping for longer and my idleness stretching for less.
It reminded me of my experience of depression. How the down periods start to become less intense and less frequent, and are replaced by a growing sense of goodness, one that feels just as vulnerable as it does miraculous.
Being the sensible chap that I am, I started at the beginning: with my new idea for the prologue. By the middle of the month, I had discarded the first two attempts. They didn’t feel right and I knew I could do better. This was partly due to me brushing away the figurative cobwebs, but I was aware I could be nearing the self-destruct point of the perfectionist. That, in fear of “not being good enough”, I wouldn’t get very far if I stopped writing to polish what I already had.
At these early stages, I don’t want to be editing much, especially not on a micro level. That should come later. The first draft will naturally contain a lot of things I don’t need. It’s only once it’s finished that I can get it right.
It’s helpful to remember what Joe Hill said at the Gollancz Festival:
“It’s OK to write an abysmal first draft.”
It’s elementary, enlightening advice.
If I now feel my hands twitching too editorially, I sit on them and read what I’ve written only to refresh myself of where I’m at.
I know that the more I continue to write, the easier it will get and the more confident I will become.
I’m fortunate to be working several jobs at the moment, though it means my time dedicated to writing is more limited than it was this time last year. Instead of putting in eight hour shifts, I’m trying to fit in an average of four to six hours a day. According to various writers, that’s about the ideal daily quota.
Having less time in the day can make me feel uneasy, but it can also be a good motivator in actually getting more done. It stops me from thinking in the morning, Oh God, I’m in here until what time? and instead makes me more protective of my writing time. Another thing which helps is not to think of it as hours that need ticking off, but rather as time spent on something I enjoy.
Writing, after all, is the same for me as reading: a place to go to not only for escape but to find happiness.
It’s always satisfying to end a week on a high, to feel that what you’ve written (even just that day) might actually be good. Even if it isn’t, the belief that it is good is more important right now—it’s the fuel to turn days into weeks and weeks into months.
That’s not always possible, of course. Some days end up feeling pretty menial. But it can be a necessary evil to write poorly just so the story can progress—to get it done. I find that the experience teaches me how not to write a certain scene, so I can come back to it later with a better version—to get it right.
Even the days that end up feeling like real duds can be useful. While they can be disheartening, they balance out the good days, even fuel them. They make you return the next day even more determined to kick ass.
Over the last few months I’ve really come to appreciate the books I read, even if I don’t particularly enjoy them. It’s easy to take for granted the words printed on the page, to assume they stumbled out of the author’s mind and settled in the order that you see them. We don’t realise the intense effort that goes into getting them into that order, to get them right—or, in some reader’s cases, not so.
While the search for that rightness can often feel like a struggle, I’m glad to be writing once more. The longer my hiatus from writing extended, the more I began to miss it. When I began Everborne over a year ago, I didn’t feel like I could call myself a writer on account of being unpublished. [I don’t now, either. I would settle for amateur writer, though. Logic can’t dispute that.] But some authors say that to be a writer you simply need to write. That makes sense when the suffix –er means “someone who does”.
Even if I don’t feel like I can call myself a writer yet, I at least no longer miss writing. I am back to being “someone who does”.
[The park opposite my house. I’ve really come to appreciate the colours of autumn. Those two-three weeks in November when the trees are aflame are the most beautiful of the year.]