I was about to write my June update when I realised it was some-magical-how already mid-July. It seemed, according to the sensible (rather, lazy) part of my brain, to make sense that I wait two more weeks to write another zeppelin-bloated post split across two parts covering both months together.
This seemed to make even more sense considering I’d had a murky-amount of time, between a quarter and half of the month, to actually write. [A little foresight to write the June parts ahead of July’s might’ve helped. Hello, August 12th!]
Not that I’m complaining*. I went to Krakow with my old university housemates, a holiday four years in the making—one year to get the each of us there, presumably; my brothers came home for my eldest brother James’s wedding, so time I’d usually spend hunched over my laptop was spent with them instead—while my back got a well-deserved rest, my liver certainly didn’t; the same can be said for the world cup (which didn’t come home); I went to Edinburgh for my brother’s stag—where my liver received even more of a pummelling (rather, flooding), though thankfully not nearly as much as James’s!
*Much—while the occasional break is welcome**, a pile-up of them can be frustrating. But when you don’t get to see your brothers often, it’s worth any frustration.
**Sometimes—writing mood dependent.
With the wedding at the beginning of July, more time was naturally taken up***. I also started a new part-time job a week later, so the writing time available shrunk to an amount similar to June’s. Even so, I hope not to make the zeppelin-bloated posts a regular occurrence (even though they are in themselves less regular, but you get what I mean). It’s much easier to recall the month when it’s just gone, not long gone.
***I got a really nice book out of it though, as a thank you from James. And I do mean really nice. I also really enjoyed it.
When you think your anxiety is under control, you know it definitely isn’t. Having spoken of improvements in May, June was swift to undermine them all. It was very despairing. Insomnia is the pied piper of belief, concentration, word counts, ideas and all things in-between.
Despite everything I did to try and ensure a good night’s sleep—the herbal teas; the sleeping tablets; the lavender oil sprinkled over my pillow; the ear plugs; the mid-afternoon runs; the cheeky ciders; the reading before bed (although this wasn’t anything new); and all the deep breaths—nothing seemed to help.
And that, I realised, was where my problem lied.
By trying to establish a foolproof routine in helping me to sleep, I became overdependent on it. (That or I was too much of a fool to be proofed!) While a solid seven-and-a-half hours—or anything remotely close to it—was never guaranteed, I somehow reached the point where I believed I needed every step of the routine to be ticked off before I could fall asleep.
Since when had going to sleep become more than closing your eyes and laying your head on a pillow?
That thought, fuelled by an increasingly aggressive despair, forced me into a decision at the end of June: I decided to ditch all of the supplements, save for the earbuds. I wanted to be able to sleep naturally again. To sleep normally again. I didn’t like being dependant on something that hadn’t for the previous twenty-six years of my life been a problem, especially when that something had originally been so simple before mutating into something so complex.
Oddly enough, it worked.
Throughout June, it was like I’d become too focused on not sleeping to actually sleep. But when I lost that focus (rather, that fixation) and accepted that sleep would either happen or it wouldn’t, I was once again able to sleep.
This was probably helped further by my busyness. The holiday, stag, wedding, and all the things threading them together made a great distraction for my anxious mind. But none of them remained a distraction once they had ended and I returned to hunch over my laptop.
In July, my insomnia struck a grand total of one night. It was towards the end of the month and was anxiety related, the cause of which I was able identify. If August is the same then I will be a very, very happy Tom.
MY WRITER’S MINDSET
Even though I spend a lot of my time talking to imaginary people, writing can be lonely.
I’m not yet at the stage where I’m ready to share my writing with others. This isn’t due to an insecurity or shyness—I’m actually eager to get Everborne into the hands of those I love—but an adamant belief that sharing my draft before it’s ready would be counterproductive. Even disastrous.
In my current draft, I’m telling the story to myself. That means it includes scaffolding. Threads of plot that unravel unfinished or forgotten. Characters who upon introduction seem important yet fail to appear later on. Scenes that are too short, too long, written from the wrong perspective, no longer necessary. I also have the inefficient habit of writing more words than I actually need. Before I can tell the story to someone else, this will all need correcting. There’s no point handing out a draft which will be returned with feedback that I’m already aware of. That won’t help me.
Why would this be disastrous? Well, comments given before I’m not ready to hear them could pulverise my already fragile belief.
That’s why I’m purposefully vague when people ask: What’s it about? If I reveal something which I believe is exciting and don’t see that same excitement in their expression or hear it in their reply, it opens up that Tom-sized trapdoor of self-doubt and I fall perfectly through.
It’s like when you see an excellent film and you want your friend to watch it afterwards. No matter how much you think they’ll enjoy the film, you might not be able to convey the excellence in your brief, spoiler-free synopsis when you try to persuade them to sit down and watch it. The only way your friend will see the excellence for themselves if they actually do sit down and watch it.
What will help me is handing out a draft that isn’t polished to perfection. (That draft goes out to the agent; there’s also no point handing out a draft that I think is finished if I want feedback, as it’ll only make it harder to hear it.) A draft that will have the most glaring problems removed, but will still contain plenty of others—those that I can only be made aware of (when I’m ready to be made aware of them) by someone else kindly [he hopes] pointing them out.
This approach can make writing seem like an endless undertaking. On the days when the words don’t flow, it can seem even more like one. String a few of those days together, and it becomes demoralising.
I’ve always been fortunate to have parents, family, friends and a partner who support me, believe in me and encourage me. People have told me it’ll be hard—and I can attest to that—but no one’s ever told me it’s impossible, that I shouldn’t attempt it, that it’s stupid.
I worry—because I am a worrier, especially of the unnecessary—that the longer it takes to write Everborne the less people will support me. So far, that’s not been the case. [Give them enough time, though, says Worrying Tom, and they just might. Yeah, well, eat sock Worrying Tom!]
A worrier who writes in a vacuum isn’t a winning combination. Unsurprisingly, I’m often my own worst enemy. But, fortunately, I’m also my only enemy.
June gave me time and space away from the laptop. As difficult as this sometimes is, I’ve come to realise the value in it, as it allows me to tweak my perspective and rejuvenate my mind.
But that’s not all June gave me.
A friend from university who I hadn’t spoken to in a while sent me a very kind message of support. She might not have thought it was much, but it meant a lot to me and was lovely to hear from her. After a week of writing that’d been a bit of a struggle, her words gave me some much needed reassurance, as well as a fresh top up of self-belief.
A couple of weeks later, I was on my brother’s stag. Meeting some of his friends for the first time, the question soon came up: What do you do? For some reason**** I always feel shy and insecure replying to strangers: Not much at the moment. I’m trying to write a book. I shouldn’t be. I enjoy what I do and I’m proud of myself for giving it an honest shot. I’m actually doing what mop-headed, lanky-limbed school boy Tom dreamed of doing. But being comfortable with myself has never come easy.
****The reason: I’m an idiot. I don’t say this to self-depreciate, but to remind myself that it is idiotic. Fortunately, the positive responses of others helps to remind me of this.
The responses from my brother’s friends were enthusiastic and encouraging, with a couple even kindly offering their services as alpha readers when the draft’s ready. As they’re six years my senior, it was affirming to hear responses that showed a genuine interest in what I was doing and that thought it was great I was giving it ago. In essence: nothing that would cause me to feel shy or insecure about. Rather, words to be remembered and recalled on a gloomy day.
Support like this gives me a tremendous boost. It allows me to refocus, rethink and revalue what I’m doing. The belief of others is a power unlike any other. (It’s also a central theme that I explore in Everborne.) It certainly makes writing feel less lonely.
The draft may have one writer, but already it is the product of many.
This post continues in Part II.
[My friends and I outside Wawel Cathedral, Krakow.]