Occasionally we turn the reins over to a friend of the blog so they can share their experience in writing – some good, some bad – for the benefit of others.
When Dan, very kindly and unexpectedly, replied to one of the comments I’d made to the wonderful J.A Allen about guest blogging, inviting me to press on his Contact Me button to chat, I almost did a slapstick comedy double take. Surely he hadn’t meant to reply to little old me? I read through the other comments to see if he had corrected his mistake elsewhere. Nope.
So I sent him a quick, nervous email to make sure.
Yes, he was really allowing me, an unknown baby blogger, to put together a piece which he would post on his site
written on anything I fancied that would interest you, his faithful gang of readers.
A quick check on the calendar beside the fridge proved it. This was not Christmas Day. But it certainly felt like it. Thank you Dan for this surprising gift.
And this debilitating insecurity and huge lack of confidence as a writer is exactly what I want to talk to you about. It is something I have struggled with forever. But this deep-seated belief that everything I write is a load of old garbage, and that nobody in their right mind would ever read, let alone enjoy, my work, is very slowly, very gradually lifting. Bloody Nora, it’s about time!
I was born with a pen grasped between my tiny fingers.
Sorry Mum, that must have hurt. For the first few years it lay beside my cot, patiently waiting for me to do something interesting with it. When I finally picked it up, all I could do was write numbers. I never got the number three right, always turning it around, making it look like a curly, fancy-pants letter E.
Then I started on words. But just spelling numbers. Jeez, Miss Kindergarten Teacher, this was boring. My number one was spelt ‘wun’ for a very long time, but surely that’s the way it should be spelt? Then we moved onto nouns and verbs and adjectives and all sorts of interesting stuff and I was off, running along the writing track, my pen racing along the little lanes laid out for it in my notebooks.
I wrote about what I did, what I saw, what my best friend said, where my parents took us. Nothing imaginary, just all about me, me, me. I even won a prize of £1 (please convert this into your own currency yourselves, I haven’t a clue) for a log-book from a school trip. My classmates, who had spent many hours cutting and sticking and decorating their very expensive photo albums, were green with envy. Mine was scribbled in a spiral notepad taken from my Dad’s desk, written as a comical diary, with five photos hastily stuck on with sellotape, one for each day of the trip. But the teacher thought it was funny.
When she called my name to go up and collect my prize I did that daft double take thing.
Who, me? Winning a prize for writing that?
Teenagehood, however, saw my pen back on my bedside table. I was too busy trying to be cool, having weird eighties haircuts and thinking about spotty boys, to spend much time writing for pleasure. My final exams at school and university were the most I ever wrote during that period and I loved every minute of them, my pen sprinting over the pages, my fingers holding onto it tightly, producing reams of words, all fighting to be the next one onto the page.
Then suddenly I stopped.
During my twenties I put a thick, dark blanket over the word-cage in my head, sending them all to sleep.
And I just got on with my life. I started work, became a girlfriend, fiancée, wife, mother. I moved from Scotland to France. I taught English, I breastfed, I hosted boring dinner parties for Hubby’s gruesomely dreary colleagues.
But I never wrote.
Sometimes, when the words woke up and started squawking, I would write a funny letter to my family or a silly story for my niece and nephew. But then I would rock them back to sleep again, singing the same lullabies I sang to my two real, beautiful babies.
Until one day in 1999, when a screeching riot broke out up there, and they all demanded to be set free.
I had deliberately lost a lot of weight after baby number two, and the words were all starving, desperate to be fed, to be loved and most importantly to be used again. So to keep them all happy I fished out my trusty pen and starting writing by hand (yes, can you imagine!) the tale of my weight loss success story. I wanted it to be funny, fresh, provocative and different.
The words woke me up at night, pecking my cheeks then flapping around my face to get my attention.
They followed me into the shower.
They made me stare glassy-eyed out of the window for long periods at a time.
They even had me chuckling aloud in the supermarket aisles, always a dangerous thing to be seen doing.
When it was all written down, I typed it all up on an old computer borrowed from Hubby’s office. I loved the result, thought it was the funniest thing since Bridget Jones’s Diary, and honestly imagined that it was going to become a world-wide best-seller overnight. So I bought the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2000 to find myself the publisher who would help me make that happen.
Hohohum! Easier said than done. I must have sent out at least fifteen copies of the first three chapters, and waited weeks and weeks before anyone even replied.
The thick brown envelopes which dropped back into our letter box were always the sign that it hadn’t been accepted.
That was tough, but hey, I wasn’t a real writer so this was normal, wasn’t it? Unfortunately each rejection hurt more than the last, and I almost binned the whole idea immediately to stop the pain.
But after moving to Miami for a while for Hubby’s job, I realised that I could self-publish it there and give at least one copy to my sister as a surprise present, since essentially I had written it for her.
So that’s what I did.
my sister and I are pretty much the only ones in the world, I think, to have a copy of my cringingly awful worst-seller.
How come? Because it had an ugly cover. Because it was badly formatted, making it look cheap and nasty. Because I just didn’t know what to do with it, how to market it, how to promote it, or myself. Because I was, and still am, absolutely hopeless at telling people that something I have written might in fact be quite good. I did write a couple of follow-up articles for a slimming magazine but they didn’t produce any real results.
I started to lose faith in the book and in myself.
I became embarrassed by it and even started to loathe the words I had once found so fresh and funny.
They now just sounded childish and ridiculous and terribly rude. I was far too shy and insecure to show it to many friends. One of them didn’t say a word, either good or bad, as she handed it back to me after reading it. Never a particularly encouraging reaction, that one.
And that total lack of reaction was in fact the final whack of the axe upon my neck.
That was the moment when I threw the project into a wicker basket, drove it out to the countryside and left it in an open field to die a slow death.
On returning home, the thick dark blanket came back out and was once more thrown, with great frustration, over those stupid words flying around inside my brain.
Fifteen long years went by. Years with ups and downs, and house moves, and problems, and many moments spent thinking I should write again but never actually getting round to it. And more than that, telling myself that it would be an absolute waste of time even if I did.
I never talked about my book again,
never even thought about it, too mortified to have brought it into this world only to abandon it unashamedly like an unwanted, unloved child.
So what finally happened to make me start writing again? I’m almost there. I hope you are still here too, gang.
A week before my fiftieth birthday last year I received a cat-covered writing journal and a stripy pen from my three closest friends. Forty-five minutes before the big day, I started writing in that journal. And the next day too and then more and more regularly.
Each page I wrote was a revelation.
I felt like I was coming home to my first love.
I wrote about happy events and tragic moments. The pen became my friend, my voice. That voice I had hushed for so long started croakily speaking again. And boy, does it have a lot to say.
Quickly I swapped the pen for fingers on my new iPad. It’s much easier, quicker and more comfortable.
And at the beginning of October last year my daughter helped me to exchange the pretty cat journal for my brand new blog:omgimfiftyblog.wordpress.com
Sending my words out there was horribly scary at first.
My parents, sister and two daughters were the only ones to read the mish-mash of musings back then.
Over time I have begun to enjoy pushing the publish button rather than dread it. I post my thoughts regularly now without worrying too much about who may be reading or what they may be thinking. I just hope that the few readers who follow me enjoy what I write and how I write it.
And I have also started participating in challenges such as the SundayScribbleChallenge hosted by one of my favourite mentors, J.A. Allen, on her sitejaallenauthor.com She has played a big role in making me feel more confident about my writing. And her weekly prompts have brought out lots of surprises from the word-cage. Words I didn’t even know were up there at all. She led me to Dan, and this first-ever guest blog post on his wonderful site is also a big confidence booster.
So would I call myself a writer today?
Yes, but I will still say it in a very quiet voice for the moment. I feel that I am simply sharpening my skills by writing so regularly these days. Hopefully, soon, those skills will be keen enough to cut through the thick ropes which have tied me down for far too long. And once they’re gone I might try to resuscitate my dead bundle of a book, then start working on another one. And who knows? Perhaps I’ll write a real best-seller next time around…
Do you too lack confidence in yourself as a writer? Please let me know…
Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Juliet is now living in a beautiful old city in the west of France.
“I turned fifty last year. Surprise mixed with joy at the realisation that although the outside has certainly changed over the years, inside I am essentially the young, joyful girl that I like to imagine I always will be.”
I agree, Juliet. Thanks for an insightful blog post.