Tools, talking, and tradeoffs
I’ve told myself stories since I was a child. I’ve had social anxiety much of my life and I managed it by rehearsing what I wanted to say for things in advance. That turned into telling stories and talking through things I’m interested in. Though my social anxiety has improved immensely, this habit has become part of my writing process.
A couple of years ago I trialled transcription software. I think I tried three different ones, including Google’s own and, despite some persistence, decided it wasn’t for me. For one, because I talk to myself so much (out loud), I’m quite a fast talker. I found that I was having to slow down for the software and it meant that I was focusing on the wrong thing… the tool not the process. It interfered with my creativity and was a failure.
For the most part I still type out the things that I want to say. Years of playing world of warcraft as a teenager have made me a fast touch typer so there’s not much of a problem in terms of my fingers keeping up with my brain. That said, telling my story out loud means I can repeat sections until I’m happy with the wording, or how the section integrates with my story. It’s a kind of self-editing as I go along, but means I can trial certain things before I settle on them. Typing isn’t really conducive to this way of working.
I also trialled having a dictaphone I could carry around while I tell my story (I’m also a bit of a pacer). The problem that I found with that however is that I had to sit through all the different retellings of each section, and then had the transcribe it myself. While that’s fine, I felt like I was doing double the work; it didn’t feel very efficient.
So what did I settle on? Well… ultimately I realised that the way I was doing it already worked best for me after all. I’d tell the story to myself, adjusting sections as I went along, then typing it up later on.
I don’t think it was a waste of time to go through the various different options; you often don’t know something is going to work for you (or not) until you have a go. It just turned out this time I didn’t need anything I didn’t already have.
Experimentation is useful.
The world informs writing informs the world
After a holiday recently out in a cabin in the woods, I got a bit more into identifying and foraging local plants. Part of the description of myself on this blog is ‘plant mother’; my home is filled with various houseplants. My garden is a mostly wild place because I’m reluctant to remove the habitats of local birds, bugs and other fauna. During my lunch today I filled up a watering can for my greenhouse and I saw a bumblebee happily visiting the flowers of one of my mature mint plants. When so much life inhabits what’s overgrown, I find it difficult to remove it.
I’ve been trying to lose weight for a little while, without much success. I don’t have much willpower for such things, so I thought combining learning about local plants with walking would help. Where some plants and common and abundant I’ve already picked a few to press for reference cards.
On Sunday I took a walk around a local country park. It’s an historic orchard with a small lake, some woods, and wildflower meadows. As I walked round taking pictures of some of the flora, I realised that I don’t give that much thought in my writing as to the natural environment. Yes of course I’ll give descriptions to landscape etc, but I’d not thought before the depth that a more detailed view could give. I’m looking forward to trying it in my writing to see how I feel about it.
Descriptions are always a balance, although it seemed to work for some writers (looks in the vague direction of Tolkien) I doubt it would work for me to write endless amounts. Still, changing up the depth of description could bring something to it.
Writing in a way is a window into our own view of the world; what we focus on can show perhaps what’s more important to us. Some writers include lots of musical description, or food, or scent. All of these are useful, but some writers definitely are more inclined towards different areas of description. I wonder then, if writing and our focuses on writing then leak back through into the world. If we’re always writing about music because we like music, do we then listen out more to music in the world?
Perhaps, perhaps not, but I like the idea of it nevertheless.
I opened Evernote today, a program I haven’t used since I replaced it with Bear. During 2020/2021 I used to write in it a lot. Quite apart from Covid, which was ruining my mental health from being inside, I was dealing with two people close to me being seriously ill, one of whom I cared for at his end. I think it’s safe to say I suffered during those two years quite a bit.
Some things are hard to remember after time has passed. Perhaps, there’s just a faint impression of what was, but even the worst of trauma is forgotten and only replaced by this feeling or shadow of itself. Reading back over my 2/3 year old writings, I see that I had quite forgotten just how bad my mental health had got.
During that time also I had written quite a bit of fiction. Nothing substantial, just maybe one or two chapters worth of various stories I had made up in my head. On some of them I had written the names of music I had been listening to at the time. One I didn’t recognise, so looked it up, and was greeted with deep, bassy instrumental music. I think it probably reflected quite well my mental state at that time.
I had a bit of a struggling relationship to writing. I spend a lot of time thinking I don’t do it, or can’t do it, and yet I have hundreds of pages of weird things I’ve written. I have no interest in fully reliving the pain of two years of Hell, but it is a good reminder that I do actually, and can actually, write.
I’m off work next week, and I look forward to taking this revelation with me into that time, and writing something.
The wound that doesn't heal
I knew when I started writing about caring that it was going to be hard. Although it only took up four months of my life, those months were arguably traumatic. I barely slept, my eating was terrible, and I was experiencing anticipatory grief. Together, those things along with the guilt I felt any time I thought I hadn’t done enough, were a recipe for inner turmoil.
After my friend had passed, I saw someone say that grief is something that you just grow around; it never heals, you just learn to live with it.
Writing this week has felt like picking at the healing wound, and re-uncovering the grief. This book though is not just something I want to write, it’s something I feel like I have to write. Society acknowledges death exists but doesn’t talk enough about it, I feel like it is my responsibility to contribute to the conversation.
Ultimately I know that this process is always going to be hard. I hope that as time goes on and get further through that it will feel a bit easier. Perhaps exposure will blunt my feelings a bit and allow the wound to heal a bit.
Right now the sun is shining, yellow roses bloom outside my window, and birds chirp in the bushes. It’s not all pain.
First up, this is 100% a procrastination post, but in a good way (I think).
Currently I have two projects that I want to work on. The first is my fantasy novel which I started way too long ago to want to think about. Despite that, it lives rent free in my head and I’m too attached to the characters to let it go. I will finish it (I will).
The other is non-fiction. Describing it is hard because in some way it’s a bit of a ‘self-help’ book, but I feel like there’s a bit of a stigma around what that means and what they’re bought for.
In 2021 my husband and I cared for our friend who had terminal cancer. It was a long, traumatic four months, but despite that I would make the choice again. One of the biggest takeaways I had from that time was that there was so much I dealt with that I had simply no clue about. I learnt what ‘anticipatory grief’ was, when internal bleeding can be ignored, and how often you can ring nurses at night for pain relief.
The important thing about this was that it felt much like drifting on a raft on the open sea, I was making it up as I went along and there was so much I wish I had known in advance. This other book of mine is an attempt to right that for others, to write something that I would have appreciated.
I’m not sure how sensible it is to have two projects on the go, though perhaps it will actually make me more productive. I’m definitely open to hearing opinions on that one…
How did I get here?
When I first learnt that I had created a fire hazard of my eight year old MacBook Air by spilling nail varnish on it, I was mildly annoyed. Annoyed because I now needed to buy a new one (though secretly excited by that), and annoyed that I had lost some of the data I hadn’t got around to backing up. I am a bit of a clumsy person and have lost many a phone to this, though this was the first computer to pay that particular price.
It turned out though to be the jolt I needed to start writing again.
Somehow, a fresh start without most of the old file clutter helped me to mentally clear away the clutter in my own brain.
The novel I started years ago, which I stopped writing due to personal events, was suddenly back at the forefront of my mind. When I stopped writing some three years ago, the frustration of feeling like my story never made progress meant I sometimes actively tried to avoid engaging with it. Now it’s back, like an old friend or a well worn jumper, ready to engage and provide comfort again.
For the past few years I have not felt much like myself, and the expectation of putting word to page stirs some much more optimistic and positive thoughts about myself. Though I hardly expect this site to get many views, either now or even in the near future, just the act of writing is a balm to my rather ragged soul. I’ll keep on, even if it’s to a crowd of one (me).