The Wild Library: ecological learning

Experiences of writing

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

I’m speeding through Writing your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks (Second Edition) by Wendy Laura Belcher. Speeding, because as a distance student it’s a three week flexible delivery loan. I may have to purchase the book rather than post it hundreds of kilometres back and forth, otherwise I may start confusing our friendly local postman as the town librarian. I’m not sure my friendly waves turning into hailing him down to ask for search advice will be very helpful for him.

So on page 15, readers are prompted to write about “my feelings about My Experience of Writing” and to put that somewhere publically. So here I am, having an experience writing to myself about writing on a public blog that I am deliberately not promoting or sharing very widely. Beowulf levels of brave, eh?

I want to take the “writing process” seriously because I don’t have a great relationship with my writing. It emerged from having a lot of attention on my writing throughout school, and a lot of pressure about “doing something with my writing”. It’s really not that simple. When I was younger a teacher told me that for such a quiet kid, I could “raise armies” with the way I wrote at a young age. It went on from there and my writing got me attention that I never asked for, or particularly wanted. It was just out of my control and it seemed like once you wrote something, say like a poem about a witch, it gave everyone the right to read it out aloud to anyone. Once you wrote words, you lost agency.

So, my relationship issues with writing is definetely not an ego thing. It’s not that I have to be good or the best. I have zero ego and would happily be a ghostwriter (if I could be good enough) for someone who yearns and craves for the spotlight. I write because it’s like breathing. Something I have to do. I have dabbled in deliberately writing badly (back in school) to avoid the attention, but I felt like I wasn’t being my genuine self when I did that. That wasn’t the right approach and made me feel like a husk of a human, deliberately trying to deceive myself or something close to it. It was weirdly uncomfortable to sabotage myself and I don’t think I will do that again.

After high school, at a College, I won a fiction writing competition. I destroyed all copies of my work and didn’t go to the presentation because I couldn’t stand what I had written and didn’t want to have to talk about it. I have a burden of regret about that. Sometimes I think I may try to the write the story again, out of respect for the character, who didn’t deserve to be obliterated. I don’t think I will destroy any of writing again, after that experience.

I have a story, half-written that has been with me for over 16 years, but it won’t budge because I am waiting on the perfect time to write it. There is no perfect time. For all I know, my whole PhD is just another great excuse not to write this story.

I’m currently trying to rewrite my Honours thesis into an article and it’s painful to have to read and re-read my academic writing from over a year ago. Although it’s been designated a ‘first-class’ thesis, part of me still thinks that my supervisors just somehow got me over the line, knowing I was hopeful of going onto a PhD.

These days I am much better at sharing “crap” early writing with my supervisors, in fact, I did this just last week. I shared what I would gauge as a particularly dire draft zero sort of writing. A bit like this sort of writing which just pours out. I made myself share earlier that I felt was comfortable, because I know that making yourself vulnerable, in a way that feels like lying on a rock in the searing noon summer sun IS the only way to grow as a writer. I’ve read that there has to be pain with writing, and I don’t know if I am 100% on board with that narrative yet. Does writing have to hurt? If it does, must it be blistering?

I’ve gone through a process in the last few years to try to desensitise myself after a stressful experience (inner experience, something akin to an anxiety attack) the first time something I wrote was published on a non-profit organisation blog site. Since then, I have tried to routinely write publically, everywhere from non-profit blogs, my own blogs, professional book reviews as a volunteer, Goodreads … just everywhere relatively ‘safe’ to desensitise myself to having words “out there’. I’ve survived negative comments and being told I’m weird or quirky. That’s fine to me now. Putting myself into uncomfortable places has worked to a point, but there is still a real struggle going back to anything I have previously written. This is a problem in a PhD when you have to write routinely, and not just when you feel like the vibe is right for writing.

I also don’t have access to monastic silences in caves on remote Hebridean islands, or cosy writing shacks surrounded by forests and wildflowers. These were always my ideal. Writing is stolen in short blocks whenever I can, with people all around me. It’s very interruped and piecemeal. I quite often now write to music, anything from Skyrim, or Lord of the Rings to ambient nature sounds, just trying to grasp at the long lost ideal.

So my experience of writing, is a complex thing.

One day, I hope I might at least like my writing.