Mr D and I just got back from a week in Portugal. Our first trip out of the country in fifteen years this was a beach, sun and food kinda week. It’s been so long because our mental fitness – and as a result, financial fitness – just wasn’t strong enough before now. Our first trip abroad since my heart transplant ten years ago, last week acted as a litmus test for more demanding holiday plans in the future.
With plentiful time by the pool and beach, my thoughts inevitably turned to my writing. A month ago I made the decision to step back from my commercial work and take a creative break. Actually, take a rest. What I needed more than anything was a rest. Following the words of more business and life coaches than I care to mention, I have been chasing around ‘achieving’ and ‘striving’ and ‘pushing boundaries’ since coming out of the starting blocks after my transplant and, quite frankly, it was getting me nowhere. Except perhaps exhausted and mentally unwell. And frustrated. And unfulfilled and purposeless. So I took the decision to take a rest. To write. Cook. Fill my time with all of the things that I never get the chance to do while I am chasing freelance ‘success’. Do a bit of bloody housework…
Anxiety is a creative block
But the writing never came. At first, I found myself doing more work, not less. Recognising a familiar pattern I made a conscious effort to put down existing work and start turning down new enquiries. Gradually, the workload petered out and I began to see the space that I had hoped for…only for my brain to go into full meltdown mode…
“AAGH WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO…YOU HAVE NO PURPOSE…WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE – TAKING TIME TO DO NOTHING…WHAT KIND OF PRIVILEGE IS THIS…WHY SHOULD YOU GET THIS WHEN OTHERS CAN ONLY DREAM OF TAKING TIME OUT…STOP BEING AN AIRY FAIRY NO GOOD AND GET BACK TO WORK…HOW DARE YOU CALL YOURSELF A WRITER…HA!”
Well, you get the drift. I was kind of looking forward to the holiday. With expectations of productivity temporarily put aside, I hoped it would give me the permission I so obviously needed to just relax and go with the flow. With very little wifi it also helped me to see that, despite making a conscious effort with social and other forms of media, I am still clogging me creative channels with a heavy diet of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s important to me to stay connected with issues that matter (poverty, inequality, climate change, the slow conversion to The Handmaid’s Tale that currently seems to be hitting America) but I need to find a way that doesn’t freak me out so much that the lump of fear in my throat stops me from finding my voice.
So here I am. At the computer, drinking the coffee we snook home in our hand luggage, in a vain attempt to capture the Laissez-faire mindset I found on holiday. Writing. Just writing. With no real marketing goal or social purpose other than to say hi, this how I have been feeling lately. Maybe you have been feeling the same?
Bit by bit I’m shedding the practical, planning, goal orientated skin of commercial writing. Just a little, I can see the fresh skin of creation hiding underneath, luminescent and fragile in the British spring sunshine. This excites me, but I worry about its survival. Perhaps my purpose for the next few months is simply to protect this new stage of growth, shield it from the expectations of a society that values nothing if it is not making money, building, moving onto the next goal with speed. Hopefully, I am shedding these expectations too, and slowly finding my way back to myself as a writer.