When Words Fail Me

‘But, Chris,’ Si, my son-in-law, tells me gently, ‘it’s only you who thinks that way.’ We’re sitting at the kitchen table where I’ve been moaning away about my professional disappointments in 2014 and awarding myself a Could Do Better grade for my efforts. ‘Anyone else would be pleased to have just one novel published - ever – you’re just comparing yourself to others in a very small circle.’

I’ve thought about our ‘turning of the year’ conversation a lot since then because it helped me to see that the only person giving me a hard time, is me. Some of it’s due to panic; I’ve had several writing projects in mind and started them only for my Inner Critic to rise up and savage them. Some of it’s due to a sudden urge to put everything in order, a frenzied outbreak of cupboard tidying as if I’m trying to create a sense of calm so I can concentrate in peace. And a lot of it’s because I’ve been ill, in pain, busy with other commitments, worried about other people, irritable and feeling generally burn-out.

What to do? I hate anything I perceive as wasting time, but even I’ve had to admit that sometimes you just have to stop and refill the well. Firstly I’ve tried not to think about writing, but to do lots of reading. And while I’m on the subject of books, two I particularly enjoyed at the tail end of last year, were Helen Macdonald’s beautiful, obsessive H is for Hawk and Henry Marsh’s troubling and unflinching Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. I’ve listened to new (to me) music including Ben Howard and Grey Reverend. I’ve been able to go out running again (hurray) and we’ve also taken time simply soaking up the views along this quiet, unique coastal strip.

The first sign that I might not entirely have forgotten how to write came when my publishers asked for volunteers to contribute to a series of very short stories, based on the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas, to be given away as post-Christmas treats. After several days of wringing my hands over ‘Four Calling Birds’, the alchemy suddenly happened and my characters came to me as if I was watching a film. And then one of the projects I’ve had in mind started interrupting my sleep and demanding attention. In some ways I dread the hard work, the long hours, the madness of characters taking over my head, but the compensation is a visceral thrill, which I can’t compare with anything else, when the first stirrings of a novel feel right. So now to the long road ahead and brave new words!

Many thanks, Amey, for the inspirational glass pictured above.  I look forwards to reaching The End!


Liz Harris said…
Get writing, Chris, and write quickly. I can't wait to read your next novel.

Liz xx
Chris Stovell said…
Aw! Thank you, Liz! I'm on it... Cx
How totally I identify with the overwhelmed and burnt out sense, the worrying about other people, the feeling of no head space. Oddly I have found that the last ten days or so when Ian has been ill and I have been nursing and confined to the house have really helped. I too have had a strong urge to tidy and sort and reduce the amount of stuff and find room to breathe. It is happening, slowly, that sense of the view opening up again. I am glad you are writing again, both for you and, eventually for me when I read it!
Karen Aldous said…
Lovely piece Chris! Sounds like you needed that recharge!! Hope all is flowing now!
Flowerpot said…
Oh I think we all get that Chris! It's being able to recognise when it's time to step back and recharge, isn't it? I'm just the same. But so glad you are back fired up - really looking forward to reading the next one! xx
Chris Stovell said…
I try never to wish time away, Elizabeth, but by the end of last year I longed for the fresh start that a new year represents for me. Like you, I can feel it opening up - now all I have to do is hang on to that feeling and not close down again. Thank you for your encouragement.

Thank you, Karen, I just felt frazzled. If not exactly flowing, a slow 'drip, drip' has begun!

It is, Sue, it's hard when you're in the midst of it all to accept that it's time to take a break. It's only when you've done so that you realise how essential it is. Thank you! Cx
Frances said…
Ahh Chris, although I am not a writer, I do recognize much of what you describe in this post.

It can be a very good moment when we give ourselves a rest break and a fresh start. How wonderful it can be to have a new idea or enthusiasm emerge!

Pondside said…
I recognise that urge to tidy and create order - not unlike what happens to women when birth is imminent. That need to make everything calm and orderly in anticipation of the work ahead. No surprise that you are harder on yourself than anyone else - it shows in your work. I hope the muse is kind to you and doesn't interrupt your sleep every night! A daytime muse is a good thing!
Jane Lovering said…
Ah, you too have been visited by the Procrastination Goblins! Horrible little things that can only be chased off by reading books full of other people's words. I hope you have your writing mojo back now - we are out here, waiting for your words!
CL Taylor said…
Funnily enough I spent most of last week tidying the house instead of writing. Apparently it was urgent (in my head!). Refilling the creative well is definitely the way to go if you're feeling blocked.x
Chris Stovell said…
But Frances, every blog you write, show you are a writer, artist, craftswoman, photographer... and reading your posts is one way I can refill my creative well. Thank you. xx

Thank you, Pondside, I'm going to ask my use to be a bit kinder and keep to daylight hours - waking me up at 4 am with good ideas is cruel because I forget half of them by the time I'm at my desk! I'm fascinated that so many of us are busily clearing the clutter in anticipation of the next project! (And yes, I remember, all those years ago, doing it before the girls were born!)

It's one of the compensations, isn't it Jane, that reading is one of the cures for not being able to write! Thanks for the encouragement!

Cally, I'm hoping it's a good omen for me that you've had a decluttering session too - your 2014 was phenomenal. I wish you every success in 2015 too.
Clare Chase said…
I do hope this year treats you gently, Chris; what you’ve been doing to recharge your batteries sounds really sensible. I absolutely loved your Four Calling Birds story – so much atmosphere and feeling – definitely a treat!
Chris Stovell said…
Thank you so much, Clare and for your kind words about my short. Writing that really helped boost my confidence again - always the lurking fear that I'll never be able to write again!
We're always so harsh on ourselves. I'm so glad your well of ideas is flowing again. And if it isn't don't worry. Something will come.

By the way, the short story was brilliant. :)
Chris Stovell said…
Thank you so much for that, Chanpreet - that's a great way to get me writing now! x

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