Like most writers, I have been sculpted by failure far more than success.
One failure in particular has always hurt me, because it was the first.
It was only tonight, here in 2020, when I was in the middle of judging a writing competition myself, that I reflected on this failure and realised it may not have been what I thought it was.
I’ll set the scene, Sophia Petrillo style. Picture it: Sicily, 1912.
Or, more accurately, picture it: Geraldton, 2000. An eleven-year-old Holden Sheppard submits a short story to a writing competition for the first time in his life. It was an original mystery/detective story in the style of Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown books I was devouring from the primary school library at the time.
I had, at this point, been actively writing in my spare time for three years. There was almost nothing emotional or powerful about…
I think I have gone to more panels than ever before at this year’s Perth Festival. That felt good.
There was a lot to see and most importantly, a lot to learn.
There was this one called the Business of being a Writer and man, there is stuff you don’t really think about when it comes to being a writer. Established authors discussed and answered questions about everything and anything to do with publishing.
I met some familiar faces as well as some new ones. Always good when that happens. We’re all on the same path albeit on different roads, of course, but we’re all generally going in the same direction.
Finding our audience, connecting with the world of writing and marking our place in this world.
If you’ve never been to a writer’s festival, I highly recommend it. No matter where you are in your journey, it is incredibly helpful and nourishing to attend something like that. It motivates you to work harder and gives you an idea of what the future might hold for you.
Funny thing to wrap your head around really. Distractions can be fun, healthy and at the same time the bane of any artist who is trying to be productive with their time. I am an artist like that, you see.
I spend my time in-between distractions and bouts of creativity. It SUCKS!
What I would love would be for me to wake up at 5am and be productive for, let’s say, six to eight hours straight. Like any normal job.
I go into my Fortress of Solitude (aka my office) and sit at my KITT-lookalike computer and type away. I have my coffee on my desk, settle in, and begin my work for the day. My work in this case being writing my current manuscript. That’s the ideal. I would work on it like you would any other job.
Except that’s not how my stupid mind works.
Okay, I’m being harsh here. But the truth is, we all work differently. I know some writers who can be laser-focused for hours on end and not be distracted at all. Now when I talk about distractions, I’m not just talking about opening your internet browser and checking the latest social media posts or watching videos on YouTube, I’m also talking about writing a paragraph of your manuscript and then pausing to stare into space for 15 minutes or more.
I would think up a scene, write up 45% of it and then get carried away in my thoughts with the emotions and the scene and NOT write the damn thing. Half an hour would pass before I know it and then frustration kicks in because
I try to re-create what I was thinking but I have lost the feeling. It’s gone. Dissipated into thin air.
Like right now.
Seriously, five minutes passed since I wrote that last paragraph. How insane is that? But that’s me. That’s how my mind works. I might have a condition or I might just be built that way. I don’t know. But here’s a little positive nugget for you if you’re in the same situation as me:
I can still finish a manuscript.
I know because I have finished short stories before. I have finished full-length novels before. I can still get to that damn scary finish line. It just takes a bit of time. But you know what else?
The more I write, the more I purposefully sit at my desk to iron out my writing practice, the better I get at getting back into writing.
Take this blog post for example, it is close to 10PM and I decided to write this on a bit of a whim. I thought to myself: Dude, you have not written much today, how about you write a blog post? Do it. Do it now. Don’t think about it.
Just freakin’ do it.
And here I am now, wrapping up this post. I can be extremely harsh on myself and I can often allow self-doubt plague the hell out of me but ultimately I want to write. I want to write stories and share them and I need to remember that, even on my awful days.
So, if you are in the same situation where you don’t think you can do it, shake it off and remember why you do what you do. Boil it down to the one sentence, to the one mantra you can recite to yourself when things get bleak.
I want to be more productive with my writing and with my time dedicated to writing. This is why I do the #5AMWritersClub on Twitter, this is why I set-up my Fortress of Solitude and this is also why I write blog posts. No matter what, I want to write something, anything, at least once per day. Whether it is to progress my manuscript or to dig into my mind and figure out what the hell I want to say.
I want to be better.
I’ll keep working hard at it and know that hard work always pays off.
There were happy and awesome moments scattered throughout this past decade (marrying my husband was the #1 best moment of the decade and of my life 🥰) but I had dismissed my dreams in order to do what I thought was right. So for years I was in limbo, feeling like I would never achieve what I dreamt of achieving when I was a kid.
In 2019, I had turned my life around by that point.
Changed a lot of things starting with becoming the best version of me that I could. I stopped eating my feelings and instead focused on going for my dreams. I focused on my writing and gave time to my dreams. I have now started making videos on YouTube, doing radio on a weekly basis, been published in an anthology, won a mentorship and a fellowship, read my work on stage at The Wheeler Centre and I still have a lot I want to do. Now I feel happy because I am doing what I’m meant to be doing. It’s only the beginning, baby! 🤩
I spent too much of my life not being kind to myself and not listening to my heart.
Not going to silence myself ever again.
I’ll achieve my dreams, I’ll work damn hard at it! 😁🤘
Over the past weekend, there was a series of events called ‘Side Walks’. It was organised by Centre For Stories (www.centreforstories.com) and as a Hot Desk Fellowship winner, I was invited to participate. I was on a panel discussion.
Was it smooth sailing from start to finish?
No, it wasn’t.
Okay, so the no is more about myself rather the event itself. The event went without a hitch. Great venue, loads of people in attendance and we had an awesome conversation.
The no is more about me warding off my personal demons right up to the very second that I began speaking at the event. Here’s the thing: the book I chose was The Shining by the one and only Stephen King. Odd choice, you might think?
Let me quickly tell you: this book is more than just a horror story. It is a story of heart, of honesty and above all else, a story about love shining through even the most monstrous clouds. If you haven’t read it, go ahead and do it. You won’t regret it. There’s a reason why this novel is celebrated like it is.
And no, it is nothing like the film.
But anyway, back to warding off personal demons. One of the reasons I loved this book was because it taught me that doubt, fear, self-loathing, flaws are all part of us, of who we are as humans.
Some of us are able to deal with those things with relative ease whereas others, like myself, often have trouble dealing with them on a daily basis.
For the purpose of this little blog post, I will focus on the main thing that plagued me right up to the panel discussion. I was plagued by the thought that I was not good enough, not smart enough, not interesting enough to be part of something like that.
Self-doubt is always there but quite often it rears its ugly head at the worst possible time.
It took me a long time to be able to deal with this sort of stuff. I focus on myself and focus on what makes me happy. While this disgusting storm was raging in my head, I listened to my heart. It reminded me of how much I loved sharing with others, how much being a storyteller mattered to me and how incredible it was to be surrounded by people who cared about stories and how powerful they could be. How life-changing they could be.
By doing that, the ugly thoughts dissipated and I could enter the conversation with passion and no holds barred.
The event was about a book that changed our lives. The book that came to my mind straight away was Stephen King’s masterpiece. The Shining made me cry. The first book to do so. It made me see that no matter how dark things can get in your head, there is always hope and there is always light. Nothing stays dark forever. As sappy as it sounds: love truly shines through everything. No matter how much those personal demons take over, no matter how much power you think they have, there is always a spark amidst the darkness.
A spark that can ignite a flame bright enough to shine through all the bullshit those demons try to spew at you.
I love being a writer. I love being called a writer. I love sharing my thoughts with people. We all have something to say if we allow ourselves to do so.
Being part of an event like this made me really happy.
I saw that quote recently and fell in love with it. It is such a great way to look at writing. I know the quote talks about painting but you can adapt it to anything creative really. Writing can be such a daunting task on its own but it’s even worse when you start comparing your work to other published authors.
I do that all the fucking time. Like, honestly, I know very well that comparing yourself to others is a black hole from which you might never come out of. It has frozen me in the past, it has haunted me, beaten me to a bloody pulp and left me for dead. Almost. But man, that is not where you want to be.
I mean, sure, it is bound to happen that when you read a novel, you might think, ‘Holy shit! How did that even come to him?’ I often do that when I read a Stephen King novel. The man never ceases to amaze me with his choice of words, description or plot. There’s a reason why he’s my idol in the writing world. But then I often fall prey to the inevitable, ‘I’ll never be like him. I suck.’
Yep. Horrible thought that can cause an avalanche effect and bury me alive.
But, don’t worry, there’s a positive outlook incoming.
I did survive all these thoughts. I did get back up on my feet and hobbled over to the writing desk. Why? Because it is in my fucking blood to write. It is who I am. As a whole, I am a creative being. I never stop creating. It can be overwhelming but it is who I am.
Writing is where I feel free and where there is no limit to what I can do.
So, it does not matter that sometimes I doubt my talent, my skill, but it does matter when I allow dark unreasonable thoughts take over. I feel those feelings but then carve them into a ball and kick it away from me. Fuck you dark thoughts!
I am a writer and I will bloody fucking write! You just watch!
I get fired up. I get passionate. Because if I am not going to be passionate and fired up about something as important as this, then life will be a miserable time on earth. Writing. Creating. It brings me utter joy and even though it is hard work, it makes me happy.
So! To those dark thoughts, to that voice that often speaks up against me? I say this: I will silence you. I will silence you by writing. You will never stop me.
I am starting my Hot Desk Fellowship at the Centre For Stories. What’s that you might ask? Well, it is an opportunity for writers to have a dedicated space for their creative work. You also get opportunities to attend events, workshops, etc.
When I was told I had won it, I was gobsmacked. It came at the right time though. I’ve been having a lot of ideas but there was always something happening. Something that required my attention.
I was getting distracted.
I have a space at home for my creative work but it can be difficult sometimes to motivate myself to stick to just the one thing for the day or even for a couple of hours. My mind is always racing with ideas and I sometimes can’t focus.
With this Hot Desk Fellowship, on top of all the cool things that come with it, I get a place where I have to focus. It’s a lovely open space with light and books around. Ca me donne envie, mais tellement! When I’m using some French you know I’m pretty hyped up! That little thing means that where I am right now is making me want to work.
I often write up some scenes as a warm-up before getting deep into a work-in-progress (novel or short story). I guess every writer has his own quirks when it comes to his craft. So today instead of writing a mock scene, I thought I would write some words about this fellowship.
I aim to be super productive today.
Get something meaty done so I can feel a sense of accomplishment. The good thing is that there are other people too here. There’s a girl across the room from me who also won the Hot Desk Fellowship. We are both working on our own thing and in silence but there’s this common creative energy in the air and that’s just fucking awesome.
But anyway, time to finish this off and get to work on my WIP. I am super excited for it as it is one of those stories that seem to want to pour out of me. This is good.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Perth’s Centre For Stories and the many amazing things they do, check out their website at centreforstories.com.
I don’t know about you but when I read, I tend to space out. A lot.
I’m the kind of reader who can burn through a whole chapter but then spend two hours on the first page of another chapter. It usually happens when a word or a particular line triggers an idea in my head and without meaning to, the idea rolls on with or without me having much say in it.
This is one of the reasons I love reading. The first reason is of course for enjoyment and for escapism, like a lot of readers out there. But the other reason is the way a story can lead me to another story of my own.
The thing is the ideas that do form in my head often have no link whatsoever to what I am reading at the time. Reading is, in essence, a gateway to my own creative space. That’s some deep stuff right there but it is the truth.
A writer needs to read. It’s an old thing but it is a true thing.
My imagination and creativity are nourished through various means but one of the biggest slices of said nourishment comes from reading. If anything, to be taken on a voyage in another writer’s story is an experience in itself.
You admire what others do and sometimes you find out what you wouldn’t do as a writer.
That’s the beauty of it as well, sometimes you read a story and you think to yourself ‘I wouldn’t have done it like that.’ Just because it works for one writer does not mean it will work for all writers. Reading helps shape your craft and it gets you closer to where you’re meant to be.
There are authors you connect with more than any other authors. I know I often pick up a book just because I know I like the way that particular author writes. The story might not be the best but the writing will carry me through.
Then there are writers you stumble upon who make you wish you never met them in the first place.
Does this mean it was a waste of time to read their work? Of course not.
Because even from these books that do not connect with me, I learn a lot. For example I could be reading a description in a story and I would think, ‘Damn, that’s an awful lot of time to spend describing a brick in the wall. Eesh! Not doing that. Ever.’
I love reading, especially when it makes me space out because that space is a great place to be. I feel alive in that space. I love how words can cause such a range of reactions from me. From all parts of me. From the reader to the writer while not forgetting the child who loved reading all the stories in the school library.
I wish I had more time to do more things. I like to invest time into whatever I do. I can spend hours editing a scene or a video. It’s not that I suck at time management, it is simply how it is. I cannot take shortcuts because then it would lessen the quality of my work. So how to deal with this?
How do I not go crazy over the fact that the clock is continuously ticking and I’m always feeling like I’m playing catch-up?
It takes getting used to. I have stopped thinking I can outsmart time or even beat it. I can be more efficient with it but I cannot pretend to defeat it. So now I run with it and too bad if it seems like I’m lagging behind. Truth is as long as I know how I do spend that time, then it’s all good. I have created a balance in my creative work so that I am equally invested in all of my endeavours as such.
I am always writing something, even bits and pieces of scenes or ideas, I am always writing. Even when I play games, I use that to produce videos for my YouTube channel. No time is wasted when it comes to my creativity. I also remember to switch off and zone out with a book (as in reading for pleasure and nothing else) or in front of the TV.
Only a year ago, I was always in a constant state of panic because I kept thinking I was running out of time to do what I wanted.
How was I going to achieve all of my goals and ambitions in the time that I have? It was torture. I was torturing myself every day. I felt guilty whenever I did something that had no connection to my dreams.
Now I know that time does not care and does not have a personal vendetta against me.
The clock keeps on ticking but it is up to me to decide how I interpret the seconds going by. I am not panicked anymore. I am motivated. Motivated to use the time that I have to feel super awesome about what I do. I am grateful for the fact that I do have time to do the things I want to do. Will I achieve everything that I want? Will I realise all of my ambitions?
It’s funny how quickly you don’t realise how much work you put into something. I have been going non-stop with my creative side that I forgot to take a breath and take time for myself.
Life has a way to make you see these things when you can’t seem to do it on your own.
I went back home to Mauritius for a few days this past week and it has been great. It was my Mum’s birthday and I wanted to be there to celebrate it with her (as opposed to talking via Skype). I’m glad I did because it was an awesome celebration.
At the same time, I went back home with the idea of not going anywhere. I wanted to chill at my childhood home. I didn’t know how much good it would do me though. I actually felt my batteries recharge over time. I went to the gym every morning and enjoyed Mauritian food throughout the day. It was great!
I also enjoyed gaming and lost myself in a Japanese Role-Playing world. I felt like I did back when I was on summer holidays in high school. The only thing I had to worry about was how to spend my free time. I did not think about work or anything like that while in Mauritius.
And much like when I was in France and Italy for my honeymoon, my creativity seemed to replenish itself. I felt joy at being in my homeland and remembered the moments that made me who I am today and why I chose the path I am now on.
There was something in the air that made me reflect on how far I have come.
Once the trip was over, I felt the excitement to get back to writing, recording and just being creative. I know it’s healthier to take a break from time to time but it’s easy to forget that when you’re doing things you love. They don’t seem like work and therefore you keep at it, not even thinking of burnout and whatnot.
This year has been a crazy ride so far and it’s not over yet. I have my Hot Desk Fellowship starting at Centre for Stories and I am getting hyped for my first ever panel. Oh, and the interview I did for Liminal Magazine should be coming out pretty soon too. Onwards and upwards.