Friday Features: Try
‘You should be writing.’
‘You could have written more.’
‘You haven’t sent off anything since…’
Does this sound familiar, that little voice telling you AGAIN to do more? It certainly does to me. A bit like a very insistent sat-nav, but in my own voice. I tell myself I have a full-time job, and in case anyone wonders, I work as a business support officer. I ought to be kinder to myself, but then I, like many of you, will read about others out there who write around a full-time job, or look after family, who get up at five to write, or write after the rest of the household are in their beds. Then I feel lazy: why don’t I do that? It’s not because I don’t dream of writing success. I do. While it’s up to me to make my dreams come true, it’s also up to me to decide what, realistically, those dreams are and how I will achieve them. The first thing I want to say is this: “You don’t have to make the top ten bestseller list to call yourself successful, or even have the right to call yourself a writer.” I call myself a writer, and I’m not in the process of writing a novel. I do not have a regular commissioned piece for a magazine or newspaper to write. The latter is a dream I have, but I haven’t put a date on it and I won’t.
At the beginning of 2021, a writing friend, Lucy Kaufman, wrote about New Year’s resolutions but with a slightly different twist. Instead of promising to do a specific thing such as submit a short story to a different magazine each month, or eat less chocolate, you ‘find your word’ to cover your intentions. Find one word which will be your focus and guide for the coming months. Staying open to the idea that anything is possible, see where this word takes you. My word is ‘Try’, so that’s what I do. There’s an age-old piece of advice: “You’ve got to do what’s right for you.” Words I believe in, and have learnt to accept, over my 40 *clears throat* something years. That said, if I have been commissioned to write a piece of a certain length and by a specific date, then I will do that. However, day to day, as there is no date in my notebook or reminder flashing up on screen to motivate me, there are days when I feel as though I’m a tiny creature struggling uphill. Advice from writing friends comes in handy. Another tip from Lucy Kaufman, playwright and Pen to Print tutor, comes into play on such a day: “Set yourself a word target of one hundred words. You can achieve that and you will nearly always exceed it.” Very true, and in doing this I feel the sense of achievement of words down and one more small step forward. Not easy for a person with size seven feet!
Leading a recent writers’ circle workshop for Brentwood Writers’ Circle, writer Dawn Knox suggested using ‘speech to text’ as a way of writers being able to rest their eyes and still get words down. You can do this on the move using your mobile phone if it supports this method. She did it walking around her home. Or you can ‘write’ while watching the world go by from your kitchen window, or admiring the ongoing transformation of nature around you while out walking. On my phone, I was able to do it via opening an email and pressing the microphone symbol that appears to one side of the menu bar; it will come up with a message to start speaking. When you stop for more than, say, 30 seconds to a minute it will go back to the keyboard until you press the microphone again.
On the day after Dawn’s workshop, I gave this a try over the course of a walk to my local town centre, which I saved as a draft email to copy and paste into my work-in-progress later. When I did so, I discovered some nonsensical words, as Dawn had warned us there would be. Anyone know what ‘broadwood’ or ‘end bikes’ is? Thought so; I will have to edit these. What excited me was that, when I highlighted the freshly copied and pasted words, I had five hundred new words. Another step forward, and one I can easily do on a walk to the station when I commute, or walking to my high street to buy veg from the local supermarket. After all, hands-free phone conversation has been something most have witnessed when out and about for a number of years now, so no one is really going to bat an eyelid. I also have been known to use a method beloved of articles and many workshops I have enjoyed: set a timer, write for three minutes, five, ten, 15 or 20. Small steps, but steps all the same.
You might ask how my 2021 chosen word or intention ‘Try’ is going. I have submitted a few short stories to various publications and, to use a sporting analogy, every day I’m putting one word after another, I consider myself to have scored a ‘try!’
Lynda Shepherd writes short fiction and non-fiction. She occasionally tries her hand at writing poetry, and is a Pen to Print Write On! Volunteer/Ambassador for the online digest and magazine. Her words have also appeared in Ireland’s Own, Living In Havering, Essex Life, charity anthology A Great Little Gallimaufry, and she is one of the contributors for Brentwood Writers’ Circle anthology A Circle Of Words, which is part of the celebrations for the Circle’s 80th anniversary.
Connect with Lynda on Twitter: @loneshepherdess or on Instagram: @lyndaswrites
I ought to be kinder to myself, but then I, like many of you, will read about others out there who write around a full-time job, or look after family, who get up at five to write, or write after the rest of the household are in their beds. Then I feel lazy: why don’t I do that?