PERSEVERANCE FOR THE WIN

Last month, I spent four solid weeks editing and rewriting seven chapters of my work in progress. These chapters formed the bulk of my submission to the FAWWA Emerging Writers Program.

When I decided to enter, I didn’t know that my body was launching a covert operation. It piled extra illness on top of my usual health problems. You know the saying, ‘the spirit is willing…’? My flesh was weak in capital letters.

My September challenge reminded me that perseverance is crucial to every version of success that exists.

 

THE STARTING LINE

Fed up with having to always put my body’s needs first (and in doing so, sacrificing my dreams) I knew I had to fight and fight hard, for what I wanted. Trading my ill body for a new, healthy one wasn’t an option (dammit). I had to do the best I could with what I had or miss out.

For well over a year, I’d been longing for a writing win. All my concerted efforts had not earned me any gold stars. Rejections hadn’t affected my habit of getting the work done and out there, but they made me feel a little depressed.

At the starting line, I was completely done with the miasmic feeling of failure that hung over my head. I had to be in the running for the Emerging Writers Program and the only way I’d be considered is if I ran the race alongside everyone else. Shaky, I pulled my running shoes on.

 

RUNNING MY OWN RACE

With a pressing timeline and poor health, I couldn’t afford to entertain the notion of quitting. I had to ignore perfectionism and comparison and keep looking straight ahead to the finish line. I knew that if I glanced sideways, I would fall and not get up again.

Through migraines, low-grade fevers, chest pain and many other symptoms, I held onto perseverance with all I had. Perseverance was the rope I hung onto that dragged me toward the finish line. My beta-readers backed me up and pushed from behind.

 

THE FINISH LINE

I grazed my knees the last hundred metres but my sweaty, rope-burned hands were locked on perseverance.

Finally, after four long weeks, I found myself touching the finish line. By that stage, my body was protesting loudly and I could no longer ignore it.

I hit the submit button, let go of my perseverance rope and promptly fell in a messy heap of victory.

 

WINNER

The experience illustrated to me yet again that perseverance is essential, regardless of your goals or what shape your difficulties take. Nobody breezes to the finish line. Nobody. No matter how unattainable a goal seems, or how giant your obstacles look, you will make it if you just hang onto perseverance.

Winning a place in the FAWWA Emerging Writers Program would be a dream come true. If I miss out, I’ll feel disappointed for a while but then I’ll realise it doesn’t matter because I know I did my absolute best with what I had. I ran the race and crawled over the finish line – I reached my goal. I’ll call myself a winner because I persevered until my entry was complete.

When I’m strong enough to get up and sprint again, I know perseverance will be there to steadfastly pull me to success. But for now, it’s time to switch gears after a month of bloody hard work and sickness. Now it’s time to get some rest so I can last the crazy writing journey marathon.

 

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WADING INTO LIFE WRITING

 

I know there’s at least one thing I’m meant to do with my life: write.

I’ve always said that one day, I’ll write a memoir – for myself and for others who suffer with invisible illness.

 

THE RIGHT TIME

For many years, I avoided writing my story. It felt too big, too hard. I wasn’t ready. I focussed on writing fiction in short story form and worked at developing my writing skills. Yes, a form of procrastination but also a valuable use of my time. I learned a lot and my writing improved.

This year, during a period of reassessing goals and making new ones, I realised that my vague, ‘one day’ attitude had been holding me back. I had to make a start on writing a memoir. It felt like the right time. (If not now, when?)

 

WAKE UP CALL

These realisations jolted me as if a bucket of freezing water had been poured on my head. The project felt mammoth and I worried about failing to cope with the emotional heaviness that would inevitably come from writing about my past. I feared the unknowns I might find at the bottom of the pool.

There were so many ‘buts’ and ‘what ifs’. I felt clumsy at writing nonfiction, having spent years writing fiction. I didn’t know how to tackle the project. I didn’t know how to ‘life write’.

 

NURTURING SEEDS OF SELF-BELIEF

For years, I believed that my voice didn’t matter because my life experience was one of feeling unheard and invalidated. Will anyone listen to me now when they haven’t before? Who will even care to read my story?

With an unsure voice, I shared that I was thinking about starting a memoir with a few trusted friends. Most responses were validating and encouraging.

Buoyed, and certain it was time to start writing a memoir, my packet of self-doubt-seeds morphed into saplings of self-belief. I was finally able to say, ‘It’s time. It’s important I write my story. I’m here to write my story.’ I felt these things deep in my gut.

Today, I hold these saplings close to my heart and protect them with crossed arms. I water them and hope they will grow bigger, stronger.

I realised that this is my life so this is my story. I own it so I have the right to tell it. My voice is important.

 

FALLING INTO THE DEEP END

I waded in, like an insecure teenager faking confidence, by enrolling in The Centre for Stories Life Writing course in Perth, run by Rosemary Stevens – a huge commitment for me, living three hours south with multiple health issues to manage and a family to look after.

I didn’t expect the first session to spring board me straight into the deep end. I hadn’t brought my floaty!

The class exercise prompted me to write about one of my earliest childhood experiences of rejection. This, with multiple other triggers heaped on top, pushed me into a Borderline Personality spiral. I’m ashamed to say that, in a very bad headspace, I ended up at Bunbury A&E.

At that point, I felt like I’d made the wrong choice to step out in faith and start my memoir. A mocking voice yelled inside my head: ‘See, you can’t do this. You’re too weak.’

A week later, I managed to haul myself out of the deep end, dry myself off, put on some fresh clothes and get to the next Life Writing class. And I’m glad I stuck with it because I’m learning so much from a wonderful teacher and supportive peers.

 

ANTAGONISTS

When you set out to do a thing you know in your bones you’re meant to do, you sometimes get stalked by evil and laid out flat. You have to gather your wits, pull yourself up and fight demons in order to move forward. This is often what happens for me. I stand up, convinced a thing is what I’m meant to be doing then wham!I’m floored by claws ripping down my back.

I’m still dealing with chronic illness and I’m still working on overcoming a borderline personality disorder. I’m still working through events from my past that scarred me. The difference now is that I’m choosing not to let these difficulties stop me from writing my story.

I’m trembling but I’m doing it anyway.

 

SO OFTEN, GETTING PUBLISHED IS NOT THE POINT

Deep down, I know that writing a memoir is going to be a source of healing for me. I’ve decided that if healing is the sole outcome of writing my story, it is enough.

Getting published is not the point – that’s a whole other story. I can’t afford to think about who’s going to read my story, and all the people I’m going to offend, or I won’t be able to write from the heart. (I’ll have to think about others after the first draft is complete.)

If my memoir gets published (added bonus!), I hope it will give a voice to others unheard who have struggled with life in similar ways to me.

 

ONWARD

I’m going to write this memoir slowly and with a care for my heart and brain. If the memories get too much, I will stop and be kind to myself – give myself a break.

I’ll nurture my self-belief saplings.

It may take me ten years to write this memoir, but how long doesn’t matter. The important thing is I’m on my way.

Who knows what my future holds. All I have is now: today. And today I will write my story.

 

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DON’T TELL ME YOU’RE OCD, UNLESS YOU REALLY ARE

 

These days, saying you’re ‘OCD’ about something is common. I’ve heard mentally stable people say offhandedly that they’re ‘OCD’ about something more times than I can count and you probably have too. The phrase has become a thoughtless verbal trend.

 

THERE’S A DIFFERENCE

Being detailed and particular about how you like a certain thing is completely different to suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Psychologists say that OCD should not be confused with idiosyncrasies and preferences. ‘OCD is often misunderstood as a disorder that simply means being overly detailed or perfectionistic.’ 

OCD often originates from an inability to emotionally process a difficult experience. It is not a choice but an utterly debilitating anxiety disorder. OCD is not a term to be used lightly, in casual conversation.

 

ME: OCD

I had several emotionally difficult challenges the year I turned eight years old. My inability to cope with everything that was going on in my world led me to develop OCD.

It took me a long time to get ready for school each morning. I believed that my ponytail had to be perfect, my matching socks had to be exactly the same height and my shoelaces had to be the exact same length on each side – tied perfectly the same as my other shoe.

At school, my handwriting and colouring had to be perfect and so I wrote and coloured very slowly. I often had to start over again because I believed my work wasn’t good enough – I couldn’t handle even a shadow of imperfection.

After school, I’d sniff my hands to check for smell and then wash them to make sure they weren’t dirty, repeating the process as I did my homework, until it was time to have a bath that night.

I spent hours and hours with these obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. They went around in a never-ending circle, day in, day out. I drove my family nuts.

 

‘…the invasive can kind of take over, crowding out all other thoughts until it’s the only one you’re able to have, the thought you’re perpetually either thinking or distracting yourself from.’ Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

 

Even as a child, I knew my thought spirals and compulsive behaviours weren’t normal but I couldn’t stop. I felt trapped. The unwanted thoughts about what I should do, even though I didn’t want to do them, kept coming. I was haunted by obsession.

My world made me anxious. I felt powerless. OCD put me in a cage where it was just me and the obsessions. It was a torturous kind of safety. If I didn’t achieve these obsessive perfections, I’d break down in a fit of frustration.

 

AND THEN…

Year by year, OCD slowly loosened its hold on me. Perhaps because physical illness took over my life and there wasn’t much room for anything else. Or perhaps because I maladapted in another way by developing Borderline Personality Disorder.

Today, I technically don’t suffer from OCD because my behaviour is no longer compulsive but I still do, sometimes, have to fight off a barrage of OCD thoughts.

Many OCD sufferers aren’t so lucky and don’t manage to grow out of it. They live lives of almost constant mental torture.

 

OUR JOB IS TO BE SENSITIVE

I’m hopeful that with an increase in mental health awareness, the careless trend of people saying they’re ‘OCD’ about something might fizzle out.

Let’s not, in any way, belittle people with OCD. Their suffering is real. Let’s speak about OCD with the sensitivity and respect it deserves. I believe we owe OCD sufferers, at the very least, this one small courtesy.

Remember: ‘We all may have strange idiosyncrasies such as avoiding bath sponges, organizing our closet by colour and pattern, or refusing to touch the restroom door in public, but these habits should not be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Thank you for caring enough to read this post,

Jodie x

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My top 10 tips for young writers

 

  1. Read a lot and read widely

Reading is the most important thing for a writer. You learn how to write well by reading good writing. Great writers are first great readers.

 

  1. Write what interests you, not what you think other people want to read

Write for yourself first, others second. If you don’t care about your subject, your reader won’t either (you need the reader to care or they won’t want to keep reading your story). Write the story you want to read.

 

  1. Make sure your characters have defined goals

Your characters have to want something so much that they seek to get that something. This makes your character active. Passive characters are boring and don’t make for good stories.

 

  1. Be mean

Your story has to have conflict or it won’t work. Give your characters the hardest problems you can think up, then make them even worse. Your characters need to face difficulties on the journey toward their goal.

 

  1. Get accountable

If you can, find a supportive writing buddy to set goals with. Spur each other on.

Closing dates for competitions are a great motivation to get your story finished. Enter as many as you can. The more practice you get at finishing your stories, the better you will write. And the bonus is that you just might win a prize.

P.S. You will get rejections – many of them – this is normal. There are many reasons why your work will get rejected but the important thing to remember is that rejections do not mean your writing is bad.

 

  1. Get help

You might need information about something you’re writing that you have no idea about. Be brave. Ask an expert.

You’ll need feedback on your stories from someone further up the writing ladder than you (sometimes, judges give competition entrants helpful feedback). You need feedback in order to improve your writing. Be brave. Ask someone you can trust who will be kind but honest.

 

  1. Give yourself permission to write a shockingly terrible first draft

Think of your favourite author. Got it? Right. Let me tell you a secret – that amazing author, whose work you love, writes terrible first drafts just like you. Awesome, right?

Get the words down, however they come out. Then you at least have something to work with and improve upon. If you let perfectionism stop you from getting a first draft done, all you’ll have is a blank page (or a very unfinished story at best).

 

  1. Don’t trash your stories

If you’re frustrated with a story that you can’t seem to get right or you’ve lost enthusiasm for, put it in a mental drawer and let it simmer in the back of your mind.

Your brain loves to solve creative problems for you when it’s given the opportunity. You just might get a brainwave. Then, when you open up your story again, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to wrangle it into better shape.

The important thing is that you go back to your story and try again. And again. And again. Good writing is rewriting. Every writer who produces great work has rewritten and edited their work until their eyes have bled (not literally, but you know what I mean).

 

  1. Get awesome at writing when it feels REALLY hard

Writing is a very difficult job. If you don’t write when it’s hard, you’ll never develop the stickability needed to finish your stories. Learn to face the page no matter how you feel. Don’t wait to feel inspired. Inspiration will come as you write.

 

  1. Don’t give up on yourself

Feeling disheartened is a normal emotion for a creative. Every one of us, at different points in our writing, feel like what we’ve written is absolute rubbish. And we sometimes feel like we are rubbish and not a real writer at all.

Get okay with this and don’t let it determine whether you will or won’t continue to write. Speak kindly to yourself, get up, brush off the disappointment and try again. Never give up and I promise you, you will succeed.

 

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Sometimes, Success Sucks

I often wonder why our world is so full of unrelenting standards – the expectation that we must do more, have more, be more.

Society teaches us from a young age that surpassing the bar set for us is a worthy pursuit. By the time we’re adults, the bar is set so high that we’re struggling to even touch it with one finger.

 

SUCCESS = HAPPINESS

I was an over-achiever all through my school years. My personality type, need for approval and inability to cope with life at a deep emotional level drove me to drown myself in relentless study. I believed that if I was successful, I would be happy and everyone around me would be happy too. The world told me: success = happiness and I didn’t question this until later in life.

Many influential adults gave me extra attention, affirmations and rewards when I excelled. So I drove myself to reach further and higher. When I excelled, I gained more than just approval and praise, I gained self-esteem and a sense of belonging. I gained entry to an invisible, elite club of which there were few members. It felt good.

For a girl who always felt inadequate and alone, over-achieving bandaged my wounds. By the time I reached my twenties, these bandages started unravelling. I discovered that success didn’t buy happiness at all; not the deep, lasting kind. I had believed a lie.

 

RETROSPECT

Now in my thirties, I look back and can see that the encouragement to excel, though wonderful, wasn’t what I needed most.

More than anything, I needed a break. I needed to be told that I was allowed to rest my chronically ill body and struggling brain. And I needed to have a social life.

I needed to know that failing was 100% okay; that my future was secure not because of achievement but because of everything I had inside me.

I needed to believe that ‘passing’ was enough. I needed to be told that, regardless of the standard of my work, I was enough for who I was, not for what I achieved.

 

WORTH BASED ON ACHIEVEMENT

I feel angry that my son is growing up in a world that says his worth is based on what he achieves, not on who he is.

Maybe it’s time to stop praising over-achieving children without a second thought. Maybe it’s time to scratch the surface and understand what’s going on in a person’s life (child or adult) and learn if, underneath, they’re coping.

Maybe it’s time to stop idolising success.

 

CHANGING OUR VIEW

What if we managed to redefine success? What if we lowered the bar, just a little?

What if we defined success as simply ticking off the basics and doing them well?

Would this be the antidote to pushing ourselves too hard, too far, too often?

Would we feel less like we’re failing all the time and more like we’re winning? Would we start to feel like we’re enough?

 

WISHFUL THINKING

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s great that we celebrate each other’s achievements. I’m all for praise and encouragement where it’s due. We all have dreams we want to see fulfilled and most of us have to work hard to get there. We all need to feel good about reaching goals, or we wouldn’t bother to achieve anything.

But how can we have a ‘one rule fits all’ mentality in this current age of diversity? The fact is we all have limitations that hold us back (both physical and mental).

I wish the world would reflect this reality – this diversity – and that it would portray success accurately by celebrating its many varied forms. I wish the world would stop propagating the epitomes of success; stop pushing standards that are improbable classifications of success.

 

MILLIMETRES & METRES

Our problem is not with failing or fear of failure, like we have been led to believe. Our problem is the definition and measure of success that’s been spoon-fed to us (and we’ve swallowed whole).

What if we made a world where success was measured by kindness? That would be fair. Everyone has the ability to think and act kindly.

What if success was simply being the best you could be at any given moment – that would be fair. What if every other achievement was just a bonus; a cherry on top?

What if we recognised the small, daily wins and celebrated those as ‘success’? Maybe then, every one of us might be considered successful.

What if success was just a word, not pregnant with cultural beliefs and expectations?

I think that could change our lives.

 

 

 

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Hi and Welcome to my new site

You’ll find some Motion and Musings cobwebs here but you’ll also find some shiny new content. Feel free to let me know what you think.

Click on the ‘Bio’ link in the menu bar under my site banner if you want to read a brief description about me and what I blog about.

Click the ‘Follow Me’ link in the menu bar under my site banner if you want to enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Or, follow me in your WordPress reader or on social media.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by and another thank you on top if you have subscribed to my site.

I look forward to seeing you around,

Jodie

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Confessions of a Bibliophile #2

A year ago today, my husband joked that I couldn’t possibly stop myself from buying books. I told him I could… if I really wanted to. Our light-hearted argument ended in a bet – that I would refrain from buying books for an entire year. I had a point to prove. I was totally in control of my penchant for buying more books than I could read… wasn’t I?

I started out strong on my marathon of willpower and didn’t buy a single book for four months. I started using the library (what a novel idea!), borrowed books from friends and took books from my own shelves that I’d been meaning to read for a long time. Friends and family sent me books for my birthday in March and this also helped.

Then one morning in May, I drove to an unfamiliar library (to write) and walked straight into a book sale! I felt betrayed; libraries weren’t supposed to sell books!

I couldn’t help myself – I browsed. I thought, ‘I won’t buy anything, I’ll just have a quick look.’ Uh oh. Don’t look at candies in the window, unless you’re prepared to buy them. I convinced myself that I’d never find these books, in such excellent condition (for only $1!) ever again.

My husband raised his eyebrows. I told him this book-buying splurge didn’t really count – I was sabotaged!

I wiped the slate clean and continued my marathon of willpower… until October, when I was sent an online book voucher. I couldn’t waste it, could I? So I ordered a novel and paid the difference. (Oh the rush of glee that flooded my dried up, bookish soul when the parcel arrived a week later!)

Then I received another book voucher. Totally not my fault. Again, I couldn’t waste it, could I? So I grabbed two books from the shop shelves and paid the difference. (Oh how I missed this book buying therapy!)

Then several friends launched debut books and I had to support them by ordering a copy, didn’t I? It would have been unkind not to. And anyway, I was well into the spirit of spending in the lead up to Christmas and, well… it didn’t really matter that I bought a few books for myself, after such a long time without, did it?

Okay, so I think maybe my husband won the bet but for a bibliophile, I think I did pretty darn well. One day soon my pride will heal. The point is that I learnt a lot.

I learnt I didn’t need to buy so many books all the time. And the savings were significant and useful.

I rediscovered the great well of books at the local library, which I’d somehow forgotten about (but now make use of once again).

I discovered that true book-loving friends are generous in their loaning of books.

I read many books that had been sitting on my ‘to be read’ pile for far too long and that felt mighty fine. (Who would’ve thought that I already had multiple shelves of unread stories under my very roof?)

The forced self-control to refrain from book buying was uncomfortable and difficult – I often argued with myself – but the end result was that I now have greater control over my book buying habit. Before, I couldn’t say no but now, I can.

Would I take on this challenge again? No thanks.

I’d love to hear about your book buying habits so feel free to share by commenting on this post.

Happy reading for 2018!

P.S. You can find Confessions of a Bibliophile #1 on my Instagram account.

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Letter to a Friend About Mental Illness

Dear Friend,

You’ve often said to me that nobody is normal and we all have our problems. I completely agree – and I appreciate your efforts of trying to make me feel acceptable – but I think that perhaps you don’t really understand.

It’s true that everyone has their issues; we’ve all experienced traumas; we’re all broken. What we share in common are our human natures and the whole range of human emotions. What we are less likely to share in common – diagnosed or not – is mental illness.

Someone who is sad may say they’re depressed when they have no clue what real depression is like. It is not sadness – it’s worse.

Someone who is particular might say they’re OCD about something when they have no real understanding of the brutality of the disorder. In its most destructive form, OCD is oppressive and relentless.

You lack motivation? Sure, everyone does but do you know that tight grip of depression that feels like 20kgs of weight strapped to your feet? You can’t move, no matter how hard you try.

Someone who is feeling stressed from having too much on their plate may not truly know what real sensory overwhelm feels like – that state where your anxious mind meets a barrage of overbearing stimulants. The result is internal chaos.

You say you feel anxious. Everyone experiences anxiety – true – but not everyone understands the extreme stress response that comes in the form of a panic attack. It is truly awful and can be extremely hard to prevent, even after all your best efforts.

Someone whose brain has checked out for the day due to busyness, may not know what real dissociation feels like – that state in which you lose all sense of yourself. In fact, you don’t even know you’ve ‘left’ and so have no idea when you’ll be ‘back’.

Someone who feels lonely for a spell maybe doesn’t understand the feelings of abandonment and despair that you have to deal with as a person with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

These examples are just a few of the ‘not so ordinary’ issues I – and many others – have to deal with, on a regular basis.Whilst BPD, depression and anxiety don’t define who I am, they follow me everywhere. They are more than mere labels, simply because I have to live with them day in and day out. Relief is hard to get.

BPD, depression and anxiety – like all mental illnesses – are serious and can’t be equated with all manner of human nature and human experience. (Did you know that the most common reason why people engage in self-harm or attempt suicide is to escape unbearable emotional pain?)

So sure, no one is normal. Normal doesn’t exist. But one person’s ‘not normal’ is different to another person’s ‘not normal’. And mental illness is the most debilitating ‘not normal’ out there.

So now that you understand the difference between the things we share in common as humans and a few of the symptoms of mental illness, dear friend, please stop comparing me to everyone else and telling me that my suffering is no different.

Perhaps you will never fully understand, and that’s okay, but I’d really appreciate it if you continue to try and as you try, be careful not to dismiss the gravity of mental illness.

Love Jodie x

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Getting a Grip

It’s been some time since I’ve blogged, mainly due to a lack of vision and direction for my site. I haven’t written much of anything in general, due to poor health on a variety of fronts. I had to loosen my grip on writing for a while in order to ‘cut myself some slack’ and concentrate on getting better. So I guess you could say I found myself in a prolonged writing slump.

When I was rushed to emergency back in July, I left the early stages of my novel and research at home, along with everything else. I haven’t picked up my novel length project again because the thought of committing to such a huge goal remains overwhelming. I couldn’t afford not to do anything either, because hearing ‘critical Jodie’ berate me for not writing was crippling. My lack of progress was also depressing me.

So last month, I got back on the riding bike; it’s been a slow, wobbly ride. I started tinkering with a short story a few times each week and wrote the odd poem. I had to do something but I didn’t really know what to do.

Still in recovery mode and needing to be kind to myself, I started thinking about what I was doing with my writing and where I’d like to go with it in the near future. I wrote a short list of specific writing tasks to carry me through to the end of the year. This downsizing of my viewing panel to a one inch frame (coined by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird) has been helpful. I feel like I can achieve the tasks I’ve set myself; they’re within my ability to grasp.

I needed to encourage myself more than ever. I printed out all my poetry (no matter what state it was in) and put each poem in one of two new display folders. I grew delighted at discovering just how many poems I’d written over the past five years; having a file full of my work made me feel great. Here was proof – I hadn’t been so lazy, after all.

I printed out all my short stories (no matter what stage each was in) and put them in the second display folder, along with notes and feedback with the relevant piece of work. I discovered I’d written loads of words. Now I had all these stories to work with and they felt more real than when they were just saved files on my laptop.

I also printed out all evidence of my writing achievements and filed them to look at as required; the email offering me a place at the KSP Short Story Retreat, the letter which announced I’d won a flash fiction competition, etc.

The third thing I did that helped me find my mojo: I created a work log. In the log I wrote down all the work I’d had published, including online. I also sorted out my writing files (ideas, notes, handouts etc).

The affect all these activities had on my psyche was so helpful. I created a tangible reference of my hard work and threw out all the crap.

So if you’re in a slump like the one I found myself in, I encourage you to make your work tangible. Maybe you’re not in a slump but feel overwhelmed; do what I did and reduce your ‘viewing panel’ by narrowing your goals to a specific list of tasks. Whatever you do, just don’t give up.

 

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KSP WEEKEND

I was given an amazing opportunity, by the Katherine Susannah Pritchard Writers Centre (KSP) and Laurie Steed, to join Bindy Prichard and David Allan-Petale at the Short Story Retreat held last March at KSP in Perth. Why? Because the third winning writer of the competition pulled out and a space opened up for me.

I didn’t realise, when I accepted the offer, that I’d have to overcome three challenges if I was to get the most out of the retreat.

Challenge number one was the medical cum political saga I had to deal with the week of the Short Story Retreat. If the medical powers that be hadn’t finally allowed me to swap malfunctioning medical equipment with new equipment, before I was due to leave on the Friday, I wouldn’t have been able to attend KSP. It was a hard week on a number of fronts but thankfully, I left home with working medical equipment in tow.

Challenge number two was overcoming the anxiety of separation from my husband and son for two nights after a stretch of bad depression.

Challenge number three was the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’. Maybe because I was initially not offered a place. Maybe because I was the only ‘officially unpublished’ writer in the group. Maybe because I didn’t feel my writing was literary enough. Or maybe just because I’m hypersensitive and often feel unworthy of rewards like this.

Had I earned my place at this KSP Retreat? Apparently I had and boy did I soak up every blessing poured out to me that weekend – just like a crusty sponge.

For the first time, I was privileged to receive one-on-one feedback with an editor. And not just any editor – the one and only Laurie Steed. (What an absolute gem he is, particularly within the WA writing community.) Laurie, who also often climbed to a higher step on his career ladder via ‘lucky opportunities’ that landed in his lap.

The weekend was intense for me, not just mentally, but also emotionally and physically. I had become so unaccustomed to taking so many study sessions in such a short amount of time. By Saturday afternoon I think all I was giving back to Laurie and my peers was a questioning stare with a mouth slightly agape.

We had a lot of fun over meaningful conversations, food preparation in the tiny KSP kitchen and a few too many glasses of red wine. Dave even broke a chair as we watched the sun set from the gorgeous KSP grounds – haha!

By the time Sunday rolled around and we had read our stories in front of a small audience, I felt like I was saying goodbye to family. I was the last to pack up my cabin, hand in my key and as I waved goodbye to KSP, it was with much reluctance and a tear in my eye.

Thank you Laurie, Dave, Bindy and KSP for your wonderful company and this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity. I will never forget it and I’ll never forget you all and everything you gave to me so willingly from hearts of true generosity.

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