How's the writing going?

Jan 17 2021

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Acceptance email from Arts Council England

Ever since I received the email telling me I'd been successful for an Arts Council Developing Your Creative Practice Award to work on my Mindful Play Handbook, my Inner Critic has had me in a strangle hold: "Who the hell do you think you are, calling yourself a "writer"? How could YOU be a writer? You have no brain and nobody wants to hear what you've got to say anyway."

The little pot of funding I received was for time, space and support to help me pull together the fragments of ideas I've been gathering for the last six years into something coherent that I might want to show to a publisher. My big mission for this period was to investigate ways of bringing more play into my writing process, by letting nature and body-based play infuse my writing and to open up my process to some carefully chosen collaborators.

This is the first time I've officially called myself a writer. It's also the first time I've cleared proper space in my diary, instead of trying to squeeze writing in around everything else I do. It's a big deal for me to step out of the steady flow of online teaching and facilitation projects I've managed to cultivate during this crazily unstable time, but The Book has been huffing and puffing at me from the dusty shelf for months, I've just hit 42, it's lockdown #3 and January 2021 feels like as good a time as any to hunker down and write a book. 

So imagine my surprise when my Inner Critic showed up in his new “STOP HOLLY WRITING” campaign t-shirt, yelling into his megaphone the old classic (sung to the tune of Go West by the Pet Shop Boys): “YOU'RE SHIT AND YOU KNOW YOU ARE! YOU'RE SHIT AND YOU KNOW YOU ARE!” Thanks to my Inner Critic's infernal ranting and raving, I've not managed to get much writing done. I have done a lot of tidying and organising (my home office is looking lovely), I've smashed out hours of admin, I've eaten everything in the house and drunk 1000 cups of tea. But any time I started heading towards the Bookie folder on my laptop, my Critic would bellow, “There's no point, it's going to be shit, might as well do something else.”

Every day, I've made time for my Critic to tell me what's going on for him. I have opened my journal and asked, “How are you doing today” before giving him the pen to answer. After a few days of listening to his toxic tirade, I brought in the voice of Compassion for reinforcement - the three of us have been meeting on the page every day to dance around in familiar circles:

Me: I'd like to write today.

Critic: You can't write, you're shit.

Compassion: Why do you think Holly's shit?

Critic: Because SHE IS SHIT – if she was meant to be a writer, she'd've written something by now.

Compassion: Are you worried about people seeing her work and judging her?

Critic: Of course I'm worried – it's a dead cert! Have you seen how shit her “book” is?

Compassion: I've seen that she's in process – she's got to start somewhere! She needs this time to discover what her book wants to be and we all need to support her.

Critic: She's just wasting all of our time – we could be doing something good with this time.

Compassion: Like what?

Critic: Like aid work, you know - doing actual good in the world.

Compassion: Ah I see, do you think this writing time is self-indulgent?

Critic: Abso-fuckin'-loutley

Compassion: Oh sweetness, working on the book is one way that Holly will do good in the world, both for herself and for the people who will read the book.

Critic: What a load of bollocks.

After a week and a half of this, my best friend rang me up to ask how the writing's going. I told her about what me and my internal gang have been getting up to. She shone her compassion on us and together we discovered the reason why my Critic has been flapping about like a trapped bird was because I'd inadvertently brought too much risk into my process! 

The plan was to start the year with an intense writing period, then in March I was going to have four published authors read the book and give me feedback on what I've written so far. On paper this seemed like a good idea; having four different perspectives would give me a broad sense of what's working and what needs attention. But considering I've been working on the book for six years and NOBODY has read any of it, having it read by four people who I don't know that well felt too big a step for my Critic.

My Critic has been trying to protect me from embarrassing myself in front of these writers, by making sure I don't write anything at all. Bless!

My best mate asked me who would be a safe person to show my fragile baby book to and the answer was obvious - the legendary Bee Golding - my brilliant Radministrator, poet-in-residence, grammar fanatic and dear friend. As soon as I asked her and she accepted the role of First Reader, I felt a huge weight shift off my chest.

Knowing I'm in safe hands, my Critic immediately relaxed and put down his megaphone. He's been lying on a sun-lounger in the corner, sipping pina coldadas, whilst I've been reading through what I've written so far. There's a long way to go, but I've made a writing schedule for the next couple of weeks and I'm feeling pretty positive... 

Click here for the next chapter in the Holly Attempts To Write A Book saga, where I offer my top tips for writing.

Click here for reflections and poems from February's Mindful Play lab.

If you're interested in exploring ways of bringing more compassion into your relationship with your inner critic, I found a lovely article in The Guardian which you can read here.

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