Chartering creative (writing) waters

I have recently been thinking about the act of writing a lot more. Those who have read a little of my blog already may have noticed that I have written about quite a few different things since I started. Compared to the book and film reviews that feature at the beginning, the last two entries have been really quite personal. It feels like I have recently managed to get over my own version of “writer’s block” that has plagued me for the last couple of years. I am now able to write about myself and my opinions with only cringing slightly at making myself the focus. Therefore, I will entertain you with a couple of chronological anecdotes that have led up to this point.

I don’t remember when I first started to enjoy writing but I am going to go ahead and assume that it was during English lessons in primary school. I liked writing so much that I started to do it at home, but I very rarely finished a story. I enjoyed the setting up of a narrative, the creation of a cast of characters and setting the scene; I would repeat the practice again and again, quickly abandoning my newly fleshed-out beings in favour of some new, flashy combination of characteristics. I would often illustrate my new protagonist too and imagine the back-story but it was very rare for me to continue to the story’s climax. This didn’t matter so much in the school system when you’re younger because you’re very rarely given the lesson time or the designated homework space to make sure you actually finish your piece of creative writing – just as long as you have a nice, big piece of text for the teachers to mark.

I did write a diary for a couple of years. It was perhaps a once or twice a month endeavour that listed what books I was reading, which friend I currently didn’t like much and which boy and his surname I was secretly double-barring to mine (or drawing hearts around his name and then furiously scribbling it out so no one would ever know… or whatever.) Interestingly, it was in my diary I ever wrote a swear word down. It was “bastards” and it was in reference to the county council’s plans to shut down my primary school so I will guess my age to be at about nine. I haven’t looked this up as this has always stuck in my mind due to the immense waves of guilt that I felt writing that word down physically. It was easier the next time though.

On came the essay and I discovered that I was pretty good at them. This strand of writing has lasted the longest, purely because of the fact that so many subjects require them at school. I found that I didn’t need to do that bizarre thing called “planning” or that equally time-wasting thing called “drafting” as I got top marks for just turning in my first attempt. Please bear in mind that I now look back at past Lizzie and curse her and her stupid attitude. It got me into a hell of lot of trouble when I eventually was expected to write academically at university. Just because I’m quite good at structuring my thoughts on paper so that they don’t immediately sound like a weird chain of consciousness (less so verbally, may I point out) does not mean that I was still going to be top of the class. This and never knowing what I was capable of achieving had I tried a little harder, is something that I have regretted and been embarrassed about every time I think about my degree.

At university, I was often mistaken for a “Creative Writer.” This was an identity that was attached to the particular course that we were taking, and I, as a taker of straight and unadulterated English Literature, was rather quite flattered by the connotations of being a bit floaty, dreamy and bohemian. In hindsight, I realise the mistake was more to do with the fact I socialised with a lot of creative writers and also, not a lot of them were actually particularly bohemian. During this time, I actually did not write fiction at all. I did, however, have a rather pretty notebook (yes, I have a notebook fetish) that I wrote terribly bad prose-like poetry that was loosely inspired by the works of William Carlos Williams.

Post-university, I have suffered from quite extreme writer’s block. In the fallout from leaving education, I was so relieved to not to have to write essays or read academic texts that I avoided writing at all for a long time. I didn’t write poetry, bad or otherwise and even when I went to live in Vietnam and tried to start a blog, I couldn’t bring myself to put my thoughts down in words, even though I often found myself “writing” in my head. Before long I started to miss it. I started doing online courses, began reading obsessively again and decided to apply to study for a MA but I still couldn’t bring myself to write for fun. I actually remember the first time I forced myself to write since I gave up on the travel blog idea. I was sitting in the office in Saigon, just having finished a book that had blown my socks off and I really wanted to write a review. I had started putting stars on Goodreads.com but hadn’t written anything yet. But when I opened up the window and hovered my hands over the keyboard expectantly, the only thing I could think of to say was: “Amazing.” But I persevered. I began to write the odd review more and more, gradually building up to sentences and then to paragraphs.

And now here I am. Having produced a blog post of roughly a thousand words in my coffee break. It doesn’t matter to me whether many people read it (though I’m pleased if they do – hello to those who have made it this far!) and it doesn’t matter whether it’s particularly good. I have said before that I don’t know how long I will keep on writing and make no promises to myself to do so other than for my own pleasure. However, I do feel like I have shaken myself out of some self-imposed shackles and for the first time in a long time, I feel free to write just to write.

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