Writing, Running, Habit and Obsession

I was once a fat kid obsessed with writing. Back then, real life was just about tolerable if I had my imaginary one to escape to. For I had discovered a magical and powerful thing. Writing could do anything. Writing could take me anywhere. And I was in control. I could have whatever fun I wanted; invent new friends adventures, create whole worlds if I wanted to. If I look back now I can see that need for control was a big factor. A shy fat kid in the middle of a dysfunctional family does not have much control, if any. A shy fat kid at school has even less. But in writing? The shy fat kid can do whatever the hell she wants, because she owns this! It’s liberating, I can tell you. And for many, many years after that, writing was my addiction and my obsession.

I’d endure school and then run home after, up to my room to write. I’d carry notebooks everywhere so that given the chance I could vanish into another world and write. I’d write past my bedtime and first thing in the morning.

Writing was all I ever wanted to do and anything else was just an annoyance and a distraction. Including exercise. I hated PE as a kid. I was chubby and awkward and shy and despised having people watch me fail at something. At least with other subjects at school you can thrive or fail in private, but PE is kind of cruel because your failures are obvious for all to see.

Chubby kids who like reading and writing and being alone shun exercise for obvious reasons and in return what happens? Yep, they get chubbier. Which makes them even less likely to exercise in front of anyone and even more likely to hide in their room with a notebook and pen for as long as they can get away with. What you have is a vicious circle that as a child, you have no idea how to break out from.

And self-loathing builds and builds. I’m not sure what finally made me embrace exercise. With no money, I was limited for choice, so running seemed the best option. I’d always hated running! Though to be honest, it was more the thought of anyone seeing me that was the problem. The estate I grew up on had a horseshoe sized ‘green’ enveloping one side of it. I could access this from the back gate and run around the backs of the houses in a loop. I think I set myself a goal of three times a week but when I started to notice the results, I soon upped that to daily. And I developed a habit, much like my writing one, that benefited my mental health as well as my physical.

They say that to form a habit you must do something every day for 30 days. What started as a habit with running soon became an obsession that I started to view the same way I viewed writing. I had to do it. If I didn’t do it, I didn’t feel good. It would ruin my day. I felt like bad things would happen. I’d lost a lot of weight, between that and some very silly eating habits at the time that haunted me into adulthood, and I really, really, really did not want to risk ever putting that weight back on. I’d been fat and life had been hell. I never ever wanted to be that girl again.

I sometimes wonder where I would have ended up had I not become a mother at the age of 24. I think my obsession with running and my growing fear of food would have got worse. I think I would have carried on writing and possibly would have got published a lot sooner than I did. I don’t think I would ever have let either of my obsessions go.

But motherhood changed everything and rightly so. I was now amazed at my body and in awe of what it had done. When one little girl became two, I had my hands full at a young age, and I also knew that I shouldered a huge responsibility here. I did not want my problems with food and weight and body image rubbing off on them. Writing fell by the wayside. Hard to believe that now, but it really did. I was far too exhausted, overwhelmed and obsessed with my new life as a mother. I was in love and there just wasn’t the time or the energy.

Over the next decade, I had a third child and I sporadically forced myself to run and write. I tried and failed and tried and failed to develop those habits again. I told myself I did not have the time or the energy for either. I told myself I was wary of getting obsessed with them both again, because that wouldn’t be good for my children. And this all went well for a while. I was too busy to consider anything else.

Writing came back to me, or I came back to writing, I’m never sure which way around it was, in the summer of 2011. My then youngest child was due to start school that September and at the time there was no plan to have any more. I suddenly felt horribly afraid and set adrift. I didn’t want him to go to school as not only was I losing my last baby, I was losing the identity I had spent the last decade carving out. Chantelle, the mother.

I hadn’t forgotten about the old me…I just didn’t think she was relevant anymore. I still remember the moment my writing whooshed back into my head, and it was kind of blunt, terrible and painful. I was reading a book and the young character in it reminded me of a character I had created and believed in when I was just 12. I’d written and rewritten his story many times over the years…could I do it again? Could I write again? Was I a writer? As a child and teen that was all I had identified as, but it had been gone so long, did I have any right to try to reclaim it?

I started writing again after finishing the book that had reminded me of my long lost character. I was so embarrassed at first, I wrote in a notepad and hid it if anyone walked in the room. I didn’t dare tell anyone what I was up to because I was suffering badly from imposter syndrome! And I wrote every day, without fail and that built the habit back up and the habit soon became an obsession again. It devoured me. I started writing every evening without fail and any other spare moment I had. I started this crazy, up and down writing and publishing journey and the arrival of a fourth child did nothing to slow me down and I have not looked back. I could never, ever stop writing now. I still can’t believe I let it go for so long…

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

— Franz Kafka

But what about running? Could I claim that obsession back too and was it healthy or sensible to even try? Over the last year or so I’ve noticed major fluctuations in my mood which I am now blaming on the perimenopause. If you’ve not heard of the perimenopause, don’t worry, neither had I, and I will be blogging about this another day. In short simple terms, its the period of time before the actual menopause and women start suffering from a variety of symptoms that for a while, they probably won’t attribute to anything other than life stress.

I don’t want to go into it too much in this post but the way I had been feeling for no real reason, was very, very similar to how I felt as a teenager. That intensity of mood and emotion that can shift at the slightest thing. Intrusive thoughts about how rubbish I am, cruel thoughts about how pointless my life is. Lovely stuff like that. Incredible anger. Deep sadness. And most of all? Just wanting to be alone. The worrying thing was the effect on my mental health, particularly before I did some research and found out about the perimenopause. I was feeling horrible, to put it mildly. I was crying a lot for no reason. I was focusing on body image more than I had done in a very long time, and given my past issues, this was not a good thing.

One night I was sat writing and crying when I suddenly felt the most powerful urge to move. To get up and run. It was like my mind telling me to get the hell out of there and move. It seemed stupid and my other mind tried to talk me out of it. I was too tired, it was nearly dark and so on. But I ignored that one and I did it.

Now, what normally happens with me and running since I became a mother almost 17 years ago, is I can keep it up for a bit and aim for 3 times a week, not be too hard on myself etc, but that’s not enough to build a habit. Inevitably I miss a few, and that turns into missing a few weeks and the weeks turn into months, just like what used to happen with writing.

This time? I have decided to run every single day without excuses. I do have the time. It’s 20 minutes usually. I have managed to stick at this for over a week now and the difference in my mood is astounding. I have not felt down, sad or angry once this week. I have felt more energetic, more motivated, more rational than I have in a long time. I feel proud of myself too. And we’re not very good at that are we? But I am proud of myself. It feels good. It feels right.

We all know that exercise is good for our mental health, and most of us know that writing is also good for it. Very good, I’d argue. If I can manage to hold onto both of these habits (yet try to stop them becoming obsessions) then I will be very happy indeed and heading in the right direction. I just might be able to get through this perimenopause thing unscathed and have the energy and mind power to deal with the actual menopause!

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Elliot Pie Wins Two Chill With A Book Awards!

Hi guys,

I’m sorry I haven’t blogged in a few weeks. I do actually have some draft and half-finished posts written, but have not had the time to polish them up. I’ve been very busy with work-related projects, and my own writing.

However, I wanted to write a quick post to let you know that Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature has won two Chill With A Book Awards! Having won a Reader’s Award, it was automatically entered into Book Cover of The Month award for March and won that too!

Chill Logo Cover of the Month Award 2019

I am, obviously, over the moon. Many years of work went into this novel, with numerous rewrites, and revisions. It came very close to being picked up by two traditional publishers but in the end I published with Pict Publishing, an all-women indie publishing collective. It’s just always nice to have the hard work recognised, as it gives you a confidence boost and the kick up the bum you need to keep going!

Anyway, I better get back to work and I promise I will have some new posts for you in the upcoming weeks!

 

The Temptation to Do Nothing

No one ever said that being an indie author would be easy. It’s not. It’s hard work and I made my peace with that a long time ago. I never expected to sell thousands or even hundreds of books. I’ve always reminded myself that to sell anything at all is a massive achievement, and I still believe that.

Over the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had a bumpy ride, full of highs and lows, expectations and dreams, disappointments and achievements. Again, I remind myself when I feel thwarted, or dispirited, to look back and see how far I have come. And it works. Mostly. I do sell books every month. I have never had a month without sales since I started in 2013.

Every now and then though, I feel the need to stop, take stock of what’s going on, what’s bothering me or making me anxious, and do nothing. I don’t mean stop writing. I could never do that. If there is one thing I am certain of it’s that I will never ever stop writing and releasing books. I’m desperately addicted to writing, it’s who I am, it saves me on a daily basis, makes life worth living, fulfills me in so many ways, and allows me to release what is inside of me. I love it, and if you follow this blog, you will know that.

It’s trying to sell books that I often consider quitting. Trying to sell books is stressful. Without money, it’s almost impossible. I feel I have worked really hard over the years to build my author platform. Building up this blog, my facebook author page, Instagram, newsletters, you name it. Writing articles for Authors Publish and more. There is nothing I have not tried. Nothing free anyway.

And I guess, to some extent it works. I get sales every month. Some months are better than others and I can never work out how or why. No one ever said that selling books was easy either.

I’ve seen so many indie authors quit over the years. Announce they are closing their blog or their Facebook page, that it’s too hard and they can’t justify the time and effort anymore. I get that totally. But that will never be me, not while I still have so many books lined up to write.

Selling books is hard if you are naturally an introvert. You’re drawing attention to yourself. You’re saying, hey look at me! Look over here! Buy my books! You’re sending out free copies with your newsletter. You’re offering people ARC copies of upcoming releases. You’re contacting reviewers and bloggers for help. You’re messaging friends and relatives to see if they’re interested. You’re setting up street teams and asking for help. Introverts do not like asking for help. Introverts will do everything themselves and then cry about it. There’s a martyr inside every one of us, I swear.

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It makes us uncomfortable. And then come the rejections. Of course, you’re used to rejection if you’re a writer. You’ve got the scars from endless rejections from agents and publishers. You put on your big girl pants and went solo. Became an indie. Fab stuff. Only now there’s no one to help you, you have to force yourself to be brave, day in, day out. Put on a big professional sunny convincing smile when really you just want to climb under your duvet and hide.

I’ve had a lot of disappointments lately. I’m not going to go into them, because I really don’t want this to be a pity party. I hate it when authors moan on social media about being an author and not getting sales. I don’t want to be that person. This isn’t really about sales either. This is about being tired.

I’m tired of doing everything I can only to have it not make an impact. I’m tired of giving away free books that people don’t then review. I’m tired of the expense of sending out paperbacks that people don’t then review. I’m tired of asking and hoping and suggesting that people share my posts, comment, read or review. I’m tired of feeling like I am wasting my time. I’m tired of sharing my books on Twitter and Facebook when I know there is no point. Every time my finger hovers over the share button I’m so tempted to do nothing. And every now and again I let it win and I go with the temptation to do nothing and I hide away I write my books and my blogs and my poems and I hide away from sharing and trying to sell.

Maybe it does me some good every now and then to have a little retreat from the business of selling and just focus on the writing. I am so tempted to do that again right now. But then I feel guilty about my books, and I so want people to read them, I don’t want to quit or be a quitter. Maybe I just need a rest. A chance to refuel and come back stronger.

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Because if you don’t try, you can’t fail. There’s nothing to lose. But if you do try, and try and try, then you have to deal with the inevitable disappointments. It’s tempting not to try, believe me. And I’ve been here before. I didn’t try to publish my books until I was in my mid-thirties. All those years I wasted because I was too afraid of failure to even try. I got over that somehow, and I’ve moved on. But there it is again, the urge to do nothing. If my books don’t sell, it’s because I’m not trying and that’s easier to deal with.

But then I got thinking and I remembered a quote from a song that I once decided would look good on my gravestone. This is the full quote;

Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut,
Not everyone was born to be a king,
Not everyone can be Freddie Mercury,
But everyone can raise their glass and sing.
Well I haven’t always been a perfect person,
Well I haven’t done what mum and dad had dreamed,
But on the day I die, I’ll say at least I fucking tried.
That’s the only eulogy I need,
That’s the only eulogy I need.

(Eulogy, by Frank Turner)

It struck a chord with me the first time I heard it, and I laughed and joked that I’d have those words on my headstone. At least I fucking tried…

Some days that doesn’t feel like enough.

Other days, calmer days, sunnier days, it really, really does.

Because it’s pretty fucking brave to keep trying.

It would be so much easier to quit. And I’m going to have those days. I’m always going to have those days. I’m going to wallow in it some days. I’m going to cry about it on others. I’m going to seethe and fret and grumble and moan. Mostly to myself. I’m always going to have days where self-doubt gets it claws into me and won’t let go. I’m going to hear those voices in my head that have been with me for so long…you’re rubbish, you’re stupid, you’re ugly, you’re fat, you’re a joke…

But that’s okay. That’s being human. Deep inside, we all want attention, we want validation, we want to know what we’re doing is worthwhile and appreciated, and when we don’t quite get that, we turn on ourselves pretty viciously.

But I suppose the thing is to let those days run their course, as they will do, again and again, but then come out of the other side and just keep going. Just keep doing it anyway. Because at least you can say you gave it your best. So for now at least, for me, it’s business as usual. The temptation to do nothing has not won.

New Release! The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part 3…

This week’s post is just a quick one letting you know that I have a brand new book coming out on 22nd February!

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part Three started life as a screenplay around a year ago. At that time, I had The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Parts One and Two merged into one large book, and the sequel which is set seven years later, This Is The Day also available. However, as I’ve said before, this story and these characters who have been with me since I was twelve, would just not leave me alone. I had this niggling idea for new material, which would move the ending of the original book,  slotting a brand new book between that one and the sequel.

It was a crazy idea, as the new material would mean making subtle changes to Parts One and Two, and the sequel, which would mean unpublishing them all, revising, revamping with new covers and then releasing again. I wasn’t sure it would be worth the risk so I decided to write the new material in screenplay form first.

I did this for a few reasons. First, I’ve always dreamt of these particular books being on the screen. I think they’d make an amazing gritty TV series with a killer soundtrack. I’ve been interested in screenwriting for some time and had Scrivener downloaded with a few screenplay ideas in motion. I also read some books and completed an online course. Also, this was a quick way to get the new material out of my head and onto paper. I used a notebook and carried it around with me, often writing into it while sitting in carparks waiting for school to finish. I’d scribble into it during brief moments of peace at home, writing alongside a coffee before I rushed back out the house. I sat with it in the evenings too, and it just kept growing.

It was so much fun and such an obsession! Of course, when it was done, I knew I had to turn the material into a novel, I just had to. There was no going back now. This was going to happen. I wrote the first draft quite quickly and after a few more sent it to my trusted beta readers. While waiting for feedback, I separated parts one and two and went over them both, cutting the word count, and rejigging a few scenes here and there so that Part Three would make sense.

Parts One and Two were originally published separately so I already had them on my Amazon dashboard, plus they already had reviews. I had to contact the cover designer to see if he could whip up new covers, or make changes to existing ones. A lot of work basically! I then had to redo This Is The Day, making more changes, adding scenes and changing the title to Part Four…

I thought I was crazy more than once but now that the brand new Part Three is ready for release, I’m really excited and certain that I made the right choice. By the time I got to the end of the Part Four edit, I already knew there was going to be a Part Five and Six.

This was very exciting! Part Five has already been written, in rough into a notebook, and Part Six is plotted. I’m not working on either of these just yet, due to other projects, but you would not believe how excited I am to get my teeth into them when the time comes!

If there is one thing I’ve learned from being an indie writer, it’s to leave things open. In fact, I’d say that ALL of my books have a potential sequel coming. Once I’ve created these character I never want it to be over, and it doesn’t have to be.