September Writing Challenge: Late Night Thoughts

Every month I ask my Facebook author page followers to give me writing prompts. It can be anything from a visual prompt, to a song title or lyric, overheard conversation, a piece of flash fiction, or a poem. This month I had another wonderful selection to choose from and a non-fiction prompt really caught my eye. Thanks to author Shannon Rohrer for this one!

Late Night Thoughts

Before bed, I venture outside and the air is cool, September saying hello. It makes me smile. Feel sort of giddy like that back to school feeling and the smug comfort of pulling on a favourite hoodie for the first time since the heat came. The sun sets a little earlier every night, dark now by 8pm. I cross the garden, flattening grass that died and came back to life. I think about life. I think about death.

I close up the chickens, then check the field behind. I’ve watched all the sunsets this summer, I’ve seen all the colours spread across that same horizon. I’ve watched the copse darken until it resembles a spiked hedge, jagged edges breaking up the sky.

There is a chill in the air, reminding me to say goodbye to summer. I eye up the woodpile when I go back inside. Will it be enough? What sort of winter lies ahead?

There is a calmness, like the earth breathing out, or perhaps she is holding her breath, bracing herself for what comes next. This summer we torched her. We burned her like never before. For the first time, some of us thought about water. And not having water.

Inside, I sit down to write, the window open, the road silent and dark, the pheasants making a fuss as they settle in the trees that line the lane. Everything goes around and around. The sun goes down, the sun comes up. Summer ends, autumn begins, they merge and overlap, until the first frost bites. We wake up and get up and do the things that make a life. We lie down and sleep. One day we don’t wake up.

I think about death when I climb into bed. I try not to assume another morning awaits me. Like every time I get into the car and wonder if today is the day I die. Because we don’t know, we never know. We take it for granted or is it faith? My car won’t crash. Not me. Not today. There is no death in my rear view mirror, only all the open roads that lie ahead. Paths to choose, forks in the road, possibilities, waiting, potential, waiting. Somehow, we feel like we are always waiting.

As a child, we wait for the school day to end. We wait for summer to free us. We wait for Christmas to excite us. We wait to grow up. As teenagers, we wait to become adults, to taste the things we’ve heard about for so long. To have our turn. Take our place. As adults, we wait for the weekend. We wait for better days, more money, more time. As parents, we wait for babies to be born, alive. We wait for babies to survive into toddlerhood and we sigh in relief every day we keep them safe. We wait for children to become teenagers, so that we can claw our lives back and let them go. We wait for phone calls in the dead of night letting us know they are safe. Then we wait for death.

We wait for aching bones and finding it hard to get on your feet. We wait for our bladders to wake us up at night like clockwork. We look forward to sitting down with a nice cup of tea and a good book. I think about this late at night. What am I waiting for?

I don’t know.

Maybe I have everything I will ever need or want, right now. A home, a partner, children, work, a garden to tend, writing to do. Maybe I’m not waiting for anything anymore. Maybe death hovers, reminding us that it’s always close but maybe I don’t have to wait for death, just keep an eye on it.

Late at night, I think that life is very, very weird. You’re born, you live, you die and ultimately, eventually, you will be forgotten. But that’s okay, isn’t it? Is that the part of death we fear the most? We fear death of loved ones because we can’t stand the thought of losing them. We fear our own deaths because we will cease to exist. Possibly. Probably.

Mostly, I don’t think I mind.

In some ways, I have left things behind so that I might not be totally forgotten. Four children, countless trees and shrubs and so far, sixteen books. Eventually, that will all be gone too. Does it matter? I don’t think so.

Life moves on. From dawn til dusk, from summer to autumn. We have no more right to everlasting life than the leaves drying and curling and floating down to rot on the forest floor, and we are just as much a part of everything. Of life, death and decay.

And In Your Place, An Empty Space… (another one flies the nest.)

Isn’t it weird and somewhat comforting how music fills our souls when emotions get the better of us? This time last year I could not get Slipping Through my Fingers by Abba out of my head after my firstborn child left home to start university in Wales. That song (and I am not an Abba fan!) has hit me hard so many times over the years of parenthood. It just nails it, doesn’t it? It rang in my head for weeks as I came home each day to the space she had left behind. I couldn’t even look at her bedroom for a while. I kept crying when I was alone. But it got easier.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Now, here I am again. Last Saturday we drove our second oldest child to university in Plymouth. This was in no way easier because we had already been through it once. Children are so different and because of that, you respond to them in different ways. This one hit equally as hard because this lovely young lady had endured a very tough two year period prior to finishing her A-Levels. At one point, I didn’t think she would get through college, let alone make it to university as she appeared so fragile, so young, so confused and afraid and emotional. Instead, we have stood back and watched in awe as she picked herself back up and battled through to come out the other side. In many ways, it made the moment, that last, tight hug, even more bitter sweet. I got emotional and so did she, and I told her that it wasn’t because I was worried about her coping, it was because I was just so very proud of her.

Her moving into halls could not have gone smoother. The university deserves a lot of credit for how welcoming it was, and how well organised. Street signs helped us find where to park and there we were greeted by an army of student ambassadors. One helped our daughter get her key and showed her to her room, while another helped us load her belongings onto a wagon. Brilliant! Then when she returned, we followed her to the room and two students helped carry her things up the stairs to her new home.

The flat was lovely. Warm, and welcoming, clean, fresh carpets, everything very spacious and light. She started grinning when she saw her room, which although a standard university hall room, it was just lovely and felt very homely. Almost instantly, she was greeted by one of her new flatmates who made her feel really welcome and showed her the kitchen. She then met another friendly housemate who just happens to be on her course. My husband and I thought it was probably time to go. We didn’t want to linger and get in the way of her making new friends. So, we had the hug. Tears flowed. We smiled, we laughed, we said goodbye and then we left her and walked back to the car and drove home without her.

I can’t tell you how weird that feels; driving away from your child and leaving them to start the next chapter of their life. We were fine until we turned the corner into our lane and saw our house. Then we both welled up. She wasn’t going to be there. Our little girl, always tiny, even now, she wouldn’t be there. I almost didn’t want to go inside.

Since then, we have had had numerous messages about how much she is enjoying herself. She seems to have settled in really well, made friends quickly and is really excited to start her marine biology degree. Of course, I’ve been worrying about what she’s eating and whether she will be all right using the washing machine, but mostly, I just miss her.

She has left a hole behind. A space in our house. Her bedroom, usually full of music and teenage giggles and conversations with friends late at night, is silent. Inactive. She is a real hugger and I miss that more than anything. And I’ve had The World Has Turned And Left Me Here by Weezer in my head since Saturday. That’s obviously the song I’m going to associate with this moment! Because that’s sort of how it feels, when they pack up and go. Like the world has shifted, moved them on, taken them away from you and as a parent, you’re left at home, still doing the same things, the same chores, work, and the rest of it, but with this empty space lingering around you.

The house seems so quiet now that two of them have gone. My shopping bill has halved. There are only four toothbrushes in the bathroom, instead of six. At one point I used to do a load of washing every day, now it’s two or three times a week. I feel a little lost without them and a little scared by how quickly my babies turned into grown women starting their own lives. My girls were born nineteen months apart so in my early twenties, my days were a whirlwind of constant nappy changes, feeds, naps, playgroups and tantrums, but oh, how I loved it. My proudest moments were pushing my double buggy around town with my beautiful little girls sat inside.

But life goes on, despite how left behind you sometimes feel. I still have my boys at home, I’m still needed by them and the girls moving out makes me appreciate even more how fast life goes, how we should hang tightly to every precious moment and soak it up the best we can.

And I suppose the feeling I am left with the most is pride. The girls still have to finish their degrees, start employment, find homes to rent or buy, and so much more, but they’ve both taken that first step into independent adulthood and I couldn’t be prouder. And I suppose it’s okay to stand back and bask in a little bit of genuine pride. I did my job. I’ll always be their mum and I will always be there for them, but now, most of it anyway, is up to them.

Addicted To Writing Or A Maladaptive Daydreamer?

My name is Chantelle and I am addicted to writing.

Or at least it feels that way… like a drug, a high, like something I crave for and cannot live without…

It’s always like this but its worse when a new story has truly captured me. Last week I blogged about the reasons people stop writing, and I mentioned that as a child and teenager, I wrote constantly and endlessly, before having a 10-year gap where I barely wrote at all. The way I am now is exactly the way I was as a kid and I recently discovered that it may even be a clinical condition. Maladaptive daydreaming is where people daydream so intensely that they subconsciously leave this world for one of their own creation. Within these made-up worlds, they create characters and storylines that they replay and tweak in their heads for their entire life. One person in this article https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/aug/28/i-just-go-into-my-head-and-enjoy-it-the-people-who-cant-stop-daydreaming described it as like putting Netflix on and I relate to that in a big way.

Image by Pheladi Shai from Pixabay

As a child, I was nicknamed cloth-ears by my parents because it appeared I was never listening. I was the daydreamer, the one never paying attention, the one in her own little world. At some point, around the age of eight, I realised I could write these daydreams or stories down and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I am at the mercy of the characters who live in my head and the drama that surrounds them. I identified so strongly with the people in the interview that the only difference between us was that I write my daydreams down and publish them as books! I kind of think these people are missing a trick if they don’t do the same!

I’ve blogged before about The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, and how the characters grew in my head at the age of twelve. I’d lie in my bed at night and move them around, like watching a film that I was in control of. I still do this now, every night. As that series will soon have a spin-off and a crossover book, I think it’s safe to say that my daydreams truly have control of me. I’m not sure whether I am addicted to writing, or whether I am an intense maladaptive daydreamer, but just in case you are curious, this is what it feels like:

  1. I can’t stop thinking about my story from morning until night. I wake up with an urge to write and a head load of possible scenes and conversations and then I go to bed and lie awake, dreaming up more. Every night I fall asleep with my characters in my head.
  2. I can switch between worlds with ease. One moment I will be fully submerged in my created universe, hearing their voices, seeing their movements, picking up on every facial expression or nuanced gesture, and the next I’ll be back in reality, teaching a class, paying for shopping, filling the car up with petrol. My mind seems to know when to switch back without too much disorientation.
  3. Having said that, I do sometimes find it hard to concentrate on other things and this is especially tricky when I am writing a new story that is going well. Some stories take time and patience and lots of rewriting, whereas some of them just write themselves. Those are the best but they do make it harder to switch between worlds. At the moment, my WIP is completely taking me over to the point of obsession, and I find it is all I can think about. I find myself drifting off into noticeably thicker daydreams when it’s like this…
  4. I get a nervous feeling in tummy, because I am scared I’ll not do it justice. The story plays out like a film or a TV show in my head and it looks perfect. Perfect locations, settings, characters and dialogue. Fight scenes look flawless yet realistic, dialogue is spot-on, facial expressions are just right and if I could just encapsulate it as it is in my head, it would be perfect. Yet the tricky bit is writing it and trying to make it how it is in my head so that the reader can see what I see. I am never sure I am up to the job and this can make me feel quite anxious at times.
  5. It feels like having a movie on pause when I’m not writing. When I’m not writing, I feel quite torn away from it, quite lost. It’s like I’ve been forced to put a good book down when I am dying to find out what happens next,. It feels like leaving a movie on pause. They are all just frozen until I can think about it or write it again.
  6. I can’t wait to get back to it. The frustration I feel when I cannot think about my stories, or write them, is quite awful at times. I don’t really want to live in this world, but I have to. Because of this, I am constantly longing to get back to my world, constantly pining for it and missing it when I’m not there.

Whether I am addicted to writing or just an intense daydreamer who writes them down, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Writing has saved me time and time again and without it I know I would struggle. What about you? Were you nicknamed a daydreamer as a child? Do you still daydream? Do you write them down? Feel free to comment and share!

What’s Really Stopping You Writing?

Writing.

An interest, hobby, past-time or career pursued by people who like telling stories. Isn’t that the main thing that motivates us? The stories in our head. The desire to put words together until they make sense and hopefully even entertain.

Yet so many writers don’t write. Or at least, not as much as they want to. This always makes me curious because I can’t think of anything I would rather do. Writing is an addiction. It’s not always easy, the words don’t always flow, sometimes it goes horribly wrong and sometimes I get blocked as much as anyone, but none of that stops it being the most joyful and exciting past-time I can think of. Not much stops me writing, but does that make me weird?

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

Maybe, or maybe I’ve just gone through the struggles and have managed to come out the other side. Below you will find the most common reasons people give for not writing. These are all things I have experienced myself, so I’ve included advice on getting past each one.

  • Not enough time – I think this is the most common one I hear and it is something I used to tell myself too. As a child and teen I wrote endlessly, but it faded out at university and when I became a young parent it stopped altogether. I spent ten years not writing anything! It was all in my head but I just didn’t think I had the time to write it down. One day I woke up to the fact that there would never be time unless I made time, carved time out of my day, grabbed it and guarded it. I started by writing in notebooks whenever I had a spare minute, and I still do this now. It made me realise I did have time! Maybe only five or ten minutes here or there, maybe while cooking dinner, maybe while waiting in the car to pick up a child, or maybe last thing at night. The writing bug grew stronger once I allowed it just those few stolen moments. I also gave up evening TV completely. As a parent, I was sitting on the sofa once they were all in bed, turning on the TV and feeling exhausted. I realised the TV had to go and shut myself away every evening to write instead. That became a habit I still live by now. Although, these days I do allow myself a bit of Netflix each night before bed!
  • Not enough energy – another common one, and one I can truly relate to, even now. Life is tiring, whether you’re juggling work, kids or both. Our brains and bodies can only cope with so much. We look forward to relaxing and grabbing a bit of me-time, but if you are serious about writing, the me-time has to become writing-time. Feeling genuinely tired is a tricky one, but just like forcing time out of the day for writing, I get past this by pushing through. Some days I might only manage a paragraph before nodding off gets the better of me, other days I might write a whole chapter while yawning constantly. I always do something, even just a sentence or some notes.
  • It’s too late, I’ve missed my chance… – I felt like this during my 20s when I was busy working and raising my children. I thought about writing all the time and my stories were always in my head, but I truly thought I’d waited too long and missed my chance. I’m not sure where this idea comes from but apparently it is quite common. But it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? I told myself it was now or never and why waste another year, or even another minute? I started writing again with a vengeance when I was 33, and now I am 44 and have published sixteen titles. What changed my mind? I think questioning why I wanted to write, and realising it was mostly just for me. Not for publication, fame or fortune, but to finally get these stories out of my head. Of course, writing them only made way for more ideas!
  • Self-doubt and imposter syndrome – These are a horrible but inevitable part of being a creative person. When we are surrounded by greatness, whether it’s in TV, film, music, art or literature, we wonder why we should bother trying to add to it. We compare ourselves to others, usually those at the height of their success, and fall short. Imposter syndrome is when we don’t really feel like a writer and maybe even feel embarrassed to call ourselves one. I felt like this too. When I was a young writer it never crossed my mind. I was full of confidence then! But in my 30s the self-doubt was massive. When I started writing again, I kept it secret to start with. I used a notebook and hid it under the sofa or the mattress if anyone walked in. I was shy – I didn’t want to admit I was trying that writing lark again. I was scared people would look at me funny or ask too many questions. I got braver though, and it wasn’t until I created this blog and started sharing little snippets of work online that I started to believe in myself again. Sometimes you just need time and space to develop that courage, but feedback and positivity from others can be a real boost too. I’d always suggest joining a writing group in real life or online! As for imposter syndrome, all writers get it, even the famous ones, so don’t let that stop you.
  • Fear of rejection and other’s opinions – I think this is another big one. It certainly was for me. The first time I shared my work online or with friends, I felt sick. The first time I submitted to agents and publishers, I felt even worse. Think of it as a rites of passage. It means you’re a writer to have been rejected at some point. The good news is, these days rejection doesn’t have to mean the end of the road. There are so many ways you can get your writing out there so you shouldn’t let the rejections stop you. Instead, let them make you stronger. Listen to the feedback and try to get more by offering work out to beta readers or within a writing group. Other people’s opinions can be upsetting too. Sadly, writers are greatly unsupported by friends and family, a topic I have blogged about before. There are many reasons for this but the main thing to do is reach out to other writers and readers themselves. That’s where you will build your support network. Often, family and friends just don’t get it. If they’re not creative, it just won’t mean much to them, and if they are creative a bit of jealousy and resentment can rear its ugly head. Whatever it is, don’t let it stop you. Despite them, write anyway.
  • It’s too hard – I see this a lot on the internet. There is a lot of negativity around writing and being a writer. The stereotype seems to assert that writers are all crazy, introverted people who have to be dragged kicking and screaming to their writing desk, where they then procrastinate for hours and stare at a blank screen. I actively dislike this stereotype. It is not true of all writers. I know many writers who are dedicated to their work and write every day, sticking to a rigid routine, whether they are in the mood or not, whether it is going well or not. They don’t seem to get mentioned much though. People would rather laugh and nod at the memes suggesting writers moan about not having time to write and then stare into space when they do have time. That’s just not how it works. If that were true, no books would ever get written. Writing is hard, sometimes, but it’s also wonderful, exciting, exhilarating, joyful, magical and therapeutic all at once, but we don’t see that splashed around as much. It almost feels like these negative posts are trying to put writers off even trying! Don’t let them. Yes, it can be hard. Finding the right words, devising characters, organising a timeline, editing, revising, proofreading, marketing, finding the time, finding the energy, not getting distracted by other ideas; these are all things writers battle with but it is still worth it!!
  • Losing interest, getting bored, running out of steam…. – These are all similar to writers block in that they come along and derail your work-in-progress. But only if you let them. This happens to me too, of course it does. Some of my books have practically written themselves, some have felt totally addictive, and others have been a real struggle from start to finish. I always prioritise the one that is closest to being finished, but this doesn’t mean I don’t work on other things. One book is always ahead, always closer to being ready for publication and that is the book I will make myself stick to every night, whether I feel like it or not. Because I know that if I don’t, I will never come back to it and I will keep jumping from story to story and never finish anything. If it’s hard work, I will set a target, maybe writing a chapter of the tricky one each night and then allowing myself to mess around with a new idea. I do the same with editing and proofreading. If those books are that close to publication, then they take priority. I’ll do maybe four chapters of editing first and then allow myself to write something new. This way I am nearly always having fun with new ideas, but I am strict with myself about getting a book finished.

I suppose the question you have to ask yourself is, how much do you want this? What does writing really mean to you? If you want it badly enough if it is important enough for you, you know what you need to do, so do it. Push through the blocks, the exhaustion and the self-doubt, ignore imposter syndrome, do it despite your loved ones not caring, find the time, make the time, demand the time and accept that it is and should be hard.

These are just some of the reasons people don’t write, and I have experienced them all. I am sure there are many others though, so please feel free to comment and share. What gets in the way of your writing and what to you do to get past it?