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!

Advertisements

Ssh…I’m Hiding

Lately, I’ve felt like I’m in hiding. Running away. I keep attempting to stand still and face my demons but it doesn’t last for long. Every now and then I give myself a good shake and even come up with a plan…but they tend to be short-lived and easily shirked. So, what is it I’m running from? What terrible thing have I been hiding from lately? Burying my head in the sand of my writing in the hope it will just go away and leave me alone?

The answer is book promotion.

portrait-317041_640

The reasons are these;

  1. I’ve got too much to write. I’ve written about this lately in The Return of the Voices (and the nervous stomach) I won’t bore you with how many projects I am working on or have in progress at the moment, but I will say they are all moving on. They are all coming together. But I’ve never given myself a workload quite like this one…I just don’t have time to fit book promotion into my daily life. Or so I keep telling myself anyway. I just want to get these books done.
  2. Touched on above, there is just not enough time. There are the books I am trying to get ready for release, and then there is my writing business, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group which is quite rightly taking up more and more of my time. I’ve got two big projects I am trying to get funding for, plus the regular writing groups and workshops to prepare for, plus just the day to day running of a company, which is all very new to me! Then there’s the four kids and house and garden and pets…Book promotion just doesn’t get a look in!
  3. I’m bored of it. I do go through phases where social media and book promotion bore me intensely. I do love my blog and my Facebook author page, but that’s where the love ends. I tend to post more pictures of dogs and kids on my Instagram, often completely forgetting that it’s a business account to be used for selling books! I go onto Amazon and check for reviews and know I should send out some Tweets and so on…but it’s boring. I’m bored of it.
  4. I can’t afford it. Obviously, social media is free to an extent, and blogs and websites but pretty much everything else costs. Even your Facebook author page can be a cost now, requiring you to pay to boost posts to reach people who have already liked your page. And all of the worthwhile book promotion sites cost big money. I just don’t have it.
  5. It doesn’t work. As you can tell, I’m feeling a bit cynical about it all at the moment! I’ll probably feel differently in a few weeks time. I think I’m one of those indie authors who is still fruitlessly searching for the holy grail of effective book promotion. I think I’ve tried everything they suggest. Starting a blog, posting regularly (okay I flagged a bit recently but I seem to be picking up again now) running a Facebook author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, setting up email newsletters, Street Teams, discounting books, holding giveaways and events and competitions. And I’ve tried paid promotions many times and not had any success. I truly believe the answer is not simple and the one thing you think will work, does not exist. It’s a marathon, a platform you build over years of hard work. If I thought posting daily tweets and quotes from my reviews got me sales, I’d do it more often! But I’m pretty sure nothing much has worked so far…
  6. I’m jaded with it all… Yep, I’m tired of the whole thing. Hence, my efforts to find a publisher for my last novel The Tree Of Novels and next release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. Self-publishing can be a lot of fun, but it’s hard work with not a lot to show for it. And I’m well aware that authors signed to publishers also need to good at marketing themselves and their books and also have to endure the litany of promo related stuff I mentioned above…but oh how nice it would be to have someone do it all for me! So I could just write!!
  7. I’m out of ideas.  This is a big part of the problem, and I’ve been here before. Therefore I do know that I will eventually come out the other side of this standoff with fresh ideas and enthusiasm for promoting my books. I’m just feeling so lethargic about it at the moment, I can’t muster the energy. I’ve sort of given up on sales and reviews and just thrown myself into the actual writing. I’m addicted to the writing, you see. It’s the one thing I want to do passionately every day. The one thing I would choose above almost anything else in this world. I feel annoyed when I have to do other things! I turn on my laptop in the evening and I don’t want to think about promoting my books, I just want to start writing…
  8. The writing wins...Yep, at the moment anyway, the writing just wins every time. the odd tweet, the odd share of a review, the odd book selfie even, but that’s it. I want to be writing, I need to be writing, I can’t rest until this current workload is shifted.

So, that’s where my head is currently at when it comes to the marketing and promotion of my books! I am ashamed to admit that I have been utterly crap at promoting my books for a fair few months now. There are so many things I could do to remedy this, and I will. Starting maybe with a piece of paper stuck to my wall beside my laptop…A piece of paper with weekly goals and daily goals. A piece of paper with a blank space there for any bright ideas I pick up while online.

What do you think, fellow readers and writers? Any hot tips? As a writer, how do you go about promoting your books? What works and what doesn’t? Do you go through slumps where you would much rather hide from promotion and just get on with the writing? Or do you enjoy marketing your books and finding your audience?

What about you readers? What sort of book promotion works for you? What has drawn you to look up certain authors or pick up a certain book!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so do please feel free to comment and share…

 

My Dog and I Are Far Too Alike…

They say that owners end up looking like their dogs. Or maybe it’s that people subconsciously choose dogs that look a bit like them. I can’t say I look like my dog Skipper, sadly. He is tall, slim and blonde. I’m…not. However, we are very alike in a lot of strange ways. Today’s blog is all about me and my dog, and why we are so totally and utterly suited to go through this life together…

1656036_763861943633073_8363940785469185821_n

 

We are both anti-social. Well, to be fair, we are probably better described as asocial, rather than anti. I’ve always been one of those people that get on just fine on my own. I don’t need other people and I’ve never felt lonely in my life. I often don’t really understand other people and sometimes feel life is simpler when I just avoid them. Skipper is like this with other dogs. Some bad experiences taught him that unknown dogs are best left alone. Therefore, he does not go out of his way to interact with strange dogs. He sticks by my side and gives me his wide-eyed anxious look. Don’t leave me, Mum. He literally doesn’t know what to do when he meets other dogs. Wagging his tail? Well, sometimes. Play? No, don’t be silly. He never stoops to that. He just wants to be left alone and well old boy, I can totally relate to that.

We both love to run. I started running when I was 17. I was fed up of being chubby and depressed and decided I was the only one who could do anything about it. I started running around the back fields of our estate. I’ve continued running whenever I can throughout my life. Granted, there have been long periods of time when I have just not been able to fit it in, but I do try to get back to it. With my youngest child now at part time at pre-school, I am currently getting back into it in a big way. Of course, Skipper is half Greyhound and half Saluki, so running is in his genes. He was born to run and in his younger days, he used to make the earth shake when he took off. Oh, what a sight. Absolutely beautiful. So much power and grace and passion. Sadly, he’s coming up to 8, and a quick, mad dash here and there is all he feels up to these days. When I run, he keeps up a pleasant trot as if to humour me. But every now and then, if his amazing eyesight catches sight of a squirrel on the ground, he still surprises me with how fast he can take off, like a bullet from a gun, tearing up the dust, thundering out of sight. Beautiful. Never fails to make me smile.

21994465_1651838618168730_158630375873332947_o

 

We know who we love. Skipper has always been a bit fussy about who he likes. He’s never been mean or aggressive, it’s just there are some people he’s not that fussed about, and there are some people he really, really, really likes. He likes them so much he announces their arrival with a high pitched, screaming whine. He greets them by turning in circles and knocking into them with his backside. He then makes sure they remember he is around by placing his head on their lap for fuss, and nudging their hand every time they dare to stop stroking. He can be very demanding, like that. I know who I like too. I have some very favourite people in my life. People I get very, genuinely and childishly excited about seeing. Funnily enough, I think they are the same ones Skipper loves…

18922917_1537229719629621_5132818550483995292_o

We are very loyal. I like to think I am a loyal person. I don’t need a lot of people, and I’m kind of fussy about who I let in, but if I do make a friend, it tends to be a friend for life. I’m not too interested in superficial, small talk friends. I’d rather have a small handful of people I can truly rely on for deep and meaningfuls, and once I’ve found them, I’ll cling onto them, recognising how valuable and rare it is to find ‘your people’. There’s no doubt that Skipper is loyal. And most of that loyalty is given to me. If anyone else tries to walk him, he will pull them over to me. When he was a puppy, he once ran back home to me because my husband took him for a walk. Unless he’s having a mad dash, whenever I look down on our walks, there he is. His eyes are always on me. Like melted hazlenut chocolate. He has the gentlest eyes ever. We’re well and truly stuck with each other. There’s no one else would be able to understand him like I do, and vice versa.

22496134_1669914713027787_4798253652834429377_o

We have a naughty side…Well, who doesn’t? No one’s perfect, right? Skipper can be very, very naughty. He is a terrible thief. (It’s a lurcher thing.) He has grabbed legs of lamb and run up the garden with them, eaten an entire 2kg tub of margarine, entire fruit crumbles, cakes, a batch of freshly baked scones, entire contents of my fridge once when it got somehow left open…the list goes on. There is nothing he won’t steal. Though we do joke, if there is something Skipper won’t steal, then it must be truly vile. He has a sensitive tummy though, so quite often the results of his thievery end up in steaming puddles all over the house, which is usually how we know he has stolen something. He will also raid the bin. We don’t have a bin anymore but do put rubbish in a plastic bag on the side. Never ever make the mistake of putting even a crust or a crumb into that bag! He will wait until you are not around (he never steals when we are watching!) and he will happily tear the whole bag to shreds and scatter the rubbish all over the floor. Skipper also cocks his legs on things from time to time. He is house trained. He can even open the front door by himself from both sides, so is able to let himself in and out for toilet time. It’s just that every now and then, for no explicable reason, he likes to piss over something in the house. He has over the years, been a truly naughty boy. But I’m no angel and sometimes I think we deserve each other. I’m one of those people who is slow to anger, but once I blow I really blow. Everything will come out all at once in a pretty childish temper tantrum. I always end up regretting it afterward, and it would be much better if I mentioned things as and when they annoyed me, but there you go, none of us are perfect, but sometimes I think we expect dogs to be.

22426646_1664164230269502_2346514901464568034_o

We are creatures of habit…Skipper has the most amazing internal clock. My other lurcher Tink will come running if she hears the food bowls clattering, or her lead being grabbed. She might show up if someone is home from school or work. But Skipper knows exactly when things should be happening, and he never lets me forget. He has his cues. The front door opening in the morning means breakfast. Between 9am and 10am is first walk. Don’t even think of going past 10am. He will follow me around the house with big, sad eyes. He will sit down right in front of me if I have dared to put on the TV or pick up a book. Every time I turn around he will be there. Staring. The same thing happens around 12pm. Lunchtime, obviously. Then anytime between 2pm and 3pm, he is on high alert. Second walk. He won’t settle. Every time I say ‘right’ he thinks it’s the off. Runs like a lunatic into the front door. Again, he will follow me around, tripping me up. Once home, it’s window watching time. He sits on the bottom stairs and has a good view of the front gate. He’s waiting for the kids to come home one by one. Yes, he loves them and wants to greet them, but what he’s really after is the leftovers from their lunchboxes. He won’t go away now until after his dinner, followed by ours. He will be there like a massive lump, long, gangly legs in the way, hopeful eyes, getting trod on and bumped into because he just won’t go away until every little crumb is extinguished. Bless him. Then it’s back to bed. As for me, I have to admit I am not the most spontaneous of people. I like to have my week planned to a degree. I write to-do lists and can’t survive without them. My life is arranged by time slots and I really have no say in it. School run, school pick up, dog walks, dinner. You know how it is! There is a degree of comfort in the familiar. If someone was to turn up at my house unannounced, I honestly don’t know how I would cope!

So, there you have it. I might not exactly look like my dog (I look a lot more like the other one. The scruffy one!) but I do think we have become very, very similar. For this reason, I just get him, and he just gets me. That’s the beauty of owning a dog. Total acceptance.

What about you? Are you a dog person or a cat person, or are you owned by both? Do you think you and your pet are alike in personality? Or maybe looks? Please feel free to comment and share!

16819284_1421159227903338_3821758663174394252_o

 

Today I’m Gonna’ Run

Today I’m gonna’ run.

I’m gonna’ run from the madness and the anger and the fear, I’m gonna’ run from the TV stations, and the radio and the internet. I’m gonna’ run to feel the earth hard and firm beneath my feet, to feel the cold wind against my skin, and in my hair. I’m gonna’ run to feel my heart beating harder and faster inside my chest, to know I am still alive, and that this is still a life, to feel my breath coming short, to feel my legs working, to feel my body getting stronger and leaner and harder.

I’m gonna’ run to exert power and control over me, my body, my life. I’m gonna’ run outside, to be under the sky, and upon the earth, to see sky over my head and dirt under my feet. Today I’m gonna’ run through dark trees and see light and shadows fragmented on the ground, I’m gonna’ run down dusty tracks, and jump over heather and squeeze past gorse. I’m gonna’ run as if I am free, as if I am animal and returned to the wild. I’m gonna’ push and breathe, and go higher, and faster and harder and longer.

Today I’m gonna’ run to remind myself I come from the earth and will return to the earth. That Mother Nature owns and controls us, not the other way around, that for far too long we have used and abused her, that one day surely she will turn on us all.

I’m gonna’ run to pledge my loyalty and love to her above all others. I’m gonna’ run from the small minds and the big fears, and the demons running amok, I’m gonna’ run to remember that they can’t own me and they can’t own nature, and that all things in this life and world are cyclical and that good times will roll around again. I’m gonna’ run to feel better and lighter so that when I return I can look my children in the eye and tell them that better days are coming, that they are the light and the hope, and that the only thing they should listen to is the earth itself.