Thursday, 27 February 2014

The trouble with going outside to write

Dear all, I did have a couple of other subjects to write about for yesterday’s and today’s blog posts but after spending last night and today sneezing and coughing in bed with a cold this one came to mind. I added the final bullet point just now, hopefully you will understand if you make it that far.

Back in London I was very used to taking my laptop and working in different places around the parts of London I worked and lived in. I would sit in pubs, cafes, parks and those places called libraries, although if you don’t mind me being grumpy for a moment the ones I went to are too noisy these days…anyway, I would happily make myself comfortable and write. So that’s all well and good. Now I think about it though and compare it to what I am doing here, I can see that there are two ways of going about it and I have tended to do one far more than the other.
            To explain; if you go out with the intention of writing, how often do you go somewhere in the knowledge that you may bump into someone, that you have only got a set period of time, at a certain time you must go somewhere to meet someone or run an errand or pay your council tax or pick something up from the shop before it closes…and those sort of things. How many times have you gone fully intending not to be interrupted…but made it possible that you are? One way of asking this is have you ever gone somewhere you know for absolute sure does not have Internet connection and you have not taken your mobile phone?
            There have been a couple of occasions, and I am really ashamed to say only a couple, where I have done that. I have so much opportunity to do so, to sit in peace and comfort and solitude and get on with writing and yet still find it so hard to do and end up doing one of the above. However I know the results I get from writing outside are great and I really enjoy doing it so I’m not sure why I sabotage myself.
            I want to leave writing at home out of this blog. Yes, staying put with the kettle on and working through the day at your desk/table/office is best, no distractions, no travelling, etc. and so is the best way to get serious amounts of work done but for today I just want to explore how much you can get done somewhere else.
            On the occasions where I have settled somewhere and gone into that trancelike state where all of a sudden five or ten thousand words have appeared and a few hours gone by without you realizing, I have felt very good about myself because I haven’t felt like a hermit. There is a connection to the world around me, not because I am necessarily watching people go by, there is a time for that for sure, and not because I have had conversations with the café owner, it is just the feeling of being surrounded by life going on itself that cheers me up. I don’t get that same feeling if I stay in all day no matter how much work I get done. I feel like I have missed the world and I have lost the day. The difficult adjustment to make is that I know deep down that shouldn’t matter, the work alone should matter but I guess I want the best of both worlds when it’s impossible.
            I think it may be something to do with the mental preparation to write. If you work in an office, the journey there, the putting on of a suit and tie, the daily motions you go through to sit down at whatever desk you have gets you in that state for work (even if you hate it and you don’t feel like it once you sit down you start working, you just get on with it) and when you leave the office at the end of the day, stress and other issues aside if you have a very demanding job, in general you have the feeling that the working day is done and you can forget about things until the morning.
            At the moment I feel a pressure to write all day, I should be writing in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. The hang-up I still have is that I feel I should also be going outside and exploring. So that little process of mental preparation, the journey to work if you like, I’m having trouble with. It’s odd really, just getting a cup of tea or coffee and sitting down at the table just doesn’t seem enough some days. Just like at the gymnasium you need to warm up, you need to have that set time of stretching and gentle jogging to get you ready for the main workout. I can’t seem to work out the best way to warm up. I have found blogging helps, once I have got some words down the fingers are loose and I am comfortable in the chair and I can get going. However, not always.
            That is why I feel going out alone sometimes does the trick, but when it doesn’t work it can be painful, you get back home having done nothing all day and you question why you spent 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 minutes walking somewhere only to sit down and do nothing and waste another 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 minutes coming back. That is 2 hours you could have spent at the desk…
            What you can gain by going out is fantastic though, just by being in a different environment I feel energized with a sense of purpose. I enjoy the feeling of freedom, the exploring, the sense of having seen something new.
            There are obvious things that can go wrong. It can rain, then you’re screwed. The wind can pick up and you have to battle just to keep control of your papers. The café you go to can unexpectedly close early and you lose your flow. All those things and more have happened and you end up dragging yourself home feeling aggrieved and cheated.
            Then again, there are those things that can mess you up if you stay in. Outdoors I somehow mentally prepare myself for background noise and it doesn’t interrupt my flow but if I am indoors then the slightest out of the norm sound can totally mess me up, the next door neighbour’s music, kids running along the hallway outside, the construction work down the road…once I hear it I may as well put my coat on and go for a stroll.
The challenge for me is to make sure I always produce work. If I go out then don’t waste the day. If I stay in then don’t waste the day. And most of all, don’t feel you have cheated yourself out of doing the opposite thing! That ‘if only I had done this instead’ feeling, it’s horrible and gets you down.

So I try to remind myself of the basics.
  • Don’t take your mobile phone and end up texting and calling friends all day.  Or if you can trust yourself to bring it then be strict and use it only for emergencies.
  • Don’t go somewhere that has free wi-fi and spend all day searching the web.
  • Make sure you have a fully charged laptop because if you take an hour to get somewhere, find a comfortable spot and then a minute into writing you get a five minute warning to automatic shut down time you will be kicking yourself all the way home.
  • Don’t go to an area that you know you don’t like! Sounds so obvious doesn’t it but the amount of times I have gone to a certain place knowing there is a high chance that it will be too busy or too cold or too windy but telling myself that maybe it will be okay today only to get there to find that it is exactly as you feared and you have just tricked yourself yet again.
  • Don’t go somewhere and then go straight back because you feel fidgety. Be disciplined, stay there and get some work done, it is just like going to the office, treat it that way. I should use word counts, some people find them very useful markers, but I always end up thinking too much about my progress and checking the number every two minutes so I have given up on that.
  • Be careful you don’t catch a cold and then lose two days to being ill… 

Sometimes when I find writing tough it is good to go out and refocus, it doesn’t always work but I really enjoy it. I have wasted many days but then again what was the guarantee that had I stayed in I would have done any better.
This isn’t to do with just going out in general and exploring because you feel like a walk or whatever, that’s totally different, that is absolutely essential and I love it, I am only talking about going out with the intention of working. I don’t care where it is, the quiet coffee shop that plays smooth jazz or the High Street bench where a thousand people walk past, if it works then great.

As a very small aside, sometimes you go somewhere and without expecting it you get a burst of inspiration because you come across something that reminds you why you love the constant pain of trying to write.

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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Being selfish with your choices

Dear all,

How many times has someone given you the sagest of advice, I mean, really taken time out of their lives to help you and guide you and to give you their hard-earned honest opinion and wisdom…only for you to nod, agree and thank them…and then instantly ignore them?
To any friends that may be reading this, of course that doesn’t apply to you! I don’t mean you at all, thank you so much for everything you have ever done for me…ahem…no, no, I mean other people.
Everyone has the most well meaning of intentions don’t they but sometimes you have to free yourself from it. I want to share a moment of clarity I had when reading two specific pieces of work, Ernest Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea and Franz Kafka’s, The Castle.
            At the danger of really annoying you to the point of infuriation I’ll repeat what I have said pretty much in all of my blog posts, I am a total novice! I do not claim any expertise or authority in the world of writing so I am well aware that I will have people telling me who the hell I think I am when I say what I am about to say. So here goes for what it’s worth. I didn’t think much of The Old Man and the Sea. There I have said it. On the other hand, I was really inspired by The Castle.
            Let me explain. I have had a lot of people encourage me to read Hemingway over the years, both as a masterful writer in general, and specifically as a master of the short story. If you do a little bit of research it won’t take long for you to see that the story I have just said I don’t think much of is widely considered to be among the best short stories ever written (Pulitzer anyone…) Now before you explode, I would like to say that yes of course I think Hemingway is a magnificent writer! It is the specific suggestion of people thinking that I must read this one particular book over any of his others that I think is interesting, the assumption I will get more out of that than something else because either they have, or they have been told they should.
            I have also met a lot of people who think Kafka is confusing, pointless and full of meaningless meanderings. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing. What I am saying is that I found reading The Castle to be an immensely moving experience. I would not however say that everyone I know must read it on the assumption they will get the same feeling I did from it no matter how much I would like them to. I think that is the difference between knowing something is recommended and having something pushed on you for its own sake rather than being relevant to you. I wonder how many people think first, yes, this will match very well your interests and goals, or I loved it so you have to love it as well?
            I said a long time ago in one of my blog posts that I do not review books. I simply don’t feel qualified. It is not my place to, and I don’t enjoy it. So I am not about to go into why I feel about these stories the way I do. For the record the books I have mentioned are both great, I am not saying otherwise, that isn’t the point. What I am going to draw your attention to is my earlier sentence about having a moment of clarity. It is the result I am interested in here, not the reasoning.

When talking about writing I think it is good to be selfish. I am happy that I have the strength to be selfish now and I will continue to be selfish in the future. The reason is I have had enough of being told what to read and what to ignore based on other people’s opinions when it is not related to my education. For instance, reviews are very important when it comes to buying books in general, if I walk into a bookstore or log into Amazon, yes, I want to see good reviews for the products I am looking at. I read those reviews and it does influence what I will buy. What I don’t like doing is expanding my reading list or my set of influencers based solely on what other people think is good for me. The basic rule is you should read a lot of everything. I am not going to ignore someone because you think they are no good when it is not about being good or bad, it is about being different. If there is something to learn then I am going to read it, even if it is a big pile of rubbish! That is because there is something to be gained about learning more from good and bad technique and style by reading it than there is ignoring it. So I feel very happy about saying what I like and what I don’t like because at a root level, I like everything! I respect and admire everyone who has gone about the business of finishing a piece of work but that is not the same as going along with the consensus and saying something is better than I think it is in its relation to its impact on me and trying to then emulate it. That I think is such an important qualifier, if something moves and inspires you then you should admit that and allow it to motivate you, regardless of what it is, and that is why I feel happy admitting I am selfish. I am going to absorb everything and use it to my advantage! There is nothing wrong with that because I also continue to be open to ideas. If someone suggests something then I will take it at face value, it is worth reading (or watching, listening, eating, etc.) because everything is. Not because they have any special knowledge on what makes me tick deep inside and they somehow understand that this piece of work will change my life. In turn, that makes me feel more confident about turning the education of reading into tangible lessons for my writing.
I am going to write about what I want to write about. I am not going to write about certain subjects because people think I should. I am not going to write like anyone else because they think I should. I am not going to write for a certain audience because that is where the money is, or where they current swell of opinion is, etc. If I want to explore a certain style and technique or attempt a crazy form then why the hell not! I am not trying to be like anyone else.
There are only so many hours you can spend on things that aren’t working for you; time is precious. Don’t feel like you have to read every book in a series just to say you have finished the series, only do it because you enjoy it or are getting something from it. Move on to the next. If someone recommends a book to you and you get through the first few chapters and you think it stinks, don’t feel obligated to finish it because the author is famous, or the book itself is famous, just put it down and get onto the next, perhaps one day you can go back to it, but for now, be selfish, do what is right by you because you need to make the most of the day and get on to the next project, and more importantly you need to feel the confidence to try something new, something out there is more relevant to you and will help you more, go find it.

Going back to the beginning, the reason why I feel that I have benefitted from being more selfish is that as a consequence of being selfish I find that I take people’s views less to heart. That allows me to try and fail more. To experiment more. To fail and fail and fail again but really enjoy the process! Life isn’t always like school, college or university; there aren’t set texts you have to read and write an essay on. Yes something’s are just too good to miss and also, something’s are too important to miss. There are times when you just have to knuckle down and get through those set texts, but not as often as I had once thought, and by not following the expected path, you can create your own path.
Again, not the best written piece, slightly rushed and I don’t think I have got the core point across but it has been a very important process for me. I’m only talking about one specific arena of pushing your own style and form and self-experimentation. I’m not talking about becoming a selfish person in your entire life, still share your sweets and please your lovers…
You are allowed to like whatever the hell you like. For me, I feel freer to write what I want to write now more than ever because I never want to be the person who writes for anyone other than myself. 

It feels very liberating to be selfish.


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Monday, 24 February 2014

Confidence Vs Self-Belief

Dear all,

I hope the week has started well for you and thank you to all those who downloaded Rufus Garlic’s free ebooks this weekend.

I may have mentioned before that now I have more time to write and blog I’m going back to my list of topics that have lain dormant for quite some time and posting on issues as and when they feel right. There is no particular order to it, if something new comes up then I will write about that on the day, but otherwise I have a long random list to get through. Some I could write about, or update my views on every few months, as I’m sure my opinion may change as my knowledge and experience develops, casting a different light on what I have said previously. Anyway, if I repeat myself occasionally I hope no one notices…

It seems to me I can divide my adult life into two sections, the first being a confident young man but lacking any particular sense of self-belief, and the second a man with a secure sense of self-belief but not much confidence. This is a writing blog so let’s keep in mind I have that as the main focus but of course I accept that I cannot separate myself into neat distinct sections, it all rolls into the same person, me being me.
            I want to make a distinction between confidence (Online Dictionary: and self-belief (Online Dictionary: because although there are two extremely closely related definitions, I want to make sure you know what I mean. To me, confidence is a sense of being ready for the moment, an ability to undertake challenges and risks regardless of whether you believe you will come out victorious, to enjoy the challenge for itself. The challenge doesn’t have to be anything out of the ordinary, it can be as simple as walking out of your front door to go to the shops, ringing a friend to ask for something, to walk into a bar or restaurant you have never been in before, all the way to competing at a high level in sport or taking control in an executive boardroom and not feeling scared, intimidated or self-conscious, or perhaps feelings those things but having control over them so that you do it anyway, or at least make an attempt to. You may have good knowledge on a subject and feel that should you be questioned on it you are ready to answer, or you may not have good knowledge but are ready to be tackled regardless even if you do not pull off the pretense.
            I would say that when I was younger (let’s keep this to being an adult, school days are a whole different kettle of smelly hormonal fish) I was confident because I had the sense that I wanted to be part of the world I was surrounded by, I wanted to take on challenges and I went further by undertaking these challenges and putting myself in positions where I had to go ahead with them. I feared failure and humiliation like most people but I didn’t care for them so should I fail at something I was always positive about it. For instance, I enjoyed training in boxing and kickboxing when I was younger (I will get on to shortly my views on self-belief and this may give you a hint) but never thought I would be a world champion but never the less I did go into the ring on a few amateur occasions. Did I think my fighting career would go anywhere? No. Never. I did not believe I had what it took to go all the way. However, I wanted the experience and the sense of participating in that world so I did it anyway (there’s a short story coming about that you may not be surprised to hear).
            There are countless areas I look back on: applying for jobs, asking girls out, travelling, living alone, gambling, sports and I could go on where I felt that I had great confidence but the juxtaposition of not having self belief meant that I think I always felt there was a time limit to the experience, a gnawing sense of having whatever it was taken away from me at some point. Let me go on to explain my view on self-belief.
            I have always envied people with self-belief because I associate it with people who tend to not see, ignore or be oblivious to, negative outcomes or even better and more importantly in my view (to save them from arrogance and self-delusion) know the problems ahead but are convinced they can overcome them with hard work and dedication. Self-belief can drive you forward with purpose and a sense of destiny that you equate to success with the particular goal you have, it may be a small goal in the scheme of global megalomania or it could be total galactic domination. I don’t want to say it is connected with narcissism or self-absorption because I have no justification for that, so although what I am saying seems to veer on to that, it is not intended. For instance, in the examples I gave above I had the confidence to do those things not because I felt I was the best person in the world for that particular job, not because I felt I was the best looking man in the room, not because I felt I had the right to be in another country, not because I felt I was capable of running my own household, not because I felt I would win (you can say that again) and not because I felt I was the best athlete…I simply wanted to do it. I just enjoyed myself. I didn’t believe in myself particularly, I just had confidence to try. There was no drive internally instructing me to achieve some lofty goal, I didn’t feel that I deserved anything or would be given anything, it is a difficult explanation to give. I felt I had traits of being a hard worker, a nice person with genuine honesty and a positive approach to life and I always felt that things would fall into place and ‘just be’ rather than any destiny I was owed or I could achieve.
            So after all that, I would say now, years later and certain experiences later, I am not confident about my life at all and I am the least confident in myself I have ever been; however, I have an acute sense of self-belief that I have never had before. I am not going into the realm of emotions that can be connected to all this, it’s not an essay, but we all have our own demons to face and issues that can effect us (which can be good and bad at the same time), depression, melancholia, nostalgia, financial worries and so on, that’s all too much too to incorporate here, let’s stick to a generalization. You can apply your own reasoning if you want, if you are lonely, if you are dissatisfied with your job, your home, your salary, your body…on it goes, I don’t want to mention anything specifically. For myself then, I can say that I don’t feel confident about being successful in any arena of life you can mention, I don’t quite like the idea of being in any situation that involves the examples I have already given, but that is where self-belief creates a very comforting dichotomy – as much as one part of me wants those things, the other part of me doesn’t, and what is more important, doesn’t care and doesn’t let it effect me. So in one way I could say that self-belief trumps confidence. By not feeling affected by the lack of confidence, that doesn’t perversely mean that I am confident, it means that I have a sense of well-being that seems more long term than any feeling I have had before.
Before I blather on continuing to make absolutely no sense let me direct this to writing which after all is what this blog is about. When younger, I wanted to write. It was a very simple pleasure that was a hobby I often spoke about, but kept the details of very private. This is because I had confidence but I had no self-belief. I was confident about my ability to put thoughts onto paper, to type onto a keyboard, to produce lots of words and ideas, to set aside time to spend thinking and writing…but I never thought it would go anywhere, I didn’t think about what I was producing and the longer term goals and ambitions that went with it, there wasn’t a sense or connection between writing and my life. I thought about my job and my lifestyle and my education and my friends and my family but I did not associate writing with the part of me that was still trying to feel comfortable with itself.
Now things are entirely different, I have been through more life experiences, both good and bad, and I have got to a point where I see writing as a core part of my life that I need to focus on, and develop more than any job (and another conflict is that I don’t see it as a job but I must treat it like a job) or any hobby or sport, I consider it more important than my appearance or my financial situation or views on relationships. I now understand how much work is required, how I am right at the very beginning of developing my skills and the amount of time it will take to make progress. For that reason a sense of calm has settled on me, I am able to be honest about my desire to create stories, instead of it being something I do outside of my main life; it is my main life. For that reason, I cannot say I am confident because I genuinely don’t feel I am. I do not have any clue as to whether the work I will produce over the years to come will be any good, who will read it and why, whether I will ever earn a penny from it…and that is such a fantastic feeling! The interesting thing is, on this occasion not being confident is not something to associate with negativity. I don’t think it is a bad thing because I no longer feel an obligation to obtain the things I have not got confidence about. I’m sure I have messed this explanation up royally but I hope you get the drift of things. I feel very happy about my future, not because I feel confident I will get things I feel I should or must because of my age or the society I live in but because I feel a concrete sense of knowing myself so much better than ever before and that is purely down to having self belief that I will write; and whatever else happens as a consequence I can live with.

This could be a blog about getting older and it wasn’t lost on me that on the list of topics in my notes, ‘Being an Adult’ was very near to this and I will write another blog on that later this week. It could be a blog on making choices, or finding your vocation, or any number of things, but when looking at the title it struck me that I am writing this with no real understanding why, other than I hope that people can feel better about themselves by losing the conditions they have set their lives by and finding the self belief that is in every one of us, by telling yourself we are all important people who deserve a happy life and that if you lose your confidence because of external factors, inside you can still be the person you want to be. So I’m not worried about being in a state of low confidence, it may last days, months, years who knows, but it really doesn’t matter to me because I feel like I have something much more important, self-belief, and if we argue that because I gain self-belief I automatically gain confidence then that’s fine with me, I’ll go with that. If you couldn’t care less about something then perhaps that shows confidence in believing in yourself; that works for me too.

Now these are my own views, written over the course of an hour or so and not held back for review or editing so perhaps it comes across as too much of a contrast when I didn’t intend it to be so, but nevertheless it gives an approximation of my feelings and you are free to disagree with my definitions and the way I have expressed myself. I hope you do!

So if you want to write, then get writing and don’t think of anything else other than you are showing real confidence and real self-belief just by the process itself of trying to do something you love.


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