Charlotte: Introducing myself
Having said a while ago that it seemed to be the polite thing to do to introduce myself properly, by the time I figure out how to do a blog post AND think of something pithy and beautifully composed to do the job, I will probably have spent months clogging up the Monday page with “comments.” So I’m asking Miranda if she could put this up for me, in case any of you might have wondered who this stranger amongst you with a blue patchwork face might be. (I rather like my piece of patchwork.)
I’m Miranda’s cousin, living in London; we’re about the same age and have never actually met, but are going to soon, because (re)discovering this blog and marvelling at how disciplined you all manage to be in making (and using) time for your own creativity while also managing households and children has finally spurred me into action. I’ve set aside a few weeks to come over to the States for a “writing retreat,” which Miranda’s mother has generously agreed to provide and police! I’m hoping this will result in something a bit more concrete than just a few pages of scribbles, though right now it feels as if it would be a step forward just to get into the habit of having a sensible timetable and writing a little every day. I need to create a pattern that I can continue back home. This is often hard for me for reasons that are not child-related, more to do with having to do a lot of work of different kinds at very erratic times.
Like most of you, I’m also a freelance juggler. “Journalist, editor, translator, actress, writer” covers most of it, I think. That’s what it says on my tax return, anyway, or does when they manage to fit it all in the box. The journalist bit means I am often working odd days and odd times — sometimes nights, sometimes very early mornings, and always very long shifts. The actress bit is fun, but in practical terms means that I might, like this summer, be away on tour for months, constantly on the road and exhausted. It also should mean that I focus on trying to get work when I am not working — or indeed when I am — which is much harder work than the working itself. I quite like translation in small quantities, and I only really translate interesting articles and stories, so that’s nice — but not really very creative (yes, yes, I know — but it’s not the same as I don’t do the actual writing). Editing (there is too much of this) drives me crazy, but it’s regular and pays the bills, and I get to take it with me wherever I need to be — which is good, but means it tends to pull my focus away from the more creative stuff, like acting — and writing.
Writing has always come last, because it’s something I want to do for myself rather than something I have to do for someone else or to pay the bills; and also because it’s something that, like most things that are really worthwhile, doesn’t come easy. I used to write constantly when I was young; I’d written two novellas by the time I was 14. Then at some point I stopped completely — probably around the time I started studying literature and literary criticism, and learned to express myself on stage instead. I forgot that I had ever been a writer until someone asked me about my writing, about 20 years ago now — and I found that, while I could still craft pretty paragraphs, I couldn’t finish anything. I felt — feel — that I have both nothing and too much to say.
However, in the past 3 years I’ve written two books for children (age range 10-13) for the series I also edit. They’re bilingual English-German (narrative in German, dialogue in English). I’m fluent in German, but I’m not bilingual. I found writing in it incredibly liberating, as was writing a children’s book which was intended to be good, but not great literature. Suddenly the pressure to be perfect was off! There was no way it was going to be perfect, or expressed EXACTLY as I envisaged it. I was writing in a language that wasn’t mine, wasn’t my primary medium, one in which I was supposed to be extremely proficient. I was allowed to make mistakes. I was able just to tell a story, for fun, without trying to make every sentence into some kind of intricate piece of jewellery. I had a great time; the characters started talking back and doing things on their own, and the story just poured out without a problem.
So now I need to work out how to do the same thing in English, without despising what I am writing for being insufficiently brilliant or beautiful or perfectly crafted. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the making of any and every excuse not to sit down and do the thing we really want (or say we really want) to do… Fear of failure or fear of success? Fear of the terrible blank page, or fear of having too much to say and getting it wrong? All of these, perhaps… In any case, being on tour this summer has taught me that while I like to be doing different things, I definitely need to be more focussed on acting and writing, whereas at the moment the scales are heavily weighted towards editing and journalism. I have to do something about this, before even more time slips by. Oh, and after a lifetime of never being very bothered about money I have also suddenly realised that you need money to buy peace and quiet. (ALL Londoners have noisy neighbours.) Since I always forget to buy lottery tickets, my only hope of ever making any money is to write a bestseller. Well, they say you should always aim high…