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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…

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cathy #

    lol! nice to meet you, charlotte, and a great place to start is the weekly contest for getting past being perfect.

    September 30, 2008
  2. caseycairo #

    Great to hear from you, Charlotte.

    I think your fear of failure comment is quite powerful and that it drives a lot of things we do (or don’t do). I was talking to my mom about how simple it is to train dogs, yet so few of us actually take the five minutes a day to do the simple, repetitive things necessary to make our pets behave. It’s not hard, so it must be that we’re afraid that, given our best shot, our dogs will not mind us.

    It seems to be the same with writing. I spend so much time procrastinating writing (by doing all the other, necessary things you discussed), and it seems utterly beyond me to actually start putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. What if it stinks? What if my worst fear in this realm is realized… that I’m a terrible writer.

    Sometimes I am just that. A terrible writer. But I wasn’t in front of the television, and I can look back at the awful writing and see how to make it better, given enough time passing.

    Reading books by great authors seems to help me a lot. I am inspired by their words, and then I just pretend I’m them as I sit down to type. Good luck to you!

    September 30, 2008
  3. Kristine #

    It’s great to meet you, Charlotte!

    For me, it’s the fear of “never being good enough” that hinders me with my fiction writing. Perfectionism, not procrastination, is my enemy.

    I also read books by my favorite authors for inspiration. When I write, I make sure I can see my bookshelf. Doing so makes me remember that if they can do, so can I.

    Good luck with your writing retreat. It sounds wonderful.

    September 30, 2008
  4. Hey, Cousin! I hope your first day of Creative Boot Camp was rewarding. I know you’re on dial-up internet access at Camp — and you’re diligently avoiding distractions — so we might not hear much from you in the coming weeks. Give us an update when you can!

    September 30, 2008
  5. Cathy #

    aaaahhh.. a creative retreat….if only….

    September 30, 2008
  6. Juliet Bell #

    Hi Charlotte!
    I put this in just for fun. As I type, you are upstairs with a cup of tea doing your Morning Pages. I loved your introduction, and am crossing my fingers that this “retreat” finds you at the end, with your goals met. Congratulations on your first day of work – you are off and running!

    October 1, 2008
  7. Well, Ma let the cat out of the bag — so much for any pretense of anonymity! Juliet is my mother, for anyone who has followed her work as seen on this blog 🙂

    October 1, 2008
  8. Cathy #

    lol! still, juliet’s work and comments are beautiful, too. and she’s still a mom, even if grandma, too.

    October 1, 2008
  9. Charlotte #

    Thanks, everyone, for your greetings and comments. Dial-up truly is torture (how did we survive pre-broadband? how did we survive pre-internet??!), so as Miranda predicted I’ve been avoiding posting.

    This restaurant I’m in in the nearby town has free wireless access. – FREE!! in Europe you pay through the nose for this stuff! – Which is dangerous, because I’m supposed to be writing… The creative side of Boot Camp has been going OK; I’ve been getting up early, doing morning pages, doing some exercises and meditation, and staring at the computer for about 6 hours a day. Which is a good start in terms of focus, at least. Where I am is the perfect, perfect retreat: Juliet is being so generous and amazing. I have everything I could possibly wish for. I’m guessing this might be what it’s like to be a teenager with a mom who feeds and spoils you unconditionally and gives you space and encouragement… I have some catching up to do in that department.

    Writing progress is up and down. I was aiming for 1000 words a day and have so far averaged 500, including some rehashing of the old stuff. I’m finding it very frustrating, slow and hard and not at all joyous, and of course not nearly good enough. I told myself I’d aim for commercial rather than High Art in the hope that it would come out more easily, but now of course I can’t help wanting it to be at least a little more Meaningful than that… I am trying to put aside the editor-critic; I know this is what stops me writing anything at all. But it is so hard to get the balance between writing any old rubbish and writing well. Yesterday was really hard and I felt quite despairing. But went back again after supper (showed up at the page) and ploughed on until I’d brought the average back to 500 (the day before wasn’t great either). And felt better for it. Maybe I do just write better in the evenings…

    Miranda gave me some good advice on the phone with regards to plotting, and I feel I have some good ideas, some of them quite new (I’m reworking an old idea I wrote 70 pages of many years ago), as well as a good sense now of the characters and themes. But the plotting, the page-to-page of it, the why-bother… oh, that’s hard.

    Back to work. And coffee, methinks. Who’s out there working right now? Let’s be together in spirit. I’m sending out a mental work-date for the next hour right now (Saturday, 15:15) and hoping someone (who isn’t busy doing weekend parent stuff) is picking it up. I’ll imagine they are, and that I’ve just made the commitment… see you back at the desk in five. 😉

    October 4, 2008
  10. Cathy #

    lucky you! 500 a day is awesome, i don’t care if it’s absolute garbage, so long as you’re breaking through your own barriers!

    October 4, 2008
  11. You know we’re hoping for a post-Camp report, Charlotte! (Hint hint)

    October 25, 2008

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