Episode 22: That’s me in the corner (and, honestly, I’m writing)

In which our protagonist realises that maybe she should get out of her own way and heed those nudges in the right direction

Dear reader, brave creator, how’s your week been? Did you enjoy the sunshine? Everything always looks better in the sunshine, doesn’t it? I enjoyed the sun from the safety of home, looking up and out of the skylight, and then realised I actually might have become that agoraphobic hermit I’ve always joked I would be one day. Mission for this week: leave the bloody house already.

I have been shut away inside for a good reason, though: reasons of writing. The universe has been gently nudging me towards taking my fiction writing more seriously - you know that sort of tap on the shoulder that says “what about this?” and “over here, maybe?” Do you get those? I get them a lot when I’m not doing what I promised myself I would do. Like, I dunno… put myself first? Follow my dreams? 

Dreams like becoming a published author. Dreams that have been there since childhood but keep being pushed aside because “life” and because I’m waiting for the perfect conditions.

That is a running theme for me, isn’t it?

Where’s the magic bullet?

I opened up last week about my intense need to fit in and feel a sense of belonging that continues to elude me. I think what I really am seeking is a silver magic bullet that will cure all ills. And - how dare it! - it stubbornly refuses to reveal itself. So I’m having to actually do the damn work. This is the paralyising bit, the bit where I feel totally overwhelmed and suddenly get filled with apathy and lethargy and other words ending in Y that are really not good for motivation and Getting Things Done.

Which brings us to this week, and me hiding away from the sun, and doing my best to focus and plan and act. It might seem counterintuitive to everything I’ve said in these missives, but the truth is that hiding away and focusing on the writing thing is a Very Good Thing Indeed for my journey to self(ish). This time isn’t just about getting myself healthy in mind and body - though that is, admittedly, the biggest driver. It’s also about setting my dreams in motion. This drive to write has been the only thing I’m sure of for as long as I can remember. Like many, though, I got sidetracked by life. By the need to earn a living. By procrastination and shiny objects. 

Not anymore. Stake in the ground, this is Important now. Capital I. I need to schedule my life so that I make time for what’s Important-with-a-capital-I - and what’s important is not just what I feed my body and put it through (ugh - exercise; more on that another time), but also how I nourish my mind and my soul. There is no line between them, no arbitrary limit that says OK only do this one thing for this tiny bit of yourself now. Eat this specific vegetable for spleen health. Tap your toes to make your hair grow. Pick up a pen for dream manifestation. Everything I do, every action I take, every move I make, every thought I create, all of it must lead in the same direction: me being Number One Top Thing Ever (to me).

This one’s for the outsiders

And so the writing thing - sorry, I should stop referring to it as “the writing thing” because that belittles my life’s ambition. The drive to create and tell stories is all I’ve ever been sure of. I’ve drifted around how that shows itself in my life until, somewhat ironically, I’ve ended up back where I was as a teenager taking those first tentative steps into brave new writing worlds.

That those steps, and that full circle, should have led me - me! - to the horror genre shocks a lot of people. To them, I say pish posh. Horror has a bad wrap, a branding problem. It’s not all slashers and final girls - though, hail to the final girls for they are magnificent - and it’s not all extreme gore and violence, either. Torture does not fascinate me nor does it make for good reading in my eyes (each to their own, though; you do you). What I love about horror is its celebration of the other, the outsider. The stranger in the strange house that keeps to herself. The old lady living on the edge of the forest who’s said to be a witch. The ghost doomed to relive its worst days for eternity. The misunderstood creature shunned by society. All of these horror tropes are something we outsiders cling to, things we identify with. 

Me, the outsider, the one with an intense need for belonging. The one who feels constantly shunned and always on the outside looking in. Is the horror thing starting to make sense now?

The intention is set and made public; the game is afoot

The problem, of course, is that until I actually Do The Thing and Get The Work Done, I’ll still be the outsider, the one on the outside looking in at all those amazing published horror writers whose experiences and advice I’ve been soaking up at virtual conventions for the last few weeks. They’re all amazing, but they all have something in common: they actually write. They take it seriously. They do the damn thing. 

There will be no magic silver bullet (unless there are werewolves in the vicinity, then I’ll need one of those); there will only be me, sitting behind a computer, tapping on the keyboard and creating worlds. And no matter how much I sit at this keyboard right now, I can’t quite get the brain into gear. So here I am, setting a public intention, a statement to the world that will forever live on the internet and never escape me:

I, the horror writer known as LJ McMenemy, am writing my new novel. I’m calling it a feminist self-help folk horror because that’s just what I’m like. I am getting it done word by word, not worrying about quality, just getting the story out. I will finish this draft by the end of the summer (that’s 31 August) and then I will get into editing. I want it done and ready for querying by the end of this year. This is my vow to the universe. 

Strange thing is, tonight I pulled a card from a newish affirmation deck and it told me: “When I accept the love of the universe as my primary teacher, I will always be guided back to the light.” Nudge nudge. You’ve had your playtime, but listen to what the world is telling you. Go this way, and get on with it already. The (spooky) light is calling. The universe can only do so much; it’s up to me to take the action. As Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird (see below):

Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.

Just like it’s up to you, dear reader. What is your tap on the shoulder telling you to do? Get to it, and let me know how you do.

Until next time, brave creator, block out the noise, be self(ish), and get on with it already. 

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The week ahead 🗓

  • Writing: I spent the weekend at the Cymera Festival, Scotland’s (virtual) festival for SFFH writers, and am, as usual, overwhelmingly inspired. So, the plan is to plug away. Just keep plugging away, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. Get the words done. 

  • Work: My first step into a new world: I’ve officially signed up for a coaching diploma. I start next week!

  • Health: I’m reading “The Joy of Movement” at the moment in the hope it will give me that magic motivation bullet that seems to be missing from my life. 

  • Routine: The routine is moving to a (flexible) schedule! Plus,join me and hundreds of others at the LWS Writers’ Hour every weekday: 8am London, New York, California and NZ. I go to at least one of those a day. Side note: I’m now hosting Kiwi hour several times a week! (That’s 9pm UK/4pm EST/1pm PST/6am AEST for those playing at home.)

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On the stereo 🎧

Blue Weekend, by Wolf Alice

I frickin’ love this band. I love anything they do. I love it when they go all grungey like in previous albums, and I love the softer side they’re exhibiting here, too. That’s all.

PS They still rock on this, their third album - see Play the Greatest Hits for evidence.

Off the shelf 📚

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

This is one of those oft-quoted, oft-referenced writing books that’s been around forever, but I just haven’t gotten to it before now. One of the great things about the Big Break is the amount of reading I’m getting done, and I’m ticking more and more of these “around to it” books off the list as the year progresses. 

Everybody raves about this one, and I can see why - though I also found it hasn’t aged as well as some. (It was written in 1994; some examples/references don’t quite work anymore.) It’s wry, it’s thoughtful, it’s not overly spiritual nor instructive, and it raises a smile while it hammers some home truths. Lamott’s perspective is clear: get your head down, get the work done. Word by word, page by page. It might not result in a bestseller - in fact, it probably won’t - but enjoying the process is the main thing. 

“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognise his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done. 

“If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the centre of your work. Write straight into the emotional centre of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act - truth is always subversive.”

Visual confirmation 📷

Here I am this weekend just gone, putting on my best “I’m a serious horror writer” mask and getting ready to attend virtual workshops and lectures - including the chance to hear two modern horror icons in discussion. Thank you, Cymera Festival! 

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