Trudging through treacle

There are times in my life when attempting to write fiction is akin to what I imagine it’d be like to trudge through a lake of cold treacle wearing a space suit lined with lead.

I know that there are various tricks that can be usefully employed when you feel stuck like this, such as setting yourself smaller goals or trying to see things from inside someone else’s head, but there’s no getting round the fact that it’s all very hard work.

hard_work

image reproduced from boldt.us

I’m quite a fan of the self-help book and have a number of such tomes in my bookcase. One of my favourite authors in the genre is the hypnotist, Paul McKenna.

One of the many useful things I’ve gleaned from Mr McKenna is the trick of creating another version of myself in my mind, the Lorna I’d ideally like to be.  It was that Lorna who wrote and published a book about tearooms last year, and it’s the same one who’ll be completing her first novel at some point.

When I lack self-belief, I can remind myself that I needn’t fear because the other Lorna’s on hand to help me out. She doesn’t suffer from the same hang-ups as I do, which I must say is jolly helpful.

Another book I’ve found very useful recently is “Bounce” by Matthew Syed. He now makes his living from writing and broadcasting, but in his younger years he was a table tennis champion.

His book has the subtitle “The myth of talent and the power of practice”  and if, like me, you don’t feel naturally talented but you would still like to be quite good at something, this book is a marvel for encouraging you to believe it’s possible.

One of his theories – and it’s shared by many other people who’ve studied and written about it – is that you can become an ‘expert’ in just about anything if you dedicate 10,000 hours of practice to it. I like this idea. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent writing in my life so far but it helps me to know that even if what I write frustrates me with its feebleness, it’s all grist to the mill.

I wrote this post by way of taking a break from writing my novel, because of the whole treacle situation. I wanted to remind myself (and anyone else who might benefit from reading it) that it is, in fact, possible to write a novel or achieve some other goal if you keep slogging away at it.

Not that I wish to get ideas above my station, but to quote another chap on my bookshelf: “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all” (Dale Carnegie).

Lastly, there’s nothing like a bit of luck to help you on your way. As Thomas Jefferson so perspicaciously put it: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

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Categories: Books, Inspiration, Matthew Syed, Paul McKenna, Treacle, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

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32 thoughts on “Trudging through treacle

  1. You can do it! 10000 hours sounds a lot though. Less is more though – it doesn’t have to be War and Peace.

    • It does sound a lot, which perhaps explains why so many authors publish their first book later in life than might be expected. I suppose the likes of Jane Austen must have had a pretty intensive period of correspondence and essay writing in their youth. Thank you for your encouragement, I agree that less is more. Editing the first draft is already occupying my mind, even though I haven’t finished writing the story yet.

  2. Plenty of insight in this post! I’ve had a few treacle-filled days myself just recently and I know how you feel. What I have learned over the last year or so is that no writing is ever wasted, and that even if you feel you’re slogging away at something, you can still have a sense of satisfaction at the end. PS: You are naturally talented – I haven’t read that particular book but don’t let it lead you to believe otherwise!

    • Thank you Jo, you’re most kind. It’s very reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who finds writing a struggle and I agree that when you do get a nice chunk of writing done it’s very satisfying. We’re in good company too, I find this quote from George Orwell quite heartening: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

      • That’s very true, and I can sympathise with it even though I’ve never attempted to write fiction. But in a way I think writing is a kind of therapy, disguised very convincingly as labour. Once you can smash that disguise and it’s all starting to flow, you know it’s the only thing you want to do.

        • I think it’s the same whether it’s fiction of non-fiction. Personally, I find fiction harder, but maybe that’s due to not having done it since I was at school, I don’t know. When you’re in the zone, or flow, I agree it’s a wonderful place to be and the hours can fly by. I had that experience about a week ago and I want to get it back again.

  3. I had a printmaking professor in college who told us that we wouldn’t start producing quality prints until we created 1,000 or so…Never did make it to that number ;-). I’m guessing that writing always proves a challenge no matter how many words one puts to paper – but experience/effort HAS got to help, right?!

    • Woah, 1000 prints?! That sounds like a heck of a lot of work to get through. I think that anything creative is worth doing even if you don’t get to some magic number. I quite agree with you, surely the experience of writing, or any other such activity, contributes to your skill in some way. For impatient people like me it’s hard to remember that sometimes, but good to be reminded.

  4. Keep going Lorna! A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
    Ax

    • Thank you Anne, that’s certainly worth bearing in mind. It reminds me of a quote I read recently by an ultra-marathon runner called Stu Mittleman. He said “I never ran 1000 miles. I could never have done that. I ran 1 mile 1000 times.” I’m full of quotes today. :-)

  5. I like the idea of imagining another you. I read somewhere that Cary Grant did that. He pretended to be the suave guy he wanted to be, and eventually that was the real him. (Or something like that.)

    • That’s interesting, thank you for mentioning it, I didn’t know that about Cary Grant. I think the idea is that you do eventually become that person, just as you say Cary Grant did. It’s a case of believing yourself to be the person you can be at your best.

  6. I really enjoyed this post and even though you are ‘entreacled’ I found it very inspiring. Thanks and I hope you are sparked with inspiration any minute….NOW!

  7. Thank you for reminding me that I won’t accomplish anything without the actual, physical act-the DOING of it. My job is a huge interference, I must say, but it is a handicap I can overcome. Sometimes I just need a smack on the head. Thanks. Keep trudging away, Lorna. You’ve done it once, you can do it again.

    • Thanks Kathleen, I feel a smack on the head is what I need too. Sometimes it’s getting started with doing something that’s difficult, as you say, and other times even sitting down and deliberately trying to do it isn’t enough. I think you have to try and accept that there will be good days when you get stuck in and it all flows, and bad ‘treacle filled’ days, when it’s hugely frustrating and sluggish. I do believe that virtually anything’s possible if you’re determined enough, but I need to remind myself of that regularly.

  8. What a motivating post. Thank you! I was feeling a bit “in the weeds” and beaten down with my new writing project yesterday…your post came to me at the perfect moment. What wonderful words….and I love the practice practice practice element. It’s so true. Keep going Lorna…it’s how we handle adversity that is the test of our character and great things come from the struggle.

    • That’s a very reassuring comment Linda, thank you. It can be so tempting when you’re struggling to look at everyone around you and assume they’re all cruising along easily, when in fact the opposite is often the case. I love that last sentence of yours, I’m going to add it to my document of motivational texts! :-)

  9. ah Lorna, I have no profound words of wisdom for you but I hope I can encourage you to keep going. I think you’re a marvelous writer and I believe you could write a(nother) very good book. I appreciate your honesty and despite the treacle, I have every faith that you will succeed.

    • Thank you very much for your kind words Alison, it’s a real boon to have your support and that of other fellow bloggers. I think we’re programmed by society to hide our weaknesses and that can create a lot of pressure and feelings of failure if we fall beneath the standards we set for ourselves. I find that, at least, and I need to remind myself that it’s all self-inflicted!

  10. I have to reply straight away to your first sentence. I had a giggle as you painted such a funny picture of how difficult it would be. I then thought, gee you must be feeling down at the moment and I felt guilty for having laughed. I will now read the rest of the post.

    We all have our treacle filled days and I am sure you will overcome your difficulties. I know I am inspired by your diligence in your writing.

    I like the fact that Dale Carnegie has provided you with some inspiration. My dad used to quote him quite a lot.

    • Please don’t apologise Heather, I’m delighted if I can make you giggle! A burden shared is a burden halved, and writing the odd post like this brings me lots of encouragement from my fellow bloggers. Thank you for your kind words, they’re much appreciated.

      Dale Carnegie was something of a pioneer in the self-help department, wasn’t he? I think it’s interesting to see just how relevant his writing is now, more than half a century after he published his books.

  11. There are some very wise words here, I’m a firm believer in making ones own luck and I think Jeffersons words neatly encapsulate that. I had a lecturer at college who once told his students about the benefit of serendipity and that we shouldn’t underestimate it’s influence and we should sieze the moment when it happens, and I think that ties in with Thos Jeffersons observation too. So I reckon if you keep plugging away the treacle will get thinner, the writing will get easier, and your novel will come together. Good luck!

  12. Wade on! I love your writing. You are in a sticky bit….but it will come :)

  13. There are so many good comments here and I’ll just add that I think you can do it. It will happen!

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