Doing things that terrify you

Once you become a writer, once you have a certain degree of ‘success’ (note the inverted commas, because they are important), you start to relax a bit. You begin to believe that you know where you’re going, that your writing muscles are going not only to get you through the marathon of novel writing but to the shiny medal of publication (and hence the inverted commas, that success is still not mine, so how successful, really, am I?) and that, short of some catastrophic writing injury like pregnancy, writer’s block or death (this metaphor is being stretched too far) you will continue to be a writer, forever.

And at that point this writer, at least, became a bit complacent. My catastrophic writing injury turned out to be surgery – the two months it’s taken to get back to real life: to running and yoga and digging the allotment, shocked me almost stupid. It turned out that I wasn’t that successful writer at all. I was the whining one, the one who couldn’t write because her back hurt, her stomach hurt, her head was fuzzy or she hadn’t been out of the house for three days and was going crazy. Writing – stopped. Writer – stopped.

And I realised that the problem was that I’d stopped learning. I’d found a comfort zone within which I wrote, and hadn’t stretched those muscles that could have taken me through the bad time. So I vowed that when I was back to what passes for normality, I would remember how easy it is to become complacent, and would challenge myself in ways that made my mouth dry and my skin prickle and my heart rattle like a tambourine in the hands of a two year old.

I’ve signed up for an art class. I cannot draw or paint. I am terrified. I have started producing a daily sketch and they are, frankly, dire. I am so far out of my comfort zone that the very idea of turning up for the first session gives me vertigo. It’s exactly like the feeling I had when I stood up for the first time to read my work aloud. And when I’m not witless with fear, it’s great – my perceptions are heightened, my writing flows and I’m aware of whole new areas of the world that I never focused on until I started looking at them as something I might one day have to fit into a sketch pad.

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