The importance of momentum

by Mhairi Simpson on July 29, 2016

Reading this article made me profoundly uncomfortable, mostly because I regret most days two particular occasions when I didn’t just lose momentum but abandoned it utterly and doing so took me further back than Square One.

The first was in 2011. I was a fresh-faced, shiny-fingered blogger, tap-tap-tapping away at my keyboard every day. For about four months. I was lucky enough to catch the second and (to date) last Platform Building Crusade and within weeks of starting my blog, I was catching a thousand views a month. It peaked in August that same year at around three thousand views a month and fell away pretty quickly after that. Not because people decided they didn’t like what I was writing. Not because I changed tack or became massively offensive overnight.

It was because I stopped blogging.

I had a massive crisis of self-confidence after reading an article which said you shouldn’t blog about yourself. All I had to blog about was myself! What the hell could I write about if I wasn’t writing about me???

Of course, I wasn’t actually blogging about myself, or at least not just about myself. I was writing about things I was experiencing and others found it resonated with them. Awesome! Except, not awesome. Because I let the freakout get to me. Essentially, I massively self-sabotaged and stopped blogging.

For about five years.

Sure, I dropped a post now and then, but months could go by and nothing happened and then I’d think, but I need to write about something. So I’d post and no one would be interested and I’d think, they were right!! I’m a disaster!! And off I’d go and roll around in self-pity and chocolate.

I had hundreds of people visiting my site every damn month and I let it all go away because…WHY??? I guess it was a fear of success thing? “I can’t possibly be this interesting so I’ll stop talking and they’ll all go away and prove me right.” Maybe? Whatever it was, I think about it a lot, even though I try to think about it as little as possible. Mostly because it makes me feel very stupid!

The second time was when I abandoned not one, not two, but THREE anthologies. That was late 2014, although I didn’t admit it to anyone until several months later, in 2015. All the submissions were in for Eve of War (which just came out recently). Submissions had started coming in for Fight Like A Girl (also now out) and Badass Unicorns. Everyone, including me, was really excited about all of them!

And then…I wasn’t.

For a number of reasons, my brain chemistry went down a black hole in October 2014. A bunch of shit got together, did a deal, and ate me. I slid into depression so deep that I actually begged my mother to let me move home because I ‘didn’t know what to do’. Translation: please supervise me because there’s an increasingly high likelihood I’m going to kill myself.

Luckily, she knows me well enough to read between the lines and took me home the following day. Where I proceeded to get worse for the next three months. Eventually even the doctor didn’t know how to help me. Astonishingly, my last ditch attempt to wrest control of my own mind from the Great Nothing consuming it worked. I stopped eating anything with sugar in, as well as cutting out all gluten and lactose, and five months later I was off the antidepressants altogether.

But in October of the year before, I didn’t know that was going to happen. I didn’t even know it was going to happen in March 2015. And even when I was able to kick the pills, I still couldn’t muster up any interest in any of the wonderful anthologies I’d been so excited to be part of eight months previously.

I had to pull out of all of them, except in the case of Badass Unicorns, I never even had the courage to email the various writers and let them know. It’s pretty damn obvious now, of course, but still. A year later, when asked, I absolutely wanted, and intended, to take BU forward and I still haven’t done it.

I had so much going for me as an editor. The first Eve anthology, Tales of Eve, had been nominated for a British Fantasy Society award, for crying out loud! I was an award-nominated editor!! Kind of. And I was moving forward and then…I wasn’t.

Both these things, these failures, the blogging and the editing, they made me feel (and still make me feel) like I’m further back than when I started. Because when I started, I hadn’t known I could throw it all away like that. I hadn’t ever got anyone’s hopes up and then just walked away.

I hadn’t screwed up. Publicly.

And now I have.

Which is probably why I only just started feeling like I actually want to start blogging regularly again. It’s why I only just got back into editing, albeit in a different way, where I mentor creative folk privately rather than going for an anthology with a publisher.

I would like to edit for publishers again. Fox Spirit is amazing and so is Grimbold Books. Badass Unicorns is a brilliant idea which never went anywhere, but now I’m afraid to present it to the publishers I know, because I let them down. I said I’d do something and I didn’t follow through. I’m afraid to invite writers to submit stories to an anthology because I let them down too. I’m afraid everyone will say no on the strength of that alone.

I screwed up and I feel like I don’t have the right to ask anyone to trust me like that again.

Which is why, rather ironically, I suppose, I’ve now started helping fellow creatives follow through on their dreams and goals. Because I know what it’s like to not hit them, to not make them real, and to do so publicly instead of in the privacy of your own computer.

Momentum is a precious thing. Logically I know I threw mine away because of depression and lack of self-esteem. I’ve worked very hard since to reduce both to non-issues in my life. But you can’t undo how people see you. More importantly, and perhaps the harder of the two, I can’t undo how I see me. Emotionally, I can’t believe I’m just as worthy now in the eyes of those I once worked with as I was before October 2014. Or even August 2011.

The worst thing is that, because of those failures hanging over me, it has been FAR harder to get back into blogging than it was before I threw it away. Same for any kind of writing, actually. And it’s been impossible to feel part of the publishing community I was once so close to. It’s not just the work that suffers. Your faith in your ability to do the work shrivels too.

Blogging I can at least dip my toe back into on my own terms but I don’t know if I’ll ever edit another anthology. The potential for public failure, or even private rejection, is too high.

In the end, I’m afraid to ask.


That need to bleed

by Mhairi Simpson on July 28, 2016

I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who likened writing to bleeding. It’s not an attractive image, unless you consider your imagination is not blood but myriad other things. It is, therefore, not red, or not just red. When you bleed onto the page, what comes out is art, great swirls and splatters of colour, and we probably don’t even have a name for every hue you can drip into a tale.

I’ve been feeling the need to bleed onto the page again lately, so I picked up a rather random idea I had a while back and started noodling it. In a drastic turn away from my usual process, I didn’t plan this story. I know who the characters are and I knew the premise, but I didn’t know who died (it’s a murder mystery, another drastic turn, this time from my usual urban fantasy stuffs), nor did I know who’d killed them or why.

I know who died now – they copped it about a thousand words ago – and I think I may have worked out who and why. There’s a long way to go before I get to that point, though, and there may be a few more bodies littering the path by the time we’re done.

There are other ways to bleed, of course, even if we’re speaking creatively. I’ve been working on the chainmaille again. Got an idea for something really funky. It’s taking an AGE, of course. All the really cool stuff seems to take forever. I’m just hoping that means it’ll be super-awesome when it comes out the other side. It’s definitely a rather more organic process than I’m used to, which is odd – so strange I’m suddenly taking up all these ideas and running with them rather than planning them out to the nth degree like I used to.

The thing about chainmaille is that, well, you can’t. Not with this stuff, anyway. I mean, I can figure out pretty much how many rings I’ll need to do this, that or the other (which reminds me, I need more bronze ones, and possibly more of those tiny antique copper ones, too) but when it comes to the actual making of it, what it’s going to look like, I’ve got one drawing and that’s it.

For the first time in a very long time, I’m running towards an end result, rather than through a plan. I know what I want the finished product to look like and that’s what I’m aiming for. But I can’t see the finished thing in my head. I can only feel it. I know how I want to feel when I look at it, or read it (for the book). That’s what I’m aiming for. It remains to be seen if I can find the target. The thing to remember is that I placed the target. So as long as it feels right to me, that’s all I ask.

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