Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Losing My Religion - Liz Kessler

…Which is quite an ironic title, really, as I’m not religious and haven’t been for the whole of my adult life. I have been known to describe myself as a Jewish agnostic with Buddhist leanings. I haven’t found another title that sums up my religious status as accurately as this.

The closest I ever come to feeling religious is through nature or through writing. There have been times when I’ve seen a beautiful rainbow emerge over the sea, or a fan of sunlight creep out through the gaps in a cloud, and I’ve had feelings that I guess you could possibly describe as religious. They make me feel that there is something ‘else’ at work, other than what we can explain rationally, put it that way.

Same with writing. When I’m on book three of a series and I’m working on the plot, and then I remember something that happened way back in book one that I thought of randomly and didn’t have all that much importance in that book, but totally lays the groundwork for the plot idea I have just thought of – I think there is something going on out there beyond my own understanding. Something a little bit magical. And perhaps a little bit spiritual, too.

Writing has been in my life for as long as I can remember. At the age of eight, I wrote a book of poems for my beloved grandma, Mama, and was convinced I was going to be a poet. In my teens, I poured every thought and every emotion I had into pages and pages of diaries.  In my twenties, I worked as a journalist and in my thirties as a teacher of English and Media Studies. Writing isn’t a religion for me. It’s at the heart of everything I do. It’s part of what makes me who I am.

So what happens when it’s gone?

What happens when the thought of the book that you are meant to be writing (the one that you have a contract for) makes you want to run away and hide? When even the books that you’ve been thinking about behind the scenes for years (the ones you don’t have a contract for) leave you cold? When you look at your desk and see plot notes and half-finished manuscripts and magazines you bought for research, and you don’t want to go near any of it? When you start working out how much it would cost you to pay back your advances and you find yourself looking online for cafés for sale…

What then?

I’ve probably felt a measure of all of these things at some point along the way with every book I’ve written. Those close to me know that it’s part of the process. ‘Ah, you’re up to the bit where you start working out how much it would cost to pay back the advance?’ say partner and agent. ‘Yeah, that’s shortly followed by the bit where it all falls into place, remember?’

Except this time, the next bit doesn’t seem to be happening. If you read my post last month (or if you know me personally) you’ll know that the last few months have been a bit tough. Going through difficult times often has the effect of changing your perspective on things. It makes you question what’s important, makes you consider how you live your life, and evaluate the way you do everything. That’s certainly what’s happened for me over the last few months. Last month I wrote about finding my way back to working with love. But the problem is that the love just isn’t there and the writing ain’t happening.

Perhaps this post is simply part two of last month’s blog. I’m still in the process of figuring out how to get the love back. And actually, I do believe that I’ll get it back. If I’m honest though (and lovely editor and publisher, if you’re reading this, please look away now) I’m not a hundred per cent sure that I’ll get the love back for the current book. The one I’m contracted to write. The one that was due in March and has been on hold for two months. 

This could yet be a blip – a slightly deeper groove but the same thing that happens with every book. I don’t know. There might actually be some tricky conversations and some difficult decisions to be made – or I might wake up one morning soon and all of this uncertainty will have evaporated and I’ll get back to work. At this point, there’s no way of knowing which way it will go, and I can’t help feeling the weight of that question mark quite heavily, as if it were hanging over me, casting a shadow on everything I do.

Right now, I haven't got a reply to that question mark. It’s all a journey and I don’t know where this one’s going just yet. But someone once said to me, ‘Trust the process,’ and I think that’s the thing to do. It will work itself out.

And I guess my belief that this will happen is, at this point, the nearest thing I feel to faith.


RMIvory said...

This is a very brave and honest post Liz. I hope you do wake up one morning and it all comes back but if it doesn't, 'you will survive'to quote another great song.

Sue Purkiss said...

It'll come back. But you need some time away from it, because of all that's been happening - time to let yourself catch up with yourself, if you see what I mean!

Btw - I love that expression, 'a fan of sunlight'. Describes a particular effect perfectly and simply.

Pippa Goodhart said...

I find that time spent editing or critiquing other people's work always has the effect of making me long to get back to my own, even projects I've lost faith in. Hope the joy in writing comes back soon, Liz

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I write women's magazine stories and have been on-off working on a children's book for the past year or more. I am convinced that one of the things that holds me back is that I am scared that I will get into the whole grown up world of agents, books, publishers ... and then be unable to complete it, and fail at something I'm contracted for. It's reassuring to know that this is not proof that I am innately useless, that this is just something that does happen and that it is part of a process which can end well - as I do hope yours does soon.

Annabel pitcher said...

A beautiful and brave post from a beautiful and brave person. Bravo x

caroljchristie said...

I think you should be good to yourself and stop beating yourself up. Give yourself permission to have a rest and re-charge. Recovery time is essential. Writing is important to you - otherwise you wouldn't be feeling so bad about not doing it; you'd just be able to walk away. So I suspect that the love of writing will come back. And even if you never wrote another word, just think of the immense pleasure you have already given to your readers.

C.J.Busby said...

Liz, I don't know you personally but your two posts have been so open and honest and I feel huge empathy for what you're going through. As someone else who's been a writer most of their life (although not children's books till recently), and who has a partner who's also been an academic writer, my feeling is that you are totally right, writing is a kind of love, but at the point of actual writing - the high creativity, rather than the editing, promotion, school visits side - it's an absorbing love that can take you temporarily away from family/partner. There's a reason why all those acknowledgements say 'and thanks to my partner/children who put up with my mental absence while I wrote this'. Giving that love to writing means relying on your loved ones to understand and be there for you despite the fact that you're half living with your characters and story. This may be just the way it works for me, and not really relevant to you, but if it has any resonances then maybe for you right now it's just too soon after the shock and worry of your partner's illness to gather up enough love for writing, or to absent yourself in that deep way from the immediacy of your family. Perhaps you could talk to your publishers and organise a six month 'sabbatical' where you agree to do promotion work (blogging, visits etc) but don't even try to write - and then see if it creeps up on you over that time! I'm sure it will. I do hope it works out, anyway - your books are lovely, we'd all miss them!

Linda Strachan said...

Carol is right, give yourself permission NOT to write. Stop thinking about the deadline, the contract and all the things that make writing work rather than fun.

If you want to write something, write whatever you feel like, something completely different either in genre or format, not for anyone else, not for publication, just for yourself.

You have been through a lot emotionally and you need time to rediscover the joy in what you do, without pressure, but you have to give yourself permission and time to do that. It will happen!

Vivienne said...

*hugs Liz* I hope it comes back soon.But right now, you are taking time to deal with the curve ball life recently gave you. There is a time and place for everything and right now your body and mind want you to concentrate on others things. When life gets easier it will return.

Nicola Morgan said...

Liz, I have faith that it will come back. (And I'm not religious either!) I know something of what you're feeling, though the reasons for me were different. I lost the ability to write or to want to write after a major turmoil, which left my emotions flying all over the place, especially in the middle of the night. It took time to recover. Also, the immense faith and patience of my agent, who insisted that it would come back. It did. And i know it will for you.

I think writing fiction comes from an emotional part of the brain which can sometimes be overwhelmed by intruding stimuli. You have to wait for that to pass.

Meanwhile,I hope you're feeling the hugs.

Jen Alexander said...

Let go and let God, Liz - whatever your god may be. Trusting the process means total surrender, which is hard because we all prefer to cling to the illusion we're in control. I don't think you can decide how long this time removed will be, but because writing is, as you say, part of you on this soul level, it can never be lost. 'Impatience is a form of resistance' - I had that on my study wall until I learnt to fully trust the flow. Interestingly, I've blogged about 'going down to the well' today, and have just started rewriting a third book I first wrote over a decade ago, returning with joy because the time finally feels right. Be patient, dear Liz xx

Amy Butler Greenfield said...

Such a moving post, Liz! I wish you weren't having to go through this, but thank you for writing about it so honestly. I've reached points where I've had to walk away from writing before, and though I've never done it without pain, it's done both me and my writing good. Everything has a season, and I think sometimes our hearts just need rest. Sending hugs and every good thought your way.

laurjames said...

Just a thought, but how are you feeling about reading other books right now? When I read something wonderful it always makes me want to write. Maybe you could give yourself permission to kick back with books you just want to read (perhaps in the same genre) and see if that helps?

Liz Kessler said...

Thank you SOOOOOOO much for these lovely comments. Once again, I wasn't sure whether to write something so personal, but I decided that I would do, a) because I had the feeling that there would be people out there who would have clever things to say that would give me some new perspectives on all this (and reading these comments, I was right) and b) I had the feeling that other people may have been through similar things and it might be nice for them to know they weren't on their own. (Right again - from the lovely emails and private messages I've had today.) I'm not feeling particularly low with all this. I'm OK with it all, just very unsure where it'll lead at the moment, so the wise words (and the hugs) are very much appreciated! :)

CJ and Nicola - your comments have really made me think, and made me understand more clearly why I'm feeling this way, and have made me feel much better about it!

Jen - thank you as always for reminding me of wise and true words.

Laur - a month or so ago, I didn't even have the concentration span to read, but I do now and have been enjoying giving myself permission to delve into other people's words. And I think they might help lead me back to my own as well!

Thanks again folks. Being part of a writing community like this feels very special and wonderful.


Anne Booth said...

It's a while since I read it, but I remember reading a wonderful book about writing called 'Bird by Bird' by Anne Lamott. Have you come across it? I think I remember her writing very well about those times where you cannot write.

Thank you for the posts - I found them very inspiring and I do hope that your partner gets well asap.

PS I have really enjoyed your books - borrowed from your fan, my daughter!

Anonymous said...

I hope you don't me asking, but I was wondering if you could tell me where the photograph is?? I'd love to know more about it! I hope you feel inspired soon : love is all around us. You just have wait for it to creep through the clouds of doubt!
Best wishes

Tam said...

Please stop writing these moving, beautifully-written blog posts the day before I am due to post something utterly inane!

But seriously, Liz, I hope you find your mojo soon. I am pretty sure you have some brilliant stories left to tell. Or maybe you'll find another way to share them.


Pauline Chandler said...

Hi Liz. I just wanted to say how much I understand what's happening to you and how lonely it can the end we all have to face ourselves, look in the mirror and say 'I love you'. Life knocks us down, but if you have a piece of the magic inside you, which I know you have, you get up again. Nicola's right when she says that writing comes from that part of the brain that can get overwhelmed. Might be time for some rest and recovery,one day at a time. You're an athlete, with your muscles full of lactic acid. Do you remember 'The Artist's Way' by Julia Cameron? Might be worth taking another look at that. It helps, I think, to read some old favourites, nothign heavy, just nice things that will take you to a nice place. I recommend Tove Janssen. I also love that phrase ' a fan of sunlight'. It's been such a hard long winter and we all need the sun. I don't think we even know how much we need it or how important it is for our mental health, so wishing you lots of sitting about in the sunshine. xo

Liz Kessler said...

Tam - the photo is St Ives.

Other Tam - sorry, I'll try and write something trite and meaningless next month!! :)

Pauline - thank you xx