Friday, 27 January 2012

Ten Things I Have Learned About Writing and Life (and why I still need a hairdryer even though I have no hair)

In September 2011, I was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. It was something of a life changer and, boy, has my life changed. These are some of the things I have learned.

1. The internet is both brilliant and useless for research. From a writer's point of view, it's brilliant. I can visit people and places from anywhere and any time; I can discover new things, get information on old things; I can find inspiration and motivation. From a health point of view, it's appalling. Think scaremongering, misinformation, and conflicting advice. If I believed everything I read, I would in fact be dead now, or at the very least On The Way Out. (But I am neither - hurrah!)

2.  Being a Lady of Leisure (hereinafter referred to as a LoL), should mean that I am writing reams and reams of perfect prose. So I thought. Ah, well. When I was diagnosed, I thought I'd give up writing altogether. After all, what was the point. I might die? I quickly got over that but there were still no words. I wanted to write, really I did, I just couldn't seem to get to it. So I read. I read fiction - oh some lovely books - and I read books about writing. It was only when I re-read Stephen King's 'On Writing' that I felt the flicker of an urge to write something myself. So I did. I started with a couple of hundred words. It felt like a massive achievement. Then I re-wrote The Novel. And now? Now I'm back to faffing. I'm scribbling ideas for new projects but, if I'm honest, being a LoL is not what I thought it would be!

3. There are some fantastic books out there that so deserve publication. And there are some that really don't. In my reading frenzy I have been filled with both admiration and horror at the beauty/awkwardness of the writing. Rarely have I been so swept away by a story that I didn't notice the writing style. But it's happened on occasion (Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Dark Parties by Sara Grant). There is no such thing as a perfect novel. There are right time, right place, compelling novels. Novels where plot is key. Novels where character is key. This pleases me.

4. I love my Kindle. I had a sneaking desire for one but somehow I felt like a bit of a traitor. Shun proper books? Could I? Should I? Then I got a Kindle for Christmas. And I really love it. But, I have found some great  authors I may not have come across. And I read real books too.

5. Once you start to write, you just can't stop. Yes, I know this kind of negates point 2, but bear with me. Even when I'm not sitting at a desk - and it's really sore when I do at the moment - I'm still filled with words. Ideas come from everything around you, everyday experiences, people you meet - and I met some corkers in hospital - so even if the page itself isn't filling up, my mind is. That new novel will pop out any minute now.

6. My, how you find out who your friends are when you're ill! And I am lucky enough to have so many. Thank you! Joining the SCBWI was one of the best things I ever did. If you write for children, join it! Here! The people are wonderful and will support you not just with your writing, but with your whole life too.

7. Facebook, Google+, and Twitter are not writing. Fancy that. I mean, it's words, yes, but it's not a novel is it? Unless you're Melvin Burgess. As a LoL, I've managed to embrace all three with open arms. But words on a social networking site are no substitute for words in a story. So turn it off. Actually, that's a lesson I'm yet to learn.

8. The brain is a marvellous thing. You can achieve so much if you just put your mind to it. Four months since my diagnosis, there is now not a cancer cell in my body. Chemotherapy and a wonderful surgeon are largely responsible for this (thank you, thank you Guy's and St Thomas'), but I honestly think my sheer bloody-mindedness and forced positivity helped. If only I could put that much willpower towards my writing. Perhaps I will.

9. You can't force it. I absolutely do not believe in waiting for "the muse". If you're going to write, then do it. If you waited for inspiration, you'd never write a word. But you can't make it happen either. Oh, anyone can write anything, and if you write for long enough you might find some good words. But I have learned that sitting down and trying to force words out does me no favours. Stress is so last year! Perhaps this is more the case when starting new projects, and perhaps it is a form of procrastination, but I know when I'm ready to write. I think.

10. The hairdryer. Bizarrely, I have to dry my wound (soon to be a scar) with the hairdryer after I take a shower. Who needs hair?

35 comments:

  1. What a wonderful, inspiring, witty and courageous post, lovely wolfy Sue! I have done several happy dances since reading your incredibly wonderful and amazing diagnosis following on treatment. I think I may well do several more. And, I have utterly no doubt that your sheer bloody-mindedness and positivity ruled the day - here's to more of the same - and here's to the new book!
    xxx
    PS no one needs hair, but I find fur (and fangs) come in quite useful... :-)

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    1. Thank you! Please keep dancing. It helps! Oh, and the fur is growing back. xxx

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  2. Thank you. Great post.
    Wishing you continued healing.

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  3. Thank you. Great post.
    Wishing you continued healing.

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  4. Gosh, I didn't know you were ill! 'Get well soon' always sounds so lame when someone has a serious illness, but in this case it sounds like you are already doing it, so don't stop.

    Great post. Talking of which, I ought to get on...

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    1. Thank you, Thomas! Yes, I'm doing ok!

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  5. Oh Sue I just love this post. You are such a star and an inspiration. Keep writing. I know you will get there. Lots of happy dancing still going on here. Your post announcing you were clear was the best post I have read for a very long time. {{hugs}} xxx

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    1. Thanks, Ness! So glad I've made you dance! x

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  6. I remember seeing hairdryer on the list of things to take when I went to the maternity and thinking: My hair is the last thing I'll be thinking about! The things we learn in life. Glad you're doing better and keep on.

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    1. How funny! I think, no, I know that a hairdryer was the last thing on my mind for several months after having my daughter!

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  7. A very inspiring, uplifting post. I'm so glad you're on the mend, Sue. As for the writing, you've had a hell of a four months, your body is on the mend but sometimes the rest of you has to run to catch up - the words will come back in their own time. Keep writing the blog, stay happy and positive, and before you know it, you'll be back into the novel. X

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    1. Thanks, Pat! Have now ditched all pre/post op ideas and am moving onto something new. There is no firm story yet, just a little glimmer, but it's exciting. To me, anyway! :-)

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  8. We don't know each other very well but I have missed your presence on Facebook and hope you won't give it up completely! I didn't know the full story until now but it was clear that something serious had happened - I hope that you have a quick and full recovery.

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    1. Thanks, Amanda! I'll be out and about before long so perhaps I'll see you at a SCBWI event?!

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  9. Sue - what a brilliant, honest and enlightening post. Lol - who else could have defined herself as a LOL!
    'There is no such thing as a perfect novel' - you have captured what it means to be struggling with words and all whilst you have been struggling with your health. I'm so pleased to hear you are triumphing with both!

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    1. Thank you! I must say the life of a LoL is getting a little tiresome. If only I had the income to go with it!

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  10. What an inspiring and honest post, Sue. And what a frightening few months you must have had. Hope that new idea starts to fly...xxx

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    1. Thanks, Caroline. I'm getting there with the new stuff. Quite exciting!

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  11. Bah to cancer! Hoorah for you and your surgeon :o) I am so pleased to read this and to have you back blogging - am pretty sure it was you who introduce me to this site: http://musemed.arizela.com/
    Though it might have been Anne Rooney - you both have a wonderful weird penchant for disgusting medicine. Chemotherapy not withstanding x

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    1. Bah, indeed! And thanks for the link. Wasn't me. Or if it was, I've forgotten! Fab stuff.

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  12. Been so caught up in my own stuff that I'd managed to miss out on the diagnosis though I had noticed a distinct lack of snarls, teeth and fur on Facebook. So pleased to hear that the news is good.

    After a year and a half's absence from writing, I'm scared that I will have lost my 'voice'.

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    1. Teeth are becoming sharp again, and hackles are raising. Will be back to normal soon! As for you voice, it will always be there as long as you are you! x

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  13. Having said that, I'veb een waiting for the muse all day today. Will go for a run and see if she comes while I'm gone. Welcome back! Glorious to see you!

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    1. Thank you! Hope you found you muse. She could have run off with mine I suppose. And you go RUNNING?

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  14. Great post Sue. I'm absolutely sure it's your sheer bloody minedness that chased it away.
    And, yes, still happy dancing too. xx

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  15. A brave and beautiful post. Hooray for bloody-mindedness!

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  16. In a choice between willpower for writing and willpower for living, you definitely made the right decision! I can imagine that I would not have managed a single word in your situation, so well done for the enormous amount of writing you actually have done.

    What I love about this post (apart from the fact you're around to write it) is that it acknowledges the messy sprawl of life - fiction would have us believe in nice discrete "life changing experiences" whereas the truth is a lot more complex than that.

    So take it easy, Sue, keep getting better and keep writing blogs like this!

    Nick.

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    1. I never thought of it that way! I guess I made the right choice! Can't write if you're dead! :-)

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  17. Wahay! You're back, you absolute bloody star you! Now all you need to do is have someone follow you around ready to catch that bloody-minded novel when it pops out! Don't want to go breaking it now...

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    1. That bloody-minded novel is being as stubborn as I am. I'll have to drag it out at this rate!

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    2. Hang on, I'm sure I've got a tug-of-war team back here somewhere... No, sorry. Must've mislaid them.

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