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.


  1. Sarah Hilary
    12th August 2009

    Agh! Art class – you are very brave! That would be my personal challenge, if I had the courage. Cannot draw for toffee, but have often thought how nice it would be if I could (then I could illustrate my character bios with little sketches of how they look, dress etc). I hope you get a huge amount from the experience, as I’m sure you will.

  2. Mark Hubbard
    12th August 2009

    Dare you to put a sketch up here 😉

  3. Mark Hubbard
    12th August 2009

    Dare you to put a sketch up here Kay? 😉

    Go on, take the jump.

  4. Jim Murdoch
    13th August 2009

    I would love to be able to draw or paint. I suppose there must be artists out there who would love to be able to write. I guess the grass is always greener. You’ve hit the nail on the head though. Learning is one our main driving forces. I think it’s one of the main things I get from my blog. To write the kind of posts I do I need to be constantly learning and by talking about what I’ve learned I reinforce that learning. Reinforcement is the key. Just think about all the things we learned at school that we forgot within weeks of walking out of those gates forever.

    I’m no good with my hands though, never have been so I know before I start that I’d be no good at art. But I do have an eye for it. Carrie bought me a DSLR for my birthday and I really need to spend some time getting to know it. Anything to get away from this ruddy keyboard.

    I look forward to seeing how you fare.

  5. Kay Sexton
    14th August 2009

    Sarah, that’s exactly what I want to do, sketch my characters!

    Mark, yes, but only when I’ve completed the course.

    Jim, you’re right – it should be a main driving force, but it’s so easy to push the need to learn away in favour of the greed to share what we know.

  6. Jen
    15th August 2009

    Kay, this is a wonderful challenge! I wish you all the best with your art course! The best accomplishments often come when we let loose those expectations! I hope to start dance soon, for that very reason! Have fun! ~Jen

  7. Rachel Fox
    15th August 2009

    Yes – new things all the time!

  8. jem
    20th August 2009

    I think health issues are one of the things that can really knock you off your writers perch. I know that’s the main thing that gets in the way for me. It’s like the mind need to be untethered to drift into creativity and the body tends to weight it down.


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