Like most writers, published and unpublished, I work for a living in a job that’s a compromise to the big dream. I’m a Communications Manager in a large voluntary sector organisation. I write every day, meet interesting people, deal with conflict and resolution. I engage and inspire and problem solve.
It’s been tough in our sector over the last few years. At work we keep saying, ‘this is the year of doing things differently’. That kind of statement makes me feel all excited, like I want the differently stuff to happen right now, yeah! Let’s do something so different and so worthwhile it makes me want to scream, “hallelujah!” Being different requires movement and big leaps of faith. Organisations can be heavy and unwieldy things, they have their own culture and sets of limitations. They CAN move, but they rarely do. In my organisation, there has been some movement, but the FRAMES around us are tightly bound, we’re yet to find FLOW in our practice of change.
Workflow is called ‘flow’ for a reason. It allows you to move freely within your workload, resource and initiative to efficiently produce an output. Sometimes at work I try to imagine workflow as a river. I imagine the miles of water I have flowing out behind and in front of me, stretching all the way to the sea, where all the workflows of the world become one. But what if the river hits a brick wall? Erosion is a slow process and changing shape is a team effort. The ‘thing’ the water aims to erode must be willing to give or the water backs up and that’s not good news for you or your workflow. If the ‘thing’ won’t give and you step out of the way, the river will act on its own and change course, moving on in a different direction, seeking to flow.
I had that epiphany, and now I am the river. The direction I have consciously taken is towards Dreamland. I am flowing my shizz, biz and whizz and all that good stuff towards the land of milk and honey. In that land, I am a writer of several books (fiction and non-fiction) and life is abundant in every way. I look forward to being there very much.
However, it must be noted that the way to Dreamland is not all flow; a lot of it is about frames. Let me use writing my novel as an example. When I finally clocked onto the main storyline for my novel (after ruminating for a year or so), I did something I’ve never done before when I’ve been excited by a piece of work – I stopped writing. Instead, I started to read and research.
My novel is about Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and it’s set in 1983. I spent four months, four nights a week, scouring the internet, reading books, visiting archives and conducting interviews. All of this was to create a frame around my work. I wanted the place and time for my story to be completely authentic and for my characters to be growing, struggling and learning for real in those surroundings. There was flow – in research there always is, one thing leads to another. But I had a list of topics to research and a deadline and this became my frame – keeping me on track, making sure I didn’t get too distracted and obsessed with minor detail.
After four months of research I plotted out my novel. From the first chapter to the last, a few lines – sign posts for the characters and story. This method doesn’t work for every writer, you find your own way through trial and error, but for me (read CONTROL FREAK!) this was the right way for me to learn to let go. Within the security of multiple frames (the mass of research, the character arcs, the story line, the chapter synopsis) I finally let go and found myself in flow.
Writing in flow is quite a surreal experience and I can understand why some people have described it as something ‘other’ flowing through you. At these times I would sit at my desk for a couple of hours in the evening, bang out 2000 words and during that time I would cry, flinch, laugh and feel a deep pain and empathy for my characters. Things would happen to them that I hadn’t planned, that made their lives and the story so much richer. And this is the important bit; the frame and the flow are friends – they work together as a team and let you, the writer, go on a journey. And not just for these other-worldly, universal, ‘goddamit, I am the best writer EVER’ moments – it’s also, and most importantly, for the times when writing is tough. Over the 2 and a half years it took me to write, my novel caused me far more moments of pain than it did pleasure.
When my writing wasn’t flowing I would sit at my desk and swear, truly hating every moment of it. The frame gave me a point of reference to aim for. Wading through thick turmoil, I would pant, breathless, dig deep and ‘Just. Get. Her. To. Go. There. And. Do. That.’ The frame allowed me the space to work when I couldn’t find flow. It held me, reassured me, whispered in my ear, ‘It’s a blip, you’ve got this. What is editing for? Just get the crap out, peel the onion, cry the tears, keep going forward.’ Being held in your work is so important – whatever your work. You need to feel like someone or some ‘thing’ has your back.
I realise writing this that the very same process is required in seeking publication. I have, thanks to the tough criticism of a friend (kudos to Ronan), managed to write a good synopsis and cover letter – they are my frame. I have several versions of a synopsis; 300, 500, 800, and 1000 word versions. A couple of times a week I work through a list of UK agents and I read and research. When I find an agent, who makes me think, ‘yeah, this could be their thing’, I work to their frame and send in my submission. It’s not easy and right now it’s about patience and belief. Whilst I wait and work, I hold myself in imagination. I imagine I am a river, flowing towards Dreamland, a place where the sun is rising and setting, laughter and debate are abundant, opportunity is every street name and employment is the work of love.
Where you flowing to? What’s the dream? What’s the blockage? Share with me.