I\’m gonna take my border collie for a walk

Elizabeth Gilbert is of opinion that ”possessing a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet, if you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job to do – and you might not like the job it invents.”

My border collie has been so shamelessly neglected over the last one and half year that somebody needs to call RSPCA! Or the Association of Blocked Artists or the Special Creative Intervention Forces or whoever, because it’s found a job to do and I don’t like it!

You might have noticed I haven’t even written much of anything lately. No blog posts, no Facebook posts, not even text messages and certainly not anything serious like short stories or, God forbid, a novel.  I am neither happy nor sad. I am worse.

I am blocked.

I’ve been a blocked artist all my life. For various reasons, but the two main ones being:

  •  Art doesn’t pay the bills; and
  • I’m not good enough

During 2013, when inspiration visited me and provided me with the idea for The Love Project, I took myself through Julia Cameron’s Artist Recovery Programme. I couldn’t write The Love Project as a blocked writer and so I had to get myself unstuck. It did me a world of good. I finished writing the book a year later. Hell, I finished it a few times after subjecting it to round after round of editing.

Towards the end of 2015, I sent it out to a few select agents. It got rejected by most, bar one. That agent wanted to read the whole draft and after reading it, they didn’t take me on but they gave me feedback. I took that feedback on-board and spent the following year re-writing the book (almost) entirely. It wasn’t The Love Project anymore. It was a book about me and my mother.

Then life just happened and I abandoned both books. A lot of life happened, in fact. A lot of life I wasn’t ready for. We moved house (twice), we got married, went house hunting in France, renovated our London flat, put it on the market, sold it etc. whilst continuing to work full-time. I struggled most of the time to keep my head above water. Stress has gotten the better of us. We fought a lot. We worked hard. Suddenly we stopped having fun. We had to suffer together. I couldn’t possibly have fun and play at being creative. I had to focus on the challenges at hand. I took my border collie and locked him up.

He’s been locked-up since 2016 and he’s done a pretty good job at staying quiet until now, but now he’s barking all the time and sometimes he escapes his cage. During those moments, I feel incredibly sad. I feel tears forming in the corners of my eyes, I feel angry, I feel empty, I feel grief. He wants me to let him free again, but I’ve started to hate my writing. I am dismissive of The Love Project and I deem it ridiculous and unworthy, at the same time wishing to give it closure, desperately needing it to be released into the world. I have a lot of new ideas but nothing sticks. I don’t care about much anymore. I have been treading water. I made no artistic progress. And I didn’t know why until I realised I was blocked again. Worse than before. Like really jammed.

Back in the day when we first met, I showed my husband some very early writing, wanting him the know me whole. Since writing is who I am, I wanted him to love the creative part of me, as much, if not more, as he loved the rest. He absolutely trashed it. Told me I write too much about ’feeling this’ and ’feeling that’. That it’s terrible. That I better not showed it to anybody else. And the list goes on.

It broke me. Not straight away maybe, but it made a big enough crack to break me later. From that moment on, I have never shown him anything I wrote. Because The Love Project is the story of us, I don’t even know I want to. It is a book in which I write extensively about ’feeling this’ and ’feeling that.’ Thankfully, after that,  I persisted with the help of my wonderful editor who has been one of the biggest champions of my book. I hoped that once an agent took me on, I could get my revenge. That once it had received the official stamp of approval, I could prove him wrong. But when agents told me The Love Project wasn’t right for them, I let myself believe that maybe he was right. Maybe the book wasn’t good enough for traditional publishing. Maybe I should try to write something different, more serious stuff with less feelings and more sophisticated passages that included species of plants and trees I didn’t even know existed. Maybe I could read a lot of prize-winning books to discover the winning formula. Maybe, maybe., maybe…

What happened was that I stopped talking about The Love Project. People stopped asking me about it. It was like a shameful blemish or an old boyfriend that you don’t bring up in conversation. What also followed was that I stopped writing. Better to protect myself, right? Better to focus on doing my day-job right, cocoon myself into a safe bubble and wait for ’better circumstances’, right? At least for the time being.

I hoped and imagined that France would prove prolific to my writing, but what if it won’t? What if I’ll find myself even more blocked? What if the struggles of moving and setting-up a business will mean that ’better circumstances’ would have to wait? Meanwhile my creativity is screaming at me.

Why have you forsaken me? it says.

Because I’m not good enough, I say, and because art doesn’t pay the bills.

Bullshit, it says. You know better than giving me this crap.

Yes, it is bullshit. It knows and I know it and for a while we are both silent.

I know my husband means well and that he wants me to succeed. I also know that becoming blocked is entirely my problem, not his. I let it happen to myself. And it’s time I did something about it. I’m gonna take my border collie for a walk.

2 thoughts on “I\’m gonna take my border collie for a walk”

  1. Iulia
    As I said to a group earlier today, those of us who succeed, never believe we are good enough. We often have a feeling that we’ll be found out at some point. It’s part of the creative process, it’s part of playing dangerously and walking the tight-rope.
    You’ll need to talk with hubby about this as this kind of feedback is very destructive. Many years ago I gave a well-received recital in London. Five trusted friends came and four of them spent a lot of time talking to me about how amazing it was, how much they had been moved and dazzled by my performance. One was silent and later told me he thought it had been crap. Despite the fact that two of those four were heads of departments at the Royal Academy of Music, guess who I believed, and guess who felt like shit? Luckily when I reported that criticism back, they eviscerated his points, and I was able to realise that the criticism might not have been about me. I grew up that week, and learned to trust my own instincts.
    You need to walk the line, feel the fear and continue on. TLP is brilliant and it deserves an audience.

    1. I have one further bit of advice from my current professional life.
      When testing products or product improvements with individuals or focus groups, we have learnt that you will get back completely useless data if each person testing the product is not or would not be a real customer.
      At my last coffee business we would discount data gathered from people if it was found that they did not drink coffee, did not drink “real” coffee or if they did not shop in our stores or those of our competitors.
      So, when you share your work, share it with people who would be likely to read it and buy it. If you were writing a book on particle physics, and your cousin was a carpenter, you’d be unlikely to share it with him/her.

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