I Must Stop Cleaning the House

Yesterday I had a cartoonish accident where I walked into my dark garden shed and stepped on a hoe whereupon its handle flipped up and whacked me in the eyeball. I now have a freakish red-veined eye with which to scare small children. That will be handy as I start work for the year later this week.. with all the five year olds.

I have taken an extra day off my work week this year as I want to do some writing - you know, the sort that is published, and someone pays you for it.. the trouble is, it is very hard to begin. Every day since they started school the girls have been coming home and asking, "Did you do any writing today?" and I have answered, "Well, not exactly. But look, I cleaned the bathroom!" The house is looking remarkably clean, and I have tidied some cupboards and done some gardening and walked the dog extensively.. but no writing.  I made yoghurt and sunscreen. And invited some friends over. And stewed a whole bunch of plums that a friend invited me to pick from her tree. And I picked some flowers and hosted afternoon tea for some old friends who are visiting Tasmania and staying with my parents. And now I have all these tomatoes I have to do something with..

Writing is the only thing I have ever really wanted to do since I was a child when I read and wrote all the time. I don't know when I lost that creative confidence, but I think I am terrified of failing at the one thing I really want to do so I never really threw myself into it in order to avoid the possibility of failure. I think it might be something I could have done while I was young and thought everything was possible but even then I found excuses. I got pregnant approximately fifteen minutes after graduating with an Honours degree in English Literature, I homeschooled my numerous children, I started on on-line children's book shop, and now I teach five and six year olds to write.. and in my spare time coach my own and friends' kids through their highschool writing and literature courses, and help friends with their writing and editing projects. It's like I have danced around writing my whole life without actually doing any.

Except here. This blog has been my lifeline to writing, my place to connect with other people via words. The most exciting moment in many of my days is finding that something that I have written has resonated with someone out there enough to have them write back to me. Thanks you guys.

Now I need you to tell me to stop cleaning the house and go and write some words already..


simplelife said…
Fear of failure can be an amazing motivator, for everything except the very thing we fear. So stop cleaning the house, cooking all the things and sneaking around in unlit sheds and start writing. Just start that is all.
But if you really must clean pop around to mine I think you would be able to successfully avoid writing for oh probably the rest of this year.
Cheers Kate
simplelife said…
Fear of failure can be an amazing motivator, for everything except the very thing we fear. So stop cleaning the house, cooking all the things and sneaking around in unlit sheds and start writing. Just start that is all.
But if you really must clean pop around to mine I think you would be able to successfully avoid writing for oh probably the rest of this year.
Cheers Kate
Anonymous said…
What do you say to kids who say they don't know what to write? I'd hazard a guess you say, just start! So sit down and write. Here's a beginning. "It was a dark and stormy night." Lol. OK. Maybe not.

What do you want to write? Fiction? Short stories. A novel? Non-fiction? How to guide? As in, how to live a better life, how to declutter, simply, live a smaller life? How to homeschool?

Anyway, you are writing. Here! There's dozens of short stories on this blog.

Go for it girl. And if procrastinating again, cook a plum galatte. I just stumbled across this. If I wasn't so scared of making my own pastry, I'd give it a whirl, being on a French thang as I am. Did I tell you I've begun French lessons? C'est bon.
Unknown said…
You have my complete sympathy, Jo, as I have done that exact same thing. Degree in English Literature ( and Professional Writing) - check. A lifetime of dancing around writing - check. And now I have no idea where I would begin. So do as I say, and not as I have done. Just start. Really, what do you have to lose?
Pam in Virginia said…
Hi, Jo:

Stop cleaning the house and go and write some words already...

You are a delightful writer and funny as all get-out. Whatever you write is bound to be great.

Jo said…
Kate, ha, it's not like I am running out of things that need to be done here, but thanks for the offer all the same:)

Lucinda, I have written a synopsis for a novel, which is terrible, just terrible. But mostly I want to write about gardening and faffing about with experiments in the simple life - much like my blog really, only a bit more terrifying.

Ooh, la francaise, c'est magnifique. Bonne chance:)

Haze, we are twins! Let's both write something! You first!

Pam, thank you for your bracing support. I will do that right after I have read the entire internet.. xx
Anonymous said…
I have been dreaming of being a Writer since, well, since I learned to write. This is why I have maintained my half-arsed attempt at blogging over the last few years - the burning desire to put words down somewhere and share them. My work allows me to write a fair bit but it's all technical writing. This manages to simultaneously meet my need to write and drain my ability to write anything for fun. Plus, I can't crochet and type at the same time. I can crochet and watch serial killers, but I also struggle to write and watch serial killers at the same time.

I do hear you on the procrasti-cleaning. When I was at uni, the only time(s) my house absolutely sparkled were when I had large essays due or I was supposed to be studying for exams.
Meg said…
I have always wanted to be a writer, ended up a teacher, and have a picture book manuscript (that I wrote almost ten years ago when my child was very small) that I keep telling myself to send to a publisher and simply haven't. I don't exactly know why. Perhaps failure. It's funny how life can, conveniently sometimes, get in the way. More writing, less housework! Meg:)
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,
Writing is a joy and it is a special thing to share stories with others. I read in a very dull and rather introspective book: Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance; a very good tip on writing. Note, it is not lost on me either that I was reading his work and not the other way around! Anyway, the author taught literature like you and he told a little story about how he asked his students to write about a brick wall. Of course that is a rather dull topic, unless one is fixated on bricks which would be a bit scary, and there was one student who could think of nothing to say about the brick wall in question. The author asked the student to look very hard at the detail in the brick wall and describe what the student was seeing, and as the student looked closer, the student started noticing things and details about the brick wall and so was then able to write coherently about the wall. Just sayin... The world is full of stories and they are everywhere, try not to let your mind tell you that you can't tell those stories. Mind you, there are plenty of people who will do that task for you, so make sure you tell them to go and... whilst you quietly wander off and get on with the task at hand of writing. :-)!
Anonymous said…
You've probably already read Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird'. If not, read it, then write! You have a gift. Don't waste it๐Ÿ˜€
Loretta x
Unknown said…
Hi Jo, I'm guilty of procrasti-cleaning too; and the much less useful procrasti-social-media-ing.

Given your writing intentions, you might enjoy the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast by Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait for the Aust Writers' Centre: https://www.writerscentre.com.au/blog/ep-1/
They're great hosts and experienced in many types of writing. I always learn something new and interesting every time I listen.

Good luck with the novel!
Anonymous said…
I totally disagree that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is dull!

Jo, write for yourself and no-one else, write without a filter, write because it's what you love to do!!!
Stephanie said…
Jo, I would read anything you write! Your posts make me laugh, think, agree, empathise etc etc. I am studying at the moment, and my house is never as clean as it is when I have an essay due. Ceilings get dusted, covers get washed, cupboards get sorted, anything to avoid the dreaded 'fear of failure' that comes with writing. My tactic is to break it down. I tell myself to write for one whole hour, then I can stop. Or just do 100 words. Anyway, good luck and get going!
Treaders said…
I know exactly what you mean. I deliberately sabotage myself so I don't get started on whatever it is I want to do. Not writing in my case but sewing/patchwork. Although I am taking lessons I don't have the confidence there that I have in other areas of my life. All I can say is go for it. You write beautifully. Anna
GretchenJoanna said…
Please do not say that you haven't been writing. There is no other blog out there like yours, with your voice. I know that some people who don't read blogs, and likely some who do, do not appreciate the gaping chasm between the ones "we" (I guess that would include at least those who read this post of yours) are always eager to read, and the ones that... we aren't. It's too bad all the blogs must be grouped together like that.

It seems that you enjoy very much writing your blog, and you combine your very best effort and skills with your natural gifts and personality, to produce good stuff on a regular basis. The Enjoyment aspect must be a huge part of why it flows out of you and lets your unique voice be heard, and why we all love it so much.

I am not experienced in the writing-for-profit world, but I can imagine that if I decided I wanted to write some longer version of my own best blog posts, and hoped to make some money from them, it would be something other than a fear of failure that would stand in my way. Writing something for the imagined paying audience would change the character of what I write, would take away the great liberty I feel. Writing longer pieces would require more time and focus, and that would mean that I'd spend less time doing the things that I currently write about.

The Jo I know from your blog likes to keep house and garden and walk to the local markets and build things and go on hikes with her children. (Also, she doesn't seem like someone who's trying to get rich.) You seem to have worked out a rhythm whereby you are able to fit in the things important to you and not be too hurried. If you stop cleaning house in hopes of writing more, the strain of denying who you are might negate any gain in minutes in your day.

On the other hand, if you start writing a blog post one day, and it tries to get longer and turn into a short story or a chapter of a book on Living Simply or Lovely Walks in Tasmania, you might not want to stop writing, and the girls will come home and say, "Where is dinner?" and you will say, "You can make the dinner tonight, I have to write a couple more paragraphs." That is the natural way it happens, I think.

The creative force is not something to which you can simply say, "Don't be afraid! Jump off that diving board!" because it's not a sudden kind of thing, it's not one thing. Your creativity is who you are every day of your life, and out of it flows so much already, I can see the output expanding in different ways in the future without you having to do violence.

Please forgive this long comment, and me talking about things I probably know nothing about. Except I do know about the quality of your blog :-) Good luck!

Jo said…
Miss Maudy, I deeply sympathise with your problems with multi-tasking. Writing plus watching serial killers is a real challenge (actually, I wouldn't know. Serial killers are way, way too scary for me).

Meg, clearly there are enough of us here in the same boat that we need to start a Publish-or-Die-Trying Club..

Chris, I will go and study a brick wall immediately:) Honestly though, I am not avoiding writing for want of things to write about, merely casting around for a way in.

Loretta, yet again we prove to have a deep psychic connection! After reading this post one of my very dear friends dropped off a copy of Bird by Bird. She is a musician and composer, and no stranger to the challenges of creativity and thought this book might help. So thank you for prompting the universe to share that book with me:)

Nicola, thank you for that recommendation - I have been listening in to a few of the podcasts. The interviews with authors are intriguing.

Anon, I must admit.. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of the few books I just couldn't finish. But maybe I will give it another go.

Your advice to write without a filter is something I will be discussing in the next post. It is a very significant stumbling block for me.

Stephanie, thank you:) I use that 'chunking technique' too, on lots of jobs. And make my children use it as well..

Anna, I can totally relate to your fear of sewing!

Gretchen Joanna, thank you for taking the time to craft such an insightful comment. I think you are right in that I prize my 'simple life' very highly. No-one can do everything, and certainly not me, because I fall over if my life is too full. I took an extra day off my working week to do this - which puts me right on the edge of my
financial comfort zone. I had to do this because I was so comfortable in my nest that I wasn't challenging myself to do the creative things I want to do. I am basically kicking myself out of the nest and hoping I will fly:) It was an enormous creative challenge to start and maintain this blog. It was terrifying at the beginning. Now I know I can write on a semi-regular basis and I want to increase the level of challenge.

And you're right, I don't want to get rich. Which is lucky, as I can hear anyone who writes for a living chuckling away right now..
Bek said…
Hi Jo. I still remember the short future-esque story you posted a while back, and very much enjoyed. You have much to give as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, so please make that big leap.
It's easy to say, but not that easy to do I know. But clearly you want to do it. You wouldn't write about it if you didn't. So just do it. Who cares if its good or not. What is the worst case scenario? At least you can say "I did it" not "I always wanted to..."
Jo said…
Bek, ah yes, that was my first rejection:( But hey, what doesn't kill you. And it didn't kill me. So now I can try again and hopefully the next rejection will kill me even less:)

You are so right. I am never going to regret giving this a go, no matter what the outcome. Giving it a go. Promise!
I'm quite late to this discussion, but I wanted to chime in and say I think you're a marvelous writer and I would read anything you'd written and buy any book you published.

You're already a writer, Jo. Once you accept this about yourself, you can do anything you want.

As you might know, I make my living (yes, a living! weird!) as a children's book author. The main thing about writing is this: dailiness. Sit down every day. Read that Anne Lamott book--especially what she writes about shitty first drafts. Know that every writer in the world writes bad first drafts. Too many writers or would-be writers write that bad first draft and think, "Oh, I can't do this!" But neither could (insert name of your favorite author here), at least not without revising. Oh, and find yourself an editor--could be a friend, could be your ex-husband--somebody who will give you constructive criticism.

You clearly have the gift, all you've got to do is move past your fear of failure and write. Which you do here all the time of course! This is writing, Jo! You really are a writer.

P.S. I'm writing this with a head cold, so please forgive all dropped words, misspellings and grammatical lapses.
Jo said…
Dear Frances, thank you so much for this. Means a lot. xx
mgalimba said…
Hi Jo, can totally relate!
I just want to add in something that is from my own tortured experience with wanting To Write and doing all kinds of other things while avoiding actually doing it. There's a part of me that feels like I will not be a True Person until I have written A Book because the only people who matter in this civilization are people who have written Books. There's a part of me that still feels that, but another part that can see that is rubbish because some of the most admirable True Persons I've met have not written books. Also, that I've done amazing things and have become a True Person already. As have you. And all of those deep, rich experiences you bring with you now you would not have if you had been a Writer all your life.
This is not meant to undermine your desire to write, but rather to, hopefully, strengthen it, because as so many others have pointed out your blog is awesome and you are a Writer and a True Person already. So, yeah, stop cleaning your house!

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