1.1 WRITER INTERRUPTED

PERSONAL NARRATIVE AS ORIGIN AND RESURRECTION

As writers, we are intimately engaged with the art and process of telling stories. What we can forget is the conceptual power of narrative is greater than the fiction we create, or the poetry we pen, or the ideas strung together in non-fiction. Narrative is a hardwired aspect of human existence. It forms the basis of our identity: how we make sense of the world and our place in it; how we behave, express ourselves, and make decisions; the core beliefs and values we adopt. Our personal narratives are fundamental to understanding who we are, and for those willing to go deeper, how and why we are.

As writers we are no different. We create deep and often invisible narratives about ourselves as ‘Writer’, around writing, and how we engage and seek to be seen in the worlds within and beyond us. Some narratives free us into authenticity, truth, joy and passion. Other narratives disable and disengage us, create suffering and disconnection.

This where I found myself in 2017, with deeply embedded fears (maybe a side serve of surrender) that I was Writer Interrupted, and what I was experiencing was possibly a terminal interruption in what had been a decades-long love affair with writing.

WRITER INTERRUPTED

The deeper and more profoundly dysfunctional my chronic depression became (and it’s sidekick insomnia), the harder I dug in with my writing. It was 2014, the second year of homeschooling my son, and I knew writing held the key to feeling better. It was the only space I entered and felt truly free. But as the year progressed, I became obsessive about writing. The more I was rejected, the more I wrote. Consequently, I moved further away from freedom, from all the good parts of writing, into darker places. It was like course correcting in heavy seas and each new navigational decision, born of a survival reaction (rather than a survival response), pushed me deeper into more treacherous seas.

In September 2014, I finally gave up submitting stories and within a week of this decision, I received my first acceptance for the year, for a project I was deeply in love with. I was very clear though: this was not an invitation back on the write-submit-reject-infinitum cycle which had burnt me.

There were brief and sporadic returns to writing in 2015 and 2016, but something inside me was fundamentally warped. Disconnected. Distraught. Heart broken. It kept me  distanced from what had been my greatest love—my truest passion.

As the years fed into each other, from 2015 into 2016 and beyond, I felt momentary reprieves from the bleakness when I wrote for The JAR Story project, an idea Rus had gifted the three of us. There, I was able to write effortlessly, with incredible joy, unprecedented focus, and a skill and precision I had never experienced. Outside of there, I became increasingly antagonist toward anything associated with writing – past, present and future.

KILL YOUR DARLINGS

I will be honest: things became intolerable. The only reason I stayed a peripheral part of so many writing-related things was I am loyal to the last breath. But like last drinks called, the last breaths of this incarnation were calling me to make difficult decisions. It was closing time.

I left the online writing group I’d founded, and I didn’t look back. It was an immediate weight off my heart. The whole thing had been making me miserable as I veered more toward poetry, as a survival tact, and increasingly away from fiction and any desire to invest in beta reading or editing for others.

I officially closed eMergent Publishing. I realised that even if I had money, health, focus and energy – it had been set up as a joint vision. Without Paul, there was no eMergent. It was as complicated and simple as that. With that knowledge, I let go with grace and allowed in the reminders of the incredible legacy we left (which had little to do with the back catalogue of 13 books) and moved on.

Then, as the ends were tied, I was invited to read at a local bookstore. It was a big bucket list item, yet I felt empty. I said yes to being part of the launch because I thought I needed to. As it approached, I knew this was my last hurrah and as much as I didn’t want to show up, I had to. From there, I went quietly into the night, knowing never is a very fucking long time so there was no point in invoking it—appreciating things change.

And they did.

No sooner had I taken a graceful exit than Adam messaged to say we’d been invited to directly submit Post Marked: Piper’s Reach to a publisher. Yes, I said. I had no illusions it would be successful. In fact, part of me was happy for it to be yet another failed attempt to get someone as excited by it, as we still were. We were offered a publishing contract on the eclipse on Feb1st 2018 and I knew the Universe was not yet done with me as a writer.

NOT DONE YET

So, if the Universe was not yet done with me, then I had to stop being done with me and the role of writing in my life.

Serendipity stepped in and I was gifted a six-week course on manifesting your dreams. In my work at Soul Lyrical, I spend my time unearthing, unpicking and helping people recognize where their core narratives undermine them and assist in re-writing new, cognizantly aligned ones. It was time I turned these skills toward writing and me… and the door opened.

The first thing that became apparent was I had course corrected myself so far away from my home port, I no longer remembered that I had one, much less how to get back there.

I was invited back into the beginning: to remember why I first wrote.

I was 10 when I first discovered the magick of writing.

Why did I do it? I did it because I could (and that’s not the ‘could’ wrapped up in adult notions of talent or skill) I could write because I had the capacity to pick up a biro, steal my mother’s shitty notepad, and slip away to write stories about a yellow dog who lived on a farm. In doing this, I discovered the joy of entertaining myself with writing. It’s interesting to note that my 10-year-old self never bound her stories into a ‘book’. No cover. No author name. Writing from the beginning was a deeply personal endeavor I did for myself.

Moving into adolescent, I extended the readership of one – me – into an intimate group of my closest friends and that’s how it stayed until my final year at high school when I wrote a novel, for an English communications project, with the intention of submitting it for publication. That was the beginning of the moving away… of the change which ended with me walking totally away 20 years later.

The honest truth is, I’ve only ever been compelled to write for myself. And I write because I love it. As a teenager I pursed it for escapism. As an adult the siren-song of deep immersion remains a core motivation – the different is what I am running toward, rather than running from. And the high. The fucking brilliant high of having written.

In the excavations, I saw how in disconnecting from my core narratives, I’d lost my authentic Self-As-Writer and moved into a shadow identity, obsessed with publication as a way to justify my existence as a writer (at a time when I was having a hard time justifying my existence as a human being). This identity, incongruent with my core narratives, created constant dissonance and in the end I did the only thing that made sense – I created an interruption and stopped the pain and discomfort. At some point, self-protection kicks in.

What shocked me was how quickly everything shifted when I reconnected with my writing origins and remembered those core narratives; remembered the why. Not long after, eight key points came to me, put down in a mission statement as insurance against ever losing my way again.

I hope I never forget I write first and foremost for myself; that this is the beginning and end. This is how easy and difficult love can be.

Writing is where my joy lives; what fills me, expands and nourishes me.

This is my truth. What is yours?

Image
Poetry: Jodi Cleghorn
Source Text: If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler (Italo Calvino)
Photograph: Erich Hartmann, Paris (1982) via Magnum Photos

 

 

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity #1


The three of us have been engaged in all kinds of creative, spiritual, and philosophical side tracks over the years which have been unrelated to our writing – solo or collectively. They have often been safe spaces to delve deeper into complex ideas, to speak from the heart, to witness each other in the joyful times and in the difficult one, to gently nudge each other out of our comfort zones, to share the wonders of the worlds in which we live and the lives we’ve been graced.

When the final novel prompt came out the jar (yes, we are intrinsically bound to each other through an actual jar!) I suggested that perhaps we refill it with prompts geared as gentle creative pushes. These were not intended as strict writing prompts but as creative invitations to explore, in whatever way we were compelled to, the invitation on the small slip of paper. Every Monday one came out, and we wrote to it in our day books and journals and shared small parts via Whatsapp. We wrote poetry. We took photos. In some cases we spent the week thinking about it but produced nothing tangible. And that was fine too.

With the launch of the website, we’ve opened our beloved jar to include you in a more intimate and interactive way. We will share one of our invitations every Monday morning and welcome you back Sunday afternoon to share whatever emerged over the course of the week for you. There are no limits on the platform or medium in which these can be explored and later shared.

Small

Make it accessible for yourself. Easeful. Invite yourself into a place and a space free from the pressure of overwhelm. Pressure to perform. Keep it simple. Small is not subjugation. Small is not less than. Small carries a power all of its own. Gift yourself 5 minutes. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be anything more.

Rebellious

Rebel against apathy, procrastination, perfection, self contempt, self doubt, lack of confidence, lack of time, other people’s antagonism, lack of belief, the voice of the inner critic, and anything else that wants to tell you ‘no’. Flip the bird at your Imposter Complex.  Interrogate. Innovate. Initiate. This is a space for saying yes.

Act Of

Do. Doable. Doing. Done. Even if it’s five bed-headed minutes, on a Wednesday morning, with your first infusion of caffeine for the day, tapping a list of ten things into your phone. Make a space. Fill it.

Creativity

Make something from nothing. Anything. The possibilities are endless. Draw. Paint. Build. Dance in the shower. Play. Howl. Doodle. Bake. Cut up poetry. Block out text. Collage magazine pictures. Snap a photograph. Garden. Read something aloud. Send someone a card. Make a digital mash-up. Create a playlist. Hum a song. Journal. Daybook. Write a list. Instagram a favourite quote. Play the instrument you have buried away in your cupboard.

This week’s invitation is…

We’ll see you Sunday to share the week’s renderings of The Way Home.

Opening The JAR

There’s a deeper story behind every organization’s story, and ours – while unique in so many ways – is no different than the countless origin tales of writing groups, publishing houses, centres for excellence in writing, literary projects, and collective story endeavours in the last three centuries: the desire to connect and explore; to conceive, create and complete; and to take our efforts to an audience larger than ourselves.

It happens on the first day of my shift. I don’t believe in coincidences—only in right timing and alignment. I’ve woken feeling as though I’ve been knocking back short blacks all night. My entire body is buzzing, inside and out. It is disconcerting, the intensity of it. I stay away from important appliances (my phone, bless it, is mostly immune to whatever crazy fluctuations are happening and that turns out to be very important!). It is the morning of the 18th October and I’m at the kitchen table. It is relatively early when it happens. I’m sitting wondering if this energy flux is the ‘foretold storm’ of a dream a few weeks earlier when a Whatsapp message pop ups:

RUS: Do you still want to publish Fossil V?
ME: Yes.

We are The JAR Writers’ Collective, comprising three creatives (Jodi Cleghorn, Adam Byatt, and Rus VanWestervelt). We have each recognised the central role passion, writing and creativity have for our wellbeing, our joy, our spiritual connection, faith and understanding of the world. Each of us expresses, engages and explores these aspects in uniquely personal ways however we share them all, as well as the simple fact: we must write.

I reply instinctively, without thought, and immediately chide myself for it (because I am meant to say: I’m interested but I will need to think more on it). I close my eyes and try to drop through the energetic chaos. What a morning for this all to be happening. I reach an intuitive understanding long before I come close to anything resembling energetic calm: I know it is — and was — an authentic and resounding YES to publishing Fossil V. In this moment it feels absolutely right.

After being hopelessly lost 24 hours earlier, and having had the lostness unpicked by my Beloved, here I am, with absolute knowing and certainty of what comes next. Well, I know everything except one significant part: there’s a missing piece. I have no idea what it is, but I will.

We have words and works to share, ones that may (or may not) have commercial viability. Ones we could spend the next five years trying to get an agent interested in. Then a publisher interested in. Precious time subtracted from the act of writing, before more hoops are jumped through with marketing and accounting, with no guarantee anyone will actually commit to seeing our work through to the end. We could also spend the next five years trying to keep our heads above water as indie authors, doing everything and trying to write at the same time. Again, precious time and energy siphoned from the finite pool we each have for writing.

“Did you write letters as a teenager?” Jodi asks me via text one holiday.
A leading question with a purpose; the flint striking steel and waiting for oxygen to ignite a spark to fall amongst the tinder.
“Yeah, heaps.”
“Cool. I have an idea to pose to you.”
53 handwritten letters, posted from city to city, form a novel, a collaborative partnership where trust is foundational and fundamental.
We write, edit, make each other cry, and revel in the power of the story we tell. We are beholden to no one except the characters’ whose story we share in the most intimate of handwritten communications.
Almost diametrically opposed ways of thinking between the two of us.
Manic enthusiasm versus the reluctant response.
Instantaneous ‘Yes’ versus the considered ‘OK.’
The Priestess and the faithful doubter.
And through the alchemy of collaboration comes the strength and power of the story.

Our origins are in the Write Anything blog, which featured writers and creatives from around the world. Since then the three of us have serendipitously threaded our energies in and out of each others’ endeavours: we have critiqued and edited for each other from the beginning, one of us has published the others, we have co-written book-length manuscripts, shared creativity challenges, made weekly art and poetry alongside daily meanderings that are as philosophic as they are passionate. So what fell into our laps was not actually new. What is new is a privately stated (and publicly articulated) intention to work together to offer up our writing to the universe and its myriad readers of today and of tomorrow. In combining our skill sets and experiences we gift each other a unique opportunity that lands between indie author and small press on the DIY spectrum.

Easter. A time of death and resurrection.
A third voice. Rus: “I have an idea for a story; would you like to collaborate on a crazy idea?” The wisdom of the teacher and the scholar. Acutely aware of the needs of people and how their need is one of love.
Genesis in collaboration.
Gestation in planning.
Germination in creating.
A triune partnership.
A new collaborative project and some of the best writing I think I have ever done. Pushed to the edge of what I can fathom in my thinking and writing. Plumbing depths of characters I haven’t allowed myself to explore before.
And from it, the origins of the JAR Collective. A place holder name tag for a story we set out to explore because the elements align, and through the characters we explore ourselves and the joy we gain from writing.
A story of three strands is not easily broken.
I realise I need the discipline of collaboration to understand why it is I write. The gestalt entity that is JAR is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Here it is I know partnership, trust, friendship, different and disparate as we might be.

Our individual goals are simple: to write, and keep writing. We are committed to tell stories of raw emotion, intense truth, and uninhibited imagination.This is where we are happiest. This is the unflinching bedrock of The JAR Writers’ Collective. Our collective goal is to support the processes of creation and distribution. We bring to the collective a unique blending of editing and book design, marketing and social media, project management and creative insurgency. We are uniquely committed to each others’ futures as storytellers, and to yours as well, as we share the highs and lows of choosing this path.

I am caught between two writing worlds. Maybe it’s because of the teacher in me, always thinking about audience, and pleasing them. Giving them opportunities. I think about the sale, the pitch, the everything that comes after the writing, and I feel the anxiety rise.
This is not who I am. This is not why I do this. This is the battle with the too-mindful writer who wants to do everything right.

Having just finished Fossil Five, the writer-pleaser woos me once more, and I am determined to go the “traditional” publishing route with this book. As if to bolster the writer-pleaser, solid reviews on the beta read convince me: “This is the one; this is the one that is going to go national.”

Like a cog in their machine, I spend a few days combing markets, digging deeply into the social media profiles of agents and publishers. Show me the way, I think. Let me please the greatest masses possible.

Every year, each of us will publish an individual piece of fiction, and collectively, we will share one of our collaborative projects. We plan to publish books, novellas, poetry collections, web serials, conceptual pieces and anything else that grabs our imagination and hearts. Here there are no limits. Here everything is possible because we have created a predetermined path to publication which frees us to write what speaks loudest and most passionately to our hearts. We look forward to sharing everything from suburban realism to metaphysical conceptual fiction with you (and everything else between or beyond). What you can expect are stories of great emotional depth that seek to explore the paradoxes and perplexities of the human experience, in their simplest and most complex forms.

Unfulfilled by the search, I return to my Daybook and the realities of my writing future, as a writer aged 53. I remember Jodi’s offer to publish Fossil Five, and immediately remember the other writer: the raw one deep within, where creative endeavors are a deeply intimate and personal work of passion with other very real people. To put Fossil Five in the hands of others who do not understand that… well, it seems obvious to bring in Jodi. It is the right — and only — option for Fossil Five, for it to end as it began.

So I approach Jodi, and she says yes, and quickly the idea of the Collective forms. The missing piece she goes off to find, turns out to be Adam – and less than an hour later, and with great excitement, we are both sending text messages to him, wanting to share what we’ve stumbled on. Wanting to know if he wants to be part of it.

The Collective is consistent with the way the three of us have worked together these last few years. We have all abandoned the critics, the judges, the readers who would say, “meh.” Instead, we had dug in and written passionately about what matters to us most. We’ve expressed our joys, our challenges, and our unknowns in the universe of writing, editing, and publishing. We are three writers all asking the same questions: what do we do with our words, when, and where? And how do we keep writing the raw authenticity of life, of love?

We will be here weekly, sharing our thoughts on, and experiences of, the creative process, living and writing from a place of authenticity and working collaboratively, with a commitment to offer you an all-access pass to our processes, the fruits of our risks and the wisdom gleaned along the way.

Welcome to the JAR Collective. We are ecstatic to have you here with us.