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  • John Dodd

Who do you do this for?


Photo by Anna Tarazevich:


When I was 14 I came second in a writing contest and stopped writing till some years later…


Overreaction?


Not really, we had to read the pieces out in class afterwards, and while mine was good, the first place was sublime, it was the sort of writing that someone at the top of their craft would produce, certainly not something I could ever manage…


Why did I start again?


Because I was in Foyles, and I was reading through the Sea Wolf by Jack London, and as one does, I flipped to the end, and had a quick glance there… And kept reading, and then reading more and more frantic, those words were familiar, those words were very familiar, I would never forget those words.


I had seen those words before, I had heard those words before…


Foyles, I suspect, has never been subjected to so many expletives in one sentence, or indeed at such volume…


That contest had been to rewrite the ending to a book. He’d copied, word for word, substituting the names of the characters in the book for the characters in his story, and in doing so, had won himself the prize, and cost me so many years through my own willingness to believe that I couldn’t ever be that good, and more importantly, that what I wrote needed to be every bit as good as what he did.


I started writing that evening, I’ve never stopped since, started with fanfiction, moved up to writing for games, and then went for longer fiction, then novellas, then novels. I write every day now, every day, not because I have a deadline or need to do it, but because it’s something I delight in doing. I remember those years when I was held back by the feeling that what I did wasn’t good enough, that it would never be good enough, because of one thing that I’d seen that was better than anything I’d ever produce.


I got to wondering, how many people get held back by this same feeling, this isn’t Imposter syndrome, that’s when you’re doing something and you don’t feel that you’re good enough to be doing what you’re doing. This is the stage before that, when you don’t do something in the first place because you believe you’re not going to be good enough, and this takes all forms. One I see all the time (particularly with me also being into fountain pens), is when people buy a nice notebook, and then don’t write in it, because they feel that they have to write something that is worth how nice the notebook is.


This is where it starts.


When you believe that you’re not good enough to do something in the first place, then you’ve already fallen into the trap. Who cares if it’s a nice notebook, the paper isn’t going to mind what you write on it, in fact, if it had a care, it’d be that it wasn’t going to sit forever empty because it was too nice for people to use. I’m not saying that you need to show everyone what you’re doing, but if it brings you joy, you should do it anyway, no matter if you don’t share it with the world, all that matters is that you enjoy doing it.


That starts with a single action.


Whether it’s the first word in the nice notebook, the first note you sing, the first step on the dance floor, or the first line on the books that you’ve always been meaning to read, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you started. Seems like a simple thing to do, and talking about it is easier than doing it, but the first step is the most important, and it’s not about doing it, not yet.


The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.


I wish I could claim credit on that line, but I can’t, that’s Michel De Montaigne, there’s a picture on my wall with a lone wolf in a forest and that quote next to it. It means that first and foremost, you have to give yourself permission to be yourself.


I’m crap at that, it’s why I have the picture on the wall.


All my accomplishments are for others, I can stop the world turning for the people I love, I can spend forever making the world a better place for everyone else, but I have trouble spending even a half second on myself.


I’m not alone in this.


This year, I said that I’d finish a novel that I’ve been looking to finish for more than two years, I know the outline, I know the characters, it’s all good to go, I’ve read a million books on how to write, on the surface of it, I should have done this two years ago without any effort.


It’s 08/01 as I write this, so far the book has 14000 more words than it had at the beginning of the year (Yes, I’m keeping a spreadsheet), and in addition to the book that I’m writing, I’ve done a number of short stories, journal pieces (like this one), and other work. In total, so far this year, I’ve written 26023 words, and there’s no sign of this slowing down any time soon. Today has been the slowest day of the year so far, and that’s because I’ve been working for thirteen hours in the day job with a meeting in the evening after that. I finish the days work and I find myself wanting to write more, the interest that I had back in 2014 is back and more so.


How?


I looked at what I was doing, every time I sat down to write the story that I wanted to write, I found myself sitting there with nothing coming out. At the beginning of January, I tried a different tack, I decided not to write it for me, but for someone else. The words just fell out, and I’m happy with them, it’ll still need editing, but at the rate I’m going right now, it’ll be finished before the middle of February, and the other things I’m looking at will be finished before Eastercon, which is where I need them to be.


In addition to this, I’m doing a number of other things, more than I was back in 2014, but I’m finding time to do all of them, because I’m doing them for others. In this, I’m lucky, I can see how the things I’m doing make things better or easier for others, and that gives me the impetus to do them. People ask why I do conventions? I like the smile from people at the end of the day that tells me they’ve had a good time. Do I know them? Not at all, but it makes me happy, that they’re happy.


This is how I always find time when it’s someone else, and how I never find time when it’s me.


This year I learned something else.


There’s a whole bunch of people who I help to do things, from writing, to conventions, to games, all sorts of things. I help them because I believe in what they’re doing, and I want to see them succeed in what they do. The curious thing is that most of them find it easier to work on those things because I’m interested in seeing what comes out of their endeavours, they’ve got permission to work on whatever they want because someone else is interested.


I mentioned that I’m doing a lot more things than I was, and that’s because I’ve been talking to a lot more people, and when I talk about the things I’m considering doing, and they mention that they’re interested, I have the impetus to do it, not for me, but because they’re interested. Round and round this goes, most of the people I know who volunteer for conventions don’t do it for the rewards package, they do it because they like helping others, but then we talk to each other, and we take an interest in what each other is doing, and that gives us reason to do those things that secretly we want to do for ourselves.


It’s been a long couple of years, it’s easy to think that we’ve forgotten how to talk to each other, how to share our ideas and dreams, our hopes, our failures, and what we always wanted to do, because to some extent, we really have.


Whatever project you have, whatever it might be, whatever you were thinking of doing, mention it in passing to someone else, put a random post up somewhere on the net, share it with like minded people you don’t know.


Anything…


Just get it out there, because as much as there may be people who doubt and belittle, there’ll be others who are interested. The trick here is to ensure that you don’t listen to the naysayers, look for the one interested person in amongst everything else, and then consider that someone else is interested.


By the time you’re finished, they won’t be the only one…

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