52 Weeks of Writing: Week 42—The answer to life, the universe, and everything is maybe this.

52 Weeks of Writing: Week 42—The answer to life, the universe, and everything is maybe this.

I've always thought the number 42 was special because I'm a Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy fan. I wanted my forty-second birthday to be more special than my fortieth for that reason. If I'd made any plans to set up the forty-second week of this journey special, then they've fallen by the wayside because, as is typical of my life, something else got in the way.

This week, it was a horrendous cold. I mean, there are colds and there are colds. This one was awful. So bad that, even seven says after it started, I still feel deeply under the weather. The weather, too, feels under itself, and it's done nothing but rain all day. This isn't helping.

However, I'm going to plod on through this and try to complete what I'd planned to do this Friday, which was introduce the course I'm going to be doing for the next twelve weeks. This is part of my "I tried it so you don't have to" plan, although it might turn into "I've tried it so you could too", depending on how this works out.

So, what is it?

This is Sense Writing, and I found it via Instagram promoted content. Yes, I know. I'm such a sucker for this and the Algorithm that Rules Our Lives knows me far too well. I saw this promoted and fell for it and I'm here to tell you all about it as I do it.

The reason I fell for it is simple: I've been struggling to write. You know this, if you've read along up to this point. I used to love writing and then one day I found that I kept hitting an emotional wall and would do anything I could to avoid it.

I've got a therapist and I've done lots of work and reading, but notice that the majority of writing-related courses don't deal with the emotional side of creativity. This isn't just fiction, by the way, I'm struggling with this in my academic life as well, and I've been trying to find a way to work through this, to build up my trashed confidence, or at least get to a point where I don't feel so trapped in a quagmire any more.

Sense Writing is apparently the course for me. This is set up by Madelyn Kent, and it used to run in New York but pivoted to the internet during the pandemic to survive. It's based on Feldenkrais Method, which uses these very slow movements to encourage reconnection with the body. It's yoga on 0.5 speed, or something like it.

What I'm looking for, I suppose, are tools to calm my hyperactive nervous system down so I can actually imagine things again.

On Tuesday, I turned forty-five. I spent the whole day in bed with this cold rampaging through my system. There was nothing fun about this day, apart from the bit where T took me out for tapas at a new local restaurant for dinner. I had churros for the first time ever. I rather like that I can be forty-five and still have new experiences.

But this is the thing about this moment. I'm forty-five, and a few months ago I walked across a stage to receive my second PhD. This is the third week of the autumn semester, I have three courses I'm teaching on, I'm editing a book for another academic, and now I have the opportunity to write fiction, to write academic material.

But I can't.

I have a million tiny ways to avoid doing either fiction or non-fiction. I somehow manage to fill my days, even the ones that aren't used for teaching and editing, on nonsense. There's something about being in your forties where instead of thinking about all the possibilities, you start thinking, "What do I do with what I've got left?"

I want to be able to write, to put together articles, to enjoy the process of writing in a way I used to. So far, I've done a lot of courses where the focus has been on the skills of craft. I've also done a lot of therapy, journalling, all the usual things. They've always been separate projects.

I'm also curious to see if any of this is affected by my being autistic. I've spent a lifetime numbing out my senses because I'm constantly overwhelmed by small noises, lights, colours, smells, feelings. As life got more and more intense as an adult, I numbed out more and more. Undoing the numbing effect is taking a lot of work.

Maybe this can help.

I don't know. I've done a lot of these writing courses now and I have a classic pattern, so I'm watching myself for this. I get all excited, sign up, pay, do the first week, and then fall down and never do any of it again. I switch off. Life overtakes me. The pain of what didn't happen when I wrote in my twenties overwhelms me, maybe, or some other pain I haven't figured out yet grabs hold.

I numb out, I switch off, I shut down.

This isn't just about fiction, as I've said. It's about academic writing. I'm on a kind of deadline for that. If I want to apply for certain fellowships, I need to do so within a particular span of time from the date of either my graduation or my viva. In order to stand any chance of success with these applications, I have to have publications at least in the works.

Although in many ways, I don't have any hard deadlines now I've graduated, the last moment I can apply for certain things is going to come rushing up really fast. So this is about every aspect of my writing life. 

I don't want to do what I did last time. I finished my PhD and fell off a cliff. I was confused and frightened in an adult world that made no sense, and had no way of interpreting and comprehending my place within it. I'm hoping that, now I have a diagnosis, a stable home life and a relationship, I have more tools at my disposal to survive and, well, thrive.

Part of writing this down now is accountability. I'm not just reviewing a writing course because Sense Writing is a course in an ocean of courses right now. I would really like this to work. I've been seeing my therapist for eleven months now, and she is amazing and we've been doing great work together. This feels like the next step.

Or I hope it is.

My experience of Feldenkrais as a methodology is limited to a course I took during the early days of the pandemic, May 2020 I think, when I signed up for a course for using it as a treatment for traumatic experiences, depression, and anxiety. There was nothing specifically writing-related about this course.

In my head, I have a particular set of criteria by which I judge all of the promotional material for writing courses. I get so many into my inbox every day now, I'm pretty much drowning in them.

My criteria look something like this:

How long is the sales page? Or, more accurately, how far do I have to scroll before I get to the cost? Remember the days when online courses all had these incredibly long sales pages, yellow-highlighted text, and then a "Buy Now" button with no price given?

That's a really bad sign. It does seem to be standard that sales pages are unreasonably long, but I dislike the tendency to assume that they can whet my appetite for several flicks of a scroll-wheel and I'll sign up irregardless of the cost once I get to the "Which option d'you want" section.

I have gates in my head through which all courses must pass, and cost is the first one. So I scroll past all the testimonials, the nice pictures of somebody writing in a café, or looking dreamily off into the distance. No, I'm not interested in what Eleanor from Albuquerque thought and how much it helped her. Really not.

I go back up and once I've figured out if it's a reasonable cost then I decide which testimonials are worth paying attention to. When I first started looking at writing courses, I didn't really examine the content, but now I know to check whether it looks generic. Both too little and too much are a problem. 

If you're selling a $1500 course using material you could get in "How to Write Fiction for Dummies", then you need something else beyond the content to appeal. I see courses pitching that you'll get X amount of time with a particular professional, either a novelist or agent, or a group workshop with an agent.

Those can be great, but that time goes by so fast. I did a very expensive course at the start of the pandemic that offered two short sessions with a particular author. This was good, and I felt like I benefitted from the sessions after sending material in, but it also felt like a sip when what I needed was more constant support.

This is just me, of course. I don't think I've been to an Agent Q&A that produced questions and answers not discoverable by reading Lit Hub or any of a thousand Substack newsletters on the publishing industry. This might just be my failing to take full advantage of them, of course.

I realise that what's been driving me, deep down, is a desire to get past the critical hurdle that writing a novel is hard, then editing is hard, and that's before you get to sending it out to agents and eventually publishers being equally hard. Plus, if you're on the academic side, the same thing applies but it's research.

Wow, I picked a hard road to follow.

Anyway, now I'm curious about doing a course with a different motivation. Or, rather, I'm being more honest about my motivation. I think, subconsciously, I've gone into these courses hoping that somehow the magic of being on a writing course will make me want to write, or get past my brain's resistance to it.

Now, I'm going to do a course where the emphasis is on working on the resistance, with a layer of writing on the top. So, we'll see how that goes.