I have to mention another life-affirming weekend, way back at the end of January. Not to say the default harrumph-around-the-house weekends aren’t life affirming, but anyway…
The sassy Sas invited me and three fellow self-employed ladies to the Cotswolds for what she dubbed a #ladybossretreat.
We stayed in the gorgeous ye olde cottage above. It was designed to age just so over the centuries, to reach a perfect level of crumbliness in time for the invention of Instagram.
I’d travelled seven hours on the train in lieu of an hour’s flight, to give myself a ridiculous amount of time to switch from introvert to social mode. My plan was to curl up in an armchair and simply observe at first, like a crow lurking on a telephone wire. Or offer to make tea all the time.
But the moment everyone arrived all friendly and laughing, and pretty much immediately changed into loungewear and slippers, I felt a wee jolt of elation and meant-to-be-ness. I was all in, baby!
Once the cosy fire was lit, we gathered round and each said what we hoped to get out of the weekend. My thing was a desire to feel more legitimate about being self-employed. Despite paying my bills for going on three years, it still felt accidental and fleeting, like I was really just noodling around on the internet.
Next Sas each had us draw a card from a deck of animal cards, so we’d have a little symbol for the weekend. I drew a card with a bat on it. A BAT? What the hell? But according to the little book that went with the cards, the bat was a symbol of rebirth. I was up for that.
Over the next day, each person had an hour in the spotlight where we talked about an aspect of our business that needed a sounding board. Everyone raised what seemed like a very straightforward, practical topic but they all turned out to be so much deeper and interesting. Layers were unravelled, buttons were pressed, honest conversations were had, emotional ponds were dredged and all the bodies and shopping trolleys came up. It was exhilarating.
I started my own stint waffling on about editing services and content calendars. Then somehow the next minute every long-held long-buried shitty doubt, fear and crazyass thought began to speeeewwwwww out of my mouth. Well I’m actually a fraud and not a real writer and I only got a book deal because it was ancient times with hardly any blogs or weight loss memoirs yet and it would never happen now coz you need 5 million followers on Instagram and zoodles and smoothies and a shapely arse to get published and the running book was an accident too and it’s not like it’s a Kate Atkinson or a Marian Keyes or something…
Then Clare said something that stopped me in my tracks. I don’t know if she’ll even remember saying it but I’ll never forget the moment. She said something like, “Shauna, there are many different kinds of writing. There are many different kinds of writers. But they’re all writers.”
For the past five years when a lovely baby bird Up & Runners says, “I’m not a real runner”, we always reply, “Are you running? Then you’re a runner!”. It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow or if you take walking breaks, you are doing it. You’re allowed to run, you are a runner, there is room for everyone.
Clare made me see that likewise, it doesn’t matter if you write award-winning novels or inane blog posts about cats and travels… you’re allowed to write, you are a writer, there is room for everyone.
But you know someone who isn’t a writer? Someone who doesn’t do any bloody writing! That’s been me, for long periods, frozen by my wacky thoughts. The you suck voice was no longer the voice of old critics and trolls, it had become my own. And I realised, there by the stylish fire, that it was time to stop listening.
That evening we wrote down all the crap we were ready to let go of, then SET FIRE TO IT in a ritualistic manner. Ooh that felt great. I had some Airmail stickers in the back of my notebook so we stuck those to our letters… FECK OFF old crap! Fly away now!
The next morning I got up early and went for a walk in the mist, peering at other crumbly cottages and feeling so much lighter. Then this little tiny cat tottered over to say hello.
The weekend was over all too soon. I spent the seven hours back to Scotland alternately in tears and grinning like a loon. And texting Gareth, BEST WEEKEND EVER, btw we’re getting a cat… TOMORROW!
Had the desired outcome for the weekend been achieved? Yes, I felt more legit. I also felt totally pumped! That’s how I summed it up to those four brilliant women. PUMPED! So many old cobwebs had been blasted from the brain, leaving room for focused action, as the Sasmeister calls it.
Of course, it’s taken me two months to process it all and actually write something, but I always take a wee while to warm up.