Right now I am away on our annual writers retreat. I am supposed to be working on my novel this weekend, but I am sneaking a bit of time out on the conference centre's wireless network - naughty but nice! That's because I am feeling stressed about the whole issue of product, achievement, measurable and quantifiable goals. You know how it is. We measure our days in terms of success, depending on how much we have achieved, and the value we attach to each of the things we have done. As an ME sufferer, this is a constant mantra in my life. How do you describe a good day or a bad day for other people (not least the Benefits Agency) unless you do so in terms of what you can achieve? So my days have become measured in terms of how many loads of washing I put in the machine, how far I can walk, how long I stand at the cooker. I live in a quantified world.
But when I think about it, my life has always been like this. It was always how many 'O' Levels was I doing, or 'A' Levels, or what my degree coursework marks were. My life has always been about measuring myself against some scale or other. And because of the way I am, always finding myself wanting.
This retreat is another measurable outcomes fest. I feel like I am here to do work, so I had better do it. And I had better have a measurable outcome, preferably something I can read to my fellow retreat-ees when we gather at the end of the weekend. I feel like a need a concrete thing to waive to say I haven't wasted my time.
The thing about writing is that from the outside, a lot of it looks like wasted time. I remember hearing Iain Banks at a book reading delighting in how being a writer allows him to spend a great deal of time sitting in the pub or staring into space, under the heading 'WORK'. I am trying to redraft my current novel, 'The Seventh', and I've decided its going to need quite a big facelift. I like the idea, but the work at this point is about planning. Which requires lots of thinking, and plotting tiny bits of information on spreadsheets and scraps of paper. Not necessarily finished, polished prose. And I am not entirely sure that choosing a 'deliverable' for the end of the weekend is going to be helpful in the process.
But then the question is, because I don't have a measurable result, will I feel like I haven't achieved anything?
The issue that keeps coming up in my life at the moment is neatly summarised under a simple phrase 'ENJOY THE PROCESS'. So I am trying to refrain from measuring myself at all this weekend. It's hard, but I hope that in doing so, I can allow my creative muscles to flex, and remember how to enjoy writing again.