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I'm in a creative funk. Still writing for work, yes (a salary is SUCH a motivator!), but at the end of the day, I struggle to muster up the mojo to come up with any other writing. As luck would have it, I have agreed to contribute to a project, and I don't know whether it's fear or intimidation (well, probably a bit of both), but I've not been able to write a solitary word of my contribution yet!!

So I've decided to give The Jack(squat) Project another go.

In an odd coincidence, the next prompt in Jack's book reads: Acknowledge that writing is hard. Write it down.

Hahaha. Okay, Jack, you clown. Here it is: WRITING IS BLOODY DIFFICULT AND I HATE IT.

All right, I don't really HATE it. For some reason I feel compelled to keep doing it. But I really really wish that I was better at it. I wish I could have had a more literary writing style. But whenever I attempt to write anything that the literati would approve of, it invariably ends up sounding hopelessly trite and contrived.

So, yes Jack. Writing is really, REALLY difficult for me.

The rest of the prompt says: Then write about how you are going to make writing happen.

Well, I have no choice but to write every day. (See above about getting paid being a great motivator.) So I do it to keep the coffee cup filled and the modest roof over my head. But yes, I love it too. It's my passion. The thing I do best (even though I often feel that my 'best' is far from adequate. Mediocre, on good days.) So unless my respective bosses come to their senses and promptly fire me, I HAVE to write every day. But even during those days in the past when I didn't get paid to do it, I still felt compelled to resort to it again and again.

But anyway, if we take my work related writing out of it: How am I going to make the non-work related writing happen? Well, I'm making it happen right now, aren't I? I am SO not in the mood, but I've decided to turn to you for inspiration, Jack. Besides, I know from (rare) experience that, on those days when I LEAST want to write, but still force myself to do it, I sometimes come up with my better ideas. Almost as if I'm being rewarded merely for making the effort.

Sometimes, when the blank screen in front of me is just too intimidating, I dash off a quick e-mail to a friend. It's almost as if the act of typing helps to kickstart my 'writing rhythm'. I've never been one to freestyle it. I can't just sit down and type a stream of consciousness. I have always had this horribly limiting and annoying habit of editing myself as I go along. It's a mental barrier, and no matter how often I have tried, I simply can't overcome it. Okay, admittedly, I don't edit myself sentence by sentence when I'm typing an e-mail to a friend, because well, I suppose I always have something to say to my friends? And I strike a more conversational tone, therefore it flows more easily. Also, I'm not scared of what they will think of the e-mail, because (hopefully!) they won't be subjecting me to literary critiques. (And if they do, then I need new friends!) So I suppose, when I'm really stuck, I should surprise someone in my address book with an unsolicited e-mail. Yes, I sometimes still write actual letters too (those quaint, old-fashioned kinds that you actually send by POST, can you imagine?), but since I type those anyway (I write too painfully slowly by hand - thank you, Dyspraxia), I just resort to e-mail.

Okay, next part of the prompt. (Yes, still not done. This Mr. Jack Heffron is a regular slave driver, so he is!) How will you find the balance in yourself to combine willpower with relaxation, stubborness with joy? Write about how you've struck this balance in the past, with writing, sport (HAHAHAHAHA! Jackie... you SO don't know me at all), a musical instrument - anything you've done.

Willpower? MOI? But oh, the relaxation I have no trouble at all with! Okay, okay, seriously: I don't really know. As I've said, for some reason I have always felt compelled to subject myself to this torturous activity almost daily. It certainly helps that writing is one of my great passions. (Yes, apparently I'm a masochist.) It doesn't help that I am my own worst enemy and critic. (But if most of my other how-to books on writing are to be believed, that dastardly inner critic and bouts of fear, inadequacy and perpetual writer's block seem to be common afflictions among scribblers. Unless of course they are lying through their teeth.)

As for balance? I don't have a balanced life. I spend most of my days (happily) working.

I hope that answers your prompt, Jack, because that's all I have for you tonight.

ALL THIS, AND I STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M GOING TO WRITE FOR THE PROJECT! Shouldn't you be fired for that, Jack?!? After all, this book of yours is called The Writer's IDEA Book...  
Yes, yes... I know.

We're not yet two weeks in, and I'm already NINE DAYS behind schedule.

Luckily my three imaginary readers have been way too gracious to point this out in the comments. (Or to simply point at me and laugh, for that matter.) Even though I suspect that they haven't harboured a lot of hope for Jack and I and my grandiose ambitions for us ever since I first made the announcement about undertaking this hare-brained project. And really, who can blame them? I certainly can't...

But one thing I hope that my imaginary readers have gleaned about me by now is that, of all the names I can possibly be called, "quitter" isn't one of them. Proof? I once managed to not leave a country where I didn't exactly belong for almost an entire decade... (That's longer than many South Africans were exiled during Apartheid!)

Okay, so maybe that's not the best example... Perhaps the only thing it tells people about me is that I may have a tendency to "slightly" overstay my welcome? Or that this project I was so adamant to complete within a year is going to miraculously turn into TEN years of torture for everyone involved?

But no... not even I can face the prospect of that! (No offense, Jack... but dude, I am so commitment phobic, I can hardly stand to live with myself on a daily basis! Never mind sticking to you for more than a year... or... at the rate I'm going... two years.)

So I'm afraid if you were hoping that these days of deafening silence meant that it was the end of Jack and I, then you are in for a nasty surprise. You see, I really want to give Jack a fair crack. (Oh, look! A rhyme. Does this mean I can tick off the poetry section, should there be one? Yes, I don't know whether there is or not, see, because I'm not reading ahead. What you're seeing is my immediate reaction to Jack's prompts. So brace yer imaginary selves for something as potentially damaging to your senses as so-called 'reality' television shows! With the same level of 'intellectual stimulation' as well!)

Right, so... let me revert my deficient attention back to Jack and his "The Writer's Idea Book".

Oh, and... even more bad news. Since I ditched the last exercise halfway through, I am actually even further behind than I initially thought I was. So here goes. Répétéz. (Know idea which e the accent should be on, so when in doubt, just slap it on to every single one, non?) 

Last time we chatted, Jack was attempting to prompt me into listing "the positive messages you have received about writing or about any creative undertaking."

I thought he meant handwriting and it caused me to revisit a nasty childhood trauma.

Okay, also? I had completely overlooked the part where he had said POSITIVE messages. But luckily for me, I don't have to wrack my brain to try and find any positive feedback about writing, because then darling Jack saved me from certain embarrassment by proceeding to say: "... or about ANY creative undertaking."

Well, there was that time in the States when I, in a fit of homesickness, decided to teach myself the art of African beading. Now, before I continue to tell you this story, you have to know that, up until that very moment, I had never even HELD a needle in my hands. (Luckily I had transferred to art school - where there was no such barbaric practice/subject as Home Ec - long before I was able to do any damage to myself or anyone else. Trust me, wielding such a sharp object sewing/knitting needle in my clumsy hands would've spelled certain disaster... )

And oddly enough, just as with this entire Jack Project, I immediately plunged in way over my head with the beading. Decided to skip all the beginning projects (such as the daisy chains) and I went straight to...

The Zulu Love Letter.

In case you are a foreign imaginary reader, this warrants a bit of a description.

A Zulu Love Letter is an intricate beaded necklace painstakingly crafted from tiny, coloured seed beads by Zulu maidens to give to their lovers. The boys wear it around their necks to show the world that they are spoken for. Each different colour used in the necklace has a meaning. Red, for example, signifies fiery passion and means "I love you".

I sat for weeks... nay... MONTHS. Day and night. Cursing, squinting, piercing my fingers raw (so in this case the red in my necklace could very well mean bloody hell. Or something similar...), fraying or accidentally knotting kilometres worth of yarn, forcing me to start all over again... But so help me, I didn't quit until I had painstakingly, miraculously, crafted this:

Zulu Love Letter.jpg

 

 





















Some months after I had made this, I attended a function at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C.

I shyly walked up to a group of Zulu women, my attempt at a Love Letter nervously dangling from my sweaty hand. The beaded decorations they were wearing with their colourful traditional clothes made my creation look like the work of a child! I almost had second thoughts, but the same instinct which had compelled me to learn beading somehow propelled me towards them.

"Excuse me. Sawubona." My face felt (and I'm sure looked) on fire as I drew their attention by greeting them in their mother tongue.

Their faces instantly lit up with kindness. "Sawubona, Ntombazana!"

I introduced myself and after going through the mandatory and somewhat lengthy African rite of finding out how each of them were doing, I finally unclenched my hand and showed them what I had made.

They beamed. "Not even young Zulu girls want to do this anymore! So we are pleased to see a white girl learning our ancient tradition!"

So yes, Jack, that is one time when someone told me that one of my creative undertakings didn't suck.

Seriously though... Not a day goes by that I am not extremely grateful, dumbfounded and astounded that people are actually willing to pay me to do what I absolutely love to do!

Which is why I owe it to them, myself and to the art of writing itself to constantly work at it. I frequently get into trouble with family and friends for not believing in myself. Thing is, I'm almost glad I never feel quite worthy/good enough.

That way, I will always, ALWAYS, feel compelled to keep working at it.

Look Jack! I showed up!

Of course, since the first exercise merely states that I need to show up at a certain time daily for a week and that I don't have to write but I can't do anything else either, I could have just as easily not blogged for a week.

In fact, I could've bummed around every night for a week, doing LOTS of other things instead of writing... like... errrm... playing Spider Solitaire, and scarfing down snacks, and twiddling my thumbs, and - oooh, how rebellious - reading a BOOK... and TOLD you next week that I was here staring at the screen every night at the same time not necessarily writing but definitely not doing anything else either... and you would have had absolutely no choice but to take my (unwritten) word for it!

But look at me! Here I am! I don't know what's overcome me... Maybe I HAVE been abducted by former illegal aliens to be taken back to the Land of the Undocumented? Because normally I'm so commitment phobic, I can hardly stand to live with myself, but for some obscure reason, I'm taking this commitment to you very seriously.

So yes, I've decided to be all honourable about it and prove to you that I'm going to show up at 11ish every evening.

Also? I've just had a good look at this "The Writer's Idea Book" of yours, which, as you'll recall, is the entire reason for me being here right now. And look, I'll be the first to admit that maths has never been my strong suit. In fact, it's not my suit at all. I'm so terrible at numbers? I don't even possess the capacity to memorise my own phone number.

But despite all of my - what's the amount when you have no knowledge about something again? Oh, right, zero. See? Told you. So yes, despite my being severely numerically challenged? Even I have realised with more than a bit of alarm that your book contains 400 exercises. And the year only has 365 days.

Which has the potential to mean several things: I'm doomed and will never get done on time, so I might as well quit this entire hare-brained project right now.
Or?
I will have to do more than one exercise... per day...

(I can't believe I just wrote that... Jackie... WHAT have you done to me?)

So yes, I suppose I have no choice but to proceed. Right. Now.

Red opens "The Writer's Idea Book" with a certain amount of dread. This is the next exercise (or prompt, as Jack prefers to call it, probably because he knew how averse some of his students would be to the word 'exercise'): "List the positive messages you have received about writing or about any creative undertaking. What did people say?"

Oh, Jack... do we REALLY need to go there? This will be traumatic, man.

"She is the only student I have EVER encountered in my entire 100-years of teaching who tried to take a short cut with this assignment." - Mrs. Van Emmenis, Grade 1 teacher. It's a direct quote from the comment she had scribbled in red ink in my writing 101 book next to the line where I was supposed to have painstakingly copied out the letter 'm'. I must've grown tired after making the first two m's, and the line in that exercise book suddenly seemed way too long and daunting to fill up with even MORE m's. So I simply wrote one EXTREMELY fat m, which I stretched out across the rest of the line. 

Like thusly:

Writing 101.jpgOops. Wait... messed up the picture.

Let's try this again.

Writing 101.jpg

So yes, that was among my very first bits of writing, and I took that first critique of it very very hard.

Okay, the prompt isn't done yet. Here's what Jack wants to know now: "How did they say it?"

Jackie, I already TOLD you. She used the angry red ink.

What's that? OHHHH, you meant WRITING and not HANDwriting!

Well, shucks man, you should've said so! Don't make your prompts so long! I've always despised multiple-question commands, because halfway through, I invariably figure out that I had misunderstood it all along.

And, wait... you mean I have just revisited this deeply buried, life-long damaging childhood trauma for NOTHING!?!?

Okay, that's it. I'm done here.

(But I'll probably be back tomorrow. And we both know it, don't we, Jack? For now though, I'm pretending to stomp off in a huff and you are going to pretend to BELIEVE that I'm quitting you and this stoopid project right now and look all deflated-like about it.)

Wow. Perhaps I should have publicly stated that I don't have a life a long time ago.

(Okay, yes, ha ha... I said 'publicly' while implying this blog. Who am I kidding, right? Anyway, kindly pretend to humour me as usual for the 'sake of this argument.)

I swear I was going to start with the Jack Project today*. But then... BUT THEN!

I suddenly - and this - as a number of any of the characters Reese Witherspoon has ever portrayed on film would say with a Southern draaaawl - well, whaddayaknow, it's just the DAAAARRRRNDEST thang... I suddenly seemed to GET A LIFE!

I just got back from a fabulous, wine-soaked dinner at Ma'noush - a fine Lebanese establishment here in Stellenbosch. So wine-soaked, in fact, that its status has been elevated from fabulous to downright fabuloush. My head is fuzzy and pleasantly spinning as I'm typing this, so please be kind and overlook all spellling errors. (Go figure, I get a red squiggly line every time I type Stellenbosch, but not on the three l's of spellling. So much for trying to be ironic!)

And! As if me actually being out and about on ANY night (never mind a WEDNESDAY night) isn't remarkable enough, the promise of INTER PROVINCIAL travel has ALSO come up today!

(Trust me, for a girl who hasn't actually left the Western Cape Province of South Africa since February 2006? This is indeed a noteworthy event.)

Luckily, Mr. Heffron, I see that our first exercise is merely that you require me to... and I quote... show up. "Writer Thomas McGuane goes to his study at a certain time every day and stays there for a scheduled length of time," you write in your "The Writer's Idea Book". "He sits at his desk. "I don't have to write," he explains, "but I can't do anything else." Try this approach for a week, scheduling a specific period of time, during which you must sit at your desk or wherever you write. You don't have to write, but you can't do anything else."

Really, Mr. Heffron? Not even play Spider Solitaire or sip coffee?

Okay, kidding. I will take this seriously, I swear. And this bodes well if the first exercise in a How-To write book doesn't involve actual writing. Why, it actually appeals to my lazy nature! Because wouldn't you know, but as it is, I do spend hours and hours daily just staring at a blank screen, frozen with fear and inadequacy! And here I was worried that this was going to be like... difficult or something!

I was going to protest when you said "sit at your desk", but then you redeemed yourself immediately afterwards when you said "or wherever you write." So my bed will do then, right? That's about the only on-the-job perk that I currently enjoy (and the only one I have in common with hookers, but never mind): staying in bed.

The one thing that I DO have a problem with though, is the 'scheduling a specific period of time to do all this sitting around and not writing but not doing anything else either' in. Because you see, for a girl who has no life (and I SWEAR I usually don't. Today was just a complete fluke!) I may already have some scheduling conflicts. You see, I want to say 10 at night. But what if I get invited out again!? And the threat of that actually happening has become VERY REAL, I'll have you know! Then I might not be home by 10 to sit around and do nothing. And at 10 in the morning? Well, we all know that I'm extremely incoherent (or more so, then) before noon. At 11pm, really, is when I finally get my momentum for the day.

Oof. My hair is starting to hurt a bit now. Going to bed. (Did I mention that the momentum I gain at 11pm wears off at about 11:05ish pm?

*Huh... guess I have accidentally started with the project on time after all, then! I look forward to the next no-writing writing exercise!  

That’s it. I’ve had it with myself.

 

So I’m officially surrendering my no-life life to Jack.

 

No, not this one. (Tempting, but no. Besides, even if he HAD been the chosen Jack, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to keep him.)

 

This Jack.

 

Yep, he is an honest to goodness, real, live, guy.

 

I hope he won’t feel too offended that I can’t quite remember where exactly we met. I do know it was in an American bookshop. Possibly the Barnes & Noble at the Inner Harbour in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

I’m certain I can pinpoint it to a Friday afternoon. Circa 2004. I was probably dressed in the unflattering blue golf shirt I was forced to wear at my volunteer gig, which was conveniently located next to the bookshop. (The place’s proximity to the bookshop was the main reason why I took the job, to be honest. Because that awful outfit gave me second thoughts about volunteerism in the United States… Maybe they had assigned us such atrocious uniforms so that we could better sympathise with the abuse aimed towards the various species we were trying to protect?) So it was possibly during the summer then. But winter or summer, I’d be quite willing to bet my life on it that I had a Starbucks Grande Latté (with extra foam) in my other hand when I first stuck out my hand to greet him.

 

Jack and I spent the rest of that afternoon together over a few more coffees in the bookshop café, engrossed in… well, he certainly had MY rapt attention, even if the feelings weren’t mutual. (I didn’t mind, though. The one-sided nature of the relationship didn’t deter me at all.) In fact, I know it’s bold, but I was certain I had at last found The One.

 

Not to diminish my original love-at-first-glance, but in retrospect I actually think it was more a case of me - in a moment of desperation - believing that he would be the one to save me from myself. That he would be the guy to finally unleash my very best, most creative – and yes, while he was at it, would he mind attempting to unearth prettiest too? – Self.

 

(Yes, I’ve always been a dreamer.)

 

Whatever the intentions behind my initial feelings were, I took him home that very evening. Now, before you think I’m a right floozy, I couldn’t bear to run the risk of letting the likes of him slipping through my fingers.

 

I had already made that mistake once before, after all. With the absolute love of my life. But I digress…

 

As is typical of new romances, we were inseparable at first. As soon as I knew I had him though, I lost interest. (I refer to such moments of boredom as ‘staying in touch with my masculine side’. Every girl should do it! Seriously, I’ve found that we can actually be better at it than the guys!)

 

Would you believe that, after I left the States at the end of 2005, Jack actually followed me back to South Africa?

 

And he has not given up. From place to place, he has followed me. Relentless and loyal in his quiet pursuit, yet I can almost feel the reproach at being ignored radiating from him.

 

At times I would get so annoyed with him (and with myself for all the unkempt promises I’ve made which he represents) I’d stuff him back into the box with all the other How-to books about writing that I own.

 

But for some inexplicable reason, I’m always drawn back to him.

 

So it’s time. I’ve decided to, at long last, indulge him and fully devote myself to him. For an ENTIRE YEAR.

 

Here I am then, Mr. Jack Heffron, a copy of your “The Writer’s Idea Book” open before me yet again. (I almost feel as if I’m back at the tiny row house on Buena Vista Avenue in Baltimore, sitting at the round kitchen table with its blue-checkered tablecloth.) 

 

Over the next year, I vow to complete every single of the 400 writing exercises in this book on this blog.

 

Why? Because I’ve finally completely lost my mind?

 

Because I’m bored and I don’t have a life anyway so I might as well? And I’m paying a boat load of hosting for this blog, yet I’m too sentimental to let it go, so I might as well start writing here more regularly? 

 

Well, yes, perhaps a little of all of the above. But actually, the truth is more like this: I’ve finally realised that I can own all the How-to books in the world, but without any effort on my part, merely possessing it isn’t going to help me at all. 

 

Yes, my logic is absolutely astounding, isn’t it?

 

What can I say, I’ve always been a bit slow on the uptake.

 

So here I am. Bring it on, Mr. Jack Heffron and your “The Writer’s Idea Book”!

 

(I have a feeling I’m going to regret this…)



















about
is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
Or you can stalk her send her some love via e-mail at: redsaid[AT]gmail[DOT]com

The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)

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  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Terra: YES! Wait... you didn't think that I would be this possessed to post for NO REASON, did ya???... [go]
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  • Marco Author Profile Page: I personally think it is a mindset that has been cultivated over the years, and one, if not stemmed,... [go]
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Ms. Crazy Cat Lady Pants!!! Squeeeee! Sooo good to see you! (I thought NO ONE was bothering to read ... [go]
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  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Hey Tamara! I know, right?? That is a tough act to follow indeed. I adored that dentist. He used to ... [go]
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  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: I'm really really glad that I'm not the only one, Po! Sometimes I drive myself mad with all the what... [go]
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