As the Mask slips ~ Death 

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Death: Nicoletta Ceccoli Tarot

I am waiting for the key, my key. The key to producing a working draft of a novel. I have tried so many times before. Lived with its persistent, gnawing hope. I have wanted this for over thirty years, since I was a child. But every other time I have given up at a different bump in the road. All that is different this time is that I have committed to seeing the process through: through the tears, through the snot, through the gut wrenching fear that refuses to name itself. This time I am committed to seeing what lies at the end, whether there is a key for me or not. I will wait for Fate to open her hand and reveal what’s inside.

Me and the Hanging Man, this has been our vigil. When I make time to journal about this Death card I write the questions ‘What have I died to? Which masks are slipping away?’ But nothing comes. I write the letters bigger. I turn them into bubble writing, and colour each letter in with the nib of my purple fine liner. I stare at the questions. What is the way forward? What do I need to die to move forward, to make the pattern of abandoning first drafts a thing of the past? I am determined to have this draft of the novel completed by the end of May, the end of my teaching year, so I can finally exit this holding pen of the first draft and move onto the next stage. The next step has eluded me for years.

I have a schedule to write six handwritten pages every week day. This will produce a chapter every week. I have to take all the preciousness out of writing to write at this pace and I have to confront all the blocks that slow me down. But the trouble is that writing is more than the discipline of carving out time to turn up at the page. And now the first couple of chapters are written, when I turn up at the page there is something blocking the flow of my writing as I move deeper into the draft. It makes me feel itchy. It has me looking around the coffee shop, flicking through my phone, or just staring into space. The process is excruciating. It is taking me hours to get through the amount of pages I need to complete to stay on target. I don’t have the time. I can’t find the energy. I won’t have the stamina.

It is clear that I cannot complete this draft just by the power of the discipline of turning up.

I’m not going to give in this time. I’m not abandoning this draft. Yet my unnamed fear seems to have made the same vow. But I am going to be the one who waits around the longest. I will see the process through this pain, no matter what, until there is change. This is the energy of the Death card.

So I start to keep a diary whilst I am writing. I record how I feel when the itch arises, when nothing I can do will make the pen move across the page. It is different to the journalling I tried before. I am investigating the moment of the block as it happens. I am interrogating the fear as it raises its head. It has the choice either to speak or go away of its own accord. Either will be fine for me.

As I journal in the moment of fiction writing block, the words tumble out and I have to focus, really listen with my pen to keep up with what wants to be said. This is the fear itself. The fear that I cannot control or make sense of what comes out of me. I have controlled the fear of the chaos of creation in the past by writing in spurts. I have coped by writing poems, blog posts and some short stories. But I have never moved beyond noodling around with an initial idea for a book size project. And it holds me back in the moment of creation. It’s like I only want to create when I can hold what the finished project will look like in one piece within my imagination. The novel defies this kind of reduction. It is bigger than me and my brain and the ego that my brain contains. It does not feel safe. It feels wild and unruly. This is what scares me.

Using this process, it has taken me just one session to finally name this fear that has been rising when the pen is in my hand, the fear that has never named itself before, the fear that has halted the progress of a trail of first drafts. I cannot write because I am afraid of how bad and muddled what I’m writing is. My hand won’t move because my brain has decided there is no way it will ever be able to mould these words into a readable shape.

 

I’ve had this vague feeling before but this is the first time I have tore off its mask in the moment of attack. This is the fear that lies beneath. What most keeps me from writing a sloppy first draft is my perfectionism, the part of me that doesn’t want to deal with the mess of life. My ego is trying to protect me from the process ahead.

I may have some talent for writing, but writing a novel is the biggest challenge I’ve faced. My perfectionism will never set me free and the idea that I can somehow control my creativity as it comes out of me is false. The pain of writing is caused by headbutting my perfectionism head on.  The hard work is real. But the slipping of this mask to see what lies beneath the fear, feels like an important ending.

The old way of listening to the voices that tell me to give up, instead of interrogating their purpose, that way is dead for me now. I can move forward knowing there will definitely be the mess of the first draft to deal with over the summer. But that draft will have its own cycle of transformation to move through.

I don’t know what you’re going to need to let go of to move forward. But if you’ve travelled to this point then what is holding you back needs to be interrogated in the moment it arises. Don’t wait until you can rationalise it. Speak to it face to face. Let it speak to you. There will be ugliness and snot. This isn’t the shiny transformation. The energy of death is the fear and the pain and the grief. If you can get through this, the transformation will follow. But the suffering must come first.

Our transformation is waiting

Is there a key?

I wait for Fate to open her hand.

 

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