As this challenging year comes to a close, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss. It was far from how we expected the new decade to begin.
When I started my masters at the end of 2019 I was looking forward to, not just the teaching, but author talks, making writer friends, meeting industry professionals, working in the cosy library at Corsham Court and wandering its Capability Brown grounds pretending to be Jane Austen. For a few months, I was able to do all of those things, until we were locked down and the world went virtual. Even though my modules were taught effectively online, agent events went ahead and my tutors were very supportive, it just wasn’t the same. There was no room for spontaneity, no grabbing a coffee with course mates after workshops or celebratory drinks at the pub on deadline days.
Since I submitted my MA manuscript at the end of September, I’ve found it very hard to get back into writing it. I’ve been feeling lost for a couple of months, which I put down to moving to Bath and then going into another lockdown. However, it wasn’t until I received my final grade a couple of weeks ago that I realised I’d been grieving the end of my masters and in a way, coming to terms with being denied my dream. I’d been wanting and waiting to study for a masters in creative writing for years and it finally felt like the right time to do it. I was going to allow myself one year to focus on my ambition of becoming an author, something that could just be a delusional, self-involved fantasy. I’d never know if I didn’t give it a go though, so this was my chance to find out if it was worth pursuing or not.
It filled me with sorrow realising that the course had officially ended and hadn’t met my expectations. I was proud of myself for completing a masters, especially during a global pandemic, but for some reason it was eclipsed by a melancholic gloom. I was dissapointed that it wasn’t the same experience I’d been promised, that I’d narrowly missed out on a distinction and that I hadn’t come away with a bank of happy memories from time spent with new friends.
We are all mourning missed opportunities and cancelled events this year. I’m not the only one who feels short changed or inhibited in some way by the pandemic, and mine is on a far smaller scale to sacrifices others have made. Whatever the size of the drawback though, I’ve found it helpful to focus on what was able to happen this year. For instance, I completed my masters and received some very encouraging feedback, culminating in a high mark. I gained confirmation that I can actually write and have grown in confidence when I wasn’t even sure if I was good enough to be on the course in the first place. I’ve written the majority of a book and met some lovely people who I hope to stay in touch with. Most importantly, I found my “thing.” Regardless of whether anyone ever reads my novels, I will always have writing. It will forever bring me joy and satisfaction, as well as a great deal of pain and frustration!
Speaking of which, this piece by Jessie Burton couldn’t have come at a better time. I actually cried when I read it because she perfectly captures the internal battle every writer faces to get words down each day. It was so reassuring to hear that one of my favourite authors experiences the same struggle to write against a punitive voice in her head and perfectionist tendencies. It’s exactly what I needed to summon the motivation to keep going.
"Sometimes, you are just too tired or sad to write. Sometimes, precisely because you are sad, you will write. Your life dances around you, up and down, and you write. Sometimes, you write three chapters of nonsense, and then you write a paragraph of beauty. Time away from a manuscript is as valuable as time spent poring over it. Your novel will never be perfect – there are probably three perfect novels written in this whole wide world. So write it." ~Jessie Burton for thenovelry.com
Just as Jessie Burton discusses how to find the mental stamina to finish a novel, Michaela Coel, another writer I really admire, spoke to Louis Theroux on his podcast about the grief she feels after completing each project. She explained how she sits with the sadness and gives into it by waiting it out, which I think is a noble way to embrace endings.
That’s how I’m going to deal with The High Low finishing this week. Dolly and Pandora have played an important role in my life since I started listening to their podcast a couple of years ago. Their chats about pop culture and current affairs have provided a soundtrack to lonely lockdown walks and made me feel like I’m in the company of good friends. Their conversations navigated the realms of serious, silly and everything in between, making me laugh and cry. Like many twentysomething women, there will be a gaping hour-long hole in my week without it, which Susannah Goldsbrough perfectly sums up.
"Dolly has often talked about the appeal of a podcast to singletons and those who live alone – how important it is to have a familiar voice speaking through an empty flat…There is a solitariness to being my age right now, exacerbated no doubt by the pandemic; it is precious and frequently selfish but also, it is hard. How much harder will it be when you can’t leave the house to navigate a busy Thames towpath or empty country lane without the sound of two old friends nestled up to your eardrums." ~ Susannah Goldsbrough for The Telegraph
So, when it comes to things ending, whether that’s my masters, favourite podcast or something else, I’m going to lean into the loss and the discomfort, with the hope that it leads to another door opening. The same can be said for mourning what we missed out on this year. Although we’ll be glad to see the back of 2020, it makes sense to ride out the remaining weeks rather than wish them away, whilst bearing in mind that there will come a point when we can reclaim everything this pandemic has taken away from us. Just as it seems impossible to recall the summer sun’s warmth on a dark December afternoon, this too shall pass. The thick fog will lift and the days will gradually grow longer, lighter, lovelier again.