All My Worldly Joy

By Laura Richmond

A memoir of motherhood and mental health

Monday, 20 June 2022

The problem of endings

Hi folks,

I’m a bit nervous about this one, conscious of the (self-imposed) pressure to appear writerly and extremely talented at all times, to maintain excitement for the book that is coming, and of course to attract new supporters. The crowdfunding is a bit on hold for now: once Unbound have updated the page, I have a few ideas to sort out the final 20%. That’s all right. But here’s the problem: it turns out that writing a book is actually really hard. It wouldn’t be so hard if my standards weren’t so high, but I’m certainly not going to lower them. 

Perhaps I’ve been spoilt thus far: once I really got going about 18 months ago, the first three quarters of this book just poured out of me. It sounds daft and pretentious to say it, but it felt organic. Even a little smug, at times, when I read something I’d written and found it to be better than I remembered or expected, or just that sensation of basking in the glow of what it wasn’t quite yet but was going to be. It felt exciting, like I was hugging a secret. Aside from the first few chapters, I had the story wrapped up and pre-packaged before I began: I’ve been narrating these events, or elements of them, in talks to health professionals and the like for the last six years. Allowing the time and the space to tell the story as I truly wanted to tell it, in all its vividness and detail and complexity, has been a rather marvellous treat, a refreshing antidote to a twenty-minute slot before the proper speakers get going.

But then I had to end the bugger, and ideally end it well. I’ve spent at least forty-five minutes of every day of the last six months working on the final quarter of this book. It’s like hacking my way through a thicket. The thing is – healing is not linear. Healing is messy. It’s so messy. It’s a swimming pool of alphabet spaghetti. I want to be true to that, while at the same time producing something readable. I don’t want to peddle a narrative that I am cured now and shitting rainbows, that I have single-handedly solved mental illness or complex trauma or just a lifetime of finding being alive really fucking difficult. I could write that ending, and everything I included would be true, but overall it would be bullshit. Behold, for example, the absolute state I have got myself in over the last few days over finishing this book. At the same time, though, objectively my life is a lot less hospital-themed, and I am having an easier time than I used to. I’ve grown and learned things along the way. I’d like to share some of those things; they might be useful to someone else. That’s all fine, but it’s the transition from A to B, and the hooking it onto the story, and the making sense… I’m genuinely afraid that I can’t do it. I’m afraid that I’m not clever enough, or not a good enough writer. I am so confused by my own life.

I told myself that I just needed to get something down on paper. I can edit a shitty draft; I can’t edit a blank page. I tried various creative techniques to help with getting the content of that final section out of my head and onto the computer screen, and some of those techniques were useful. I ended up writing it all out of order as bits appealed to me. I’ve got about twenty thousand words, and they’re shit. Somehow the fact that they’re shit has spooked me, even though the whole point was that it didn’t matter if they were shit. I thought if I wrote them, the process of doing so would reveal to me how to sort it all out. But I’m most of the way there and as clueless as when I began. I’ve been mucking around endlessly with the structure and chronology, and I’m still no closer to having the first clue what to do with it all. I half-wish I could be like a Hermes delivery guy, just hurl most of a book at your hedge and drive off really fast.

This is probably ill-advisedly honest, in which case it’s an excellent trailer! I will get there, somehow. I suppose I just have to trust the process. I’ve been flirting with the idea of taking a week or two off: I’m exhausted and a bit sick of the whole damn book and book-struggle. Stepping away might create room for a fresh perspective. But I also know that avoiding something anxiety-inducing is the absolute number one way to reinforce the idea that it’s dangerous. And I’m a great believer in the practice of showing up: it’s how I wrote (most of) this book, how I learned to read tarot… pretty much any goal or skill is attainable if you set aside ten or twenty or forty-five minutes a day, set a timer and just show up. You declare that something is valuable, that it really matters to you, by showing up. Even when you don’t feel like it, perhaps especially then. It’s fully possible to feel like hell on toast, and to acknowledge that, and still to choose to act in accordance with your values, to move towards what you’ve decided that you want. What I want is a finished book, and one that is compelling and thoughtful and funny and well-written and resonates with other people. I must be moving towards that, but it’s a twisting, winding, brambly, labyrinthine sort of route. Right now, I am travel-weary, and feeling rather lost. We will get there, however long it takes and even if I am howling throughout. Thank you, as ever, for being alongside and for the virtual hand-holding. I would have given up without you. 

With love, and a fair amount of anguish,

Laura

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Comments

Jo Tucker
 Jo Tucker says:

One thought:
How does it make you feel knowing that by ending the book people will be reading it?

posted 20th June 2022

Ruth Waterton
 Ruth Waterton says:

Have you thought about working with a mentor? Cathy Rentzenbrink could be a good fit for you. She does regular Zoom sessions and has written a recent guide to memoir writing (Write it all down) as well as a deeply moving memoir ”The Last Act of Love” based on her brother’s brain injury and death. https://cathyreadsbooks.com/

posted 20th June 2022

Laura Richmond
 Laura Richmond says:

@Jo - It makes me feel terrified and excited in equal measure!

@Ruth - Thank you for the recommendation. I am indeed already working with a mentor: Andy Charman (author of Crow Court, https://www.crow-court.com/). He's fab and has been a huge support.

posted 20th June 2022

Jo Tucker
 Jo Tucker says:

I’d look into what is bringing the feelings of terror, then question if they are factual or a story.

Then refocus of the purpose, who does this get to help? Why did you start this?

Hopefully that’ll get your mojo going again x

posted 20th June 2022

Eleanor Sturdy
 Eleanor Sturdy says:

Dear Laura - it's great that you are reaching the end of your book. I wonder if its important to think of this as only a staging post - you are where you are in your life, your journey is not yet complete and maybe there are future chapters to write in both life and a sequel? You are already enough, your shared thoughts are experiences are already massive treasure for those of us who get to read them - we will all take different value from them once the book arrives. It's important to me that I let go of perfection and search for what is already good.
I hope this helps - you might enjoy "The Art of Enough" by Becky Hall as you progress along the self-acceptance epic journey - we are all getting getter at being our own best friends.

Take great care of you - sent with love

posted 21st June 2022

Eleanor Sturdy
 Eleanor Sturdy says:

PS have you shared this project with the Duchess of Cambridge's Early Years Foundation? I am sure the topic of maternal mental health is hugely on their radar, or it should be!

posted 21st June 2022

Laura Richmond
 Laura Richmond says:

@Jo - Thank you. It feels like more of an intellectual stuckness than an emotional one, in terms of ambivalence about finishing, but all interlinked of course and I certainly am conscious of stage fright as an ongoing theme. I keep having to get that out and examine it from time to time!

@Eleanor - You're so right that one of the factors here is that the story, of course, hasn't ended because I'm still here, still learning and processing. Any ending is a fake ending, in a way. I will check out that book. Regarding the EYF, I'll mention it to MMHA as they know all about this project and the Duchess is now their royal patron. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

posted 21st June 2022

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