Nora Ephron changed my life (or at least my writing)

How long did it take you to realise you’ve been avoiding the thing you’re most scared of? 

Maybe you’re seized with crippling anxiety whenever you try to leave the house, in which case, I don’t imagine it took you long. Maybe you’ve been low-level unhappy in your job, and lockdown, doing what it did for so many, forced you to take stock and realise you just want to run off and join the circus after all? Or maybe you’re fearless, invincible to failure, pressure and disappointment so you grasp every day with two hands and do what you want to do and are happier for it. Good for you.

Let’s move on.

It’s been 18 months since I shared much on this blog. I briefly dallied in early lockdown with a 100 Day Writing Challenge; I got to day 3 and wrote out of panic and boredom rather than sincerity so I’m going to glaze over them for now (though my bird shit story is really a pretty good read.) 

During that time, I’ve written next to nothing for myself. Even my journals have been reduced to mere ‘thought boats’, pinning the highs and lows of a day to a doodle of a sail, fact elaborated on with nothing more than a smiley or sad face. 

I haven’t had cause to dwell on this. I’ve been working! My job is in the creative industries, in a creative organisation, in a creative role, so I exercise my creativity on the daily and don’t need to write to flex that part of my brain. I haven’t thought about writing. I haven’t missed it, longed for it, planned and failed to do it. It has been virtually non-existent in my head. 

Until this week. 

I’ll paint the scene: we’re on a rural getaway, just me, my boyfriend and a stylish one room Airbnb, flooded with natural light and looking out on nothing but rolling hills. Outside of our hikes, town wanders and card games, I pick up my holiday read of choice: Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts On Being A Woman’. 

Any of you out there who have read this or any other of Nora Ephron’s collected essays will know what’s coming next. For those of you who haven’t, let me enlighten you.

Nora Ephron is a true goddess and she has changed my life. I place her up there alongside Frances McDormand and Lizzo as The Women I Admire. I want to frame their pictures on my wall, bow down to them, relish in their beauty and ferocity and intelligence. Nora Ephron’s essays make writers want to be better writers and make non-writers want to write, or at the very least, read more great writing. 

Her stories intrigue and astonish, even when they reach an anti-climactic end or fixate on the search for the perfect cabbage strudel (I’m big into food, but the sound of a cabbage strudel does nothing to excite me. Until Nora writes it.)

Somewhere between the gorgeous big skies of the country and the gorgeous witticisms of Nora Ephron, I remembered what it meant to write. I remembered that it has been, and still is, the only creative outlet I really have. I remembered the feeling of putting unexpected words down, then looking up and taking a breath, relishing in the glow of a half-formed thought made whole. 

Then I remembered why I stopped doing it. On a practical level, it’s because I was trying to make it viable, so I got lost in briefs, edits, reedits and re- re-edits and ‘finding my voice’. On an emotional level, it’s because I’m a chronic overachiever and my low bar for succeeding in anything is probably somewhere around the ‘achieve world peace’ mark. If I fail at writing, then I’ve failed at the one passion I truly have in life – that doesn’t seem like a low point I want to confront.

So I just stopped, and buried all this somewhere very deep down in my psyche until this week when I read my boyfriend some of my proudest and most private pieces over a couple of beers and sobbed at the prospect of not keeping it all locked up anymore. 

I’m not saying I’m ‘fixed’. I just read a friend’s blog and all I could think was ‘this is so good and I do not write like this and can’t and won’t so why would I bother?  No, I imagine I’ll fall down the rabbit hole of self-criticism time and time again, but I won’t let that stop me this time.

So here I am, vowing to persevere. Let’s write for the sake of writing. Let’s not resent the half-finished essays or unformed ideas. Let’s not critique our words against everyone else’s. Let’s share, or not share, or share bits but hold back some. Let’s set a writing challenge, or set no framework at all. Let’s be inspired by anything, not just the things that seem inspirational. Let’s forget about the craft or the practice or the skill. Let’s just write for the hell of it and relish in the feeling it brings, rather than any end result. 

This time, I’m just writing for me and this time, it’s different. Why?

Well, because now I have Nora.

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