writing

How Ed Sheeran’s Mentors Helped Me Write Again

August 26, 2018

Holy shit balls, It’s Character Building is two years old!

I write from a Quaker retreat. Nope, I’ve not dropped out of normal life and joined the movement, rather I’m at a songwriting retreat led by my favourite musicians on the planet, Nizlopi. For anyone who hasn’t heard of them, what the fuck have you been doing with your life? No, really, to put them into a context that people might quickly recognise, some kid called Ed Sheeran did work experience with them and now he quotes them not only as his good friends but as one of his main musical influences.

Now, by no means am I Ed Sheeran or any other kind of musician for that matter. My musical career peaked at playing busy bee on the recorder 30 years ago. I came to the retreat for the writing part because I had been feeling like maybe there was nothing left to say. I felt like I was writing and publishing stuff because it was Wednesday and it was blog day rather than because I had something compelling to say.

But stepping into this foreign world of songwriting, of A minor, middle 8 and notes as colours was daunting, to say the least. I had thought to myself “What the fuck am I doing here?” on more than one occasion. Luckily, intertwined with the songwriting and performing has been the space and time to self-reflect.

We were set a task to think about what we’re good at and what we love in order to create a “Purpose Statement”. When the task was set, I was like yassss honey, I have this licked. I know exactly what I’m about.

I wrote my purpose statement in seconds:

“Do good and spread good, together”

I found it easy because that’s why I started writing: to help one other person and to bring people together. Maybe comparison and ego and frustration had taken me to a place where I felt; what’s the point? and initiated this break from the blog.

We had an open mic night, a safe space where people could share their talent. And boy was there talent! I sat crossed legged, transfixed and smiling so much my cheeks hurt, listening to these talented, honest, humans expressing their light through their voices and their instruments. It was beautiful and I felt like every single person was playing just for me.

Having heard them talk over the weekend about their insecurities, their doubts, their anxieties, and their hopelessness, it actually made me feel better. Because I looked in awe at these hugely talented humans and realised that we really are all in it together. We all think we could be doing better, we all think our contribution to the planet doesn’t really matter but what these musicians have shown me is that it DOES matter. Every performance was hugely different but worthy and beautiful because of its uniqueness. The thought of these people ever stopping writing and performing for any reason, not least because of their own self-doubt was heartbreaking.

And maybe that’s how I need to think about my writing. To stop apologising for it, to stop worrying that it’s not good enough and to focus on what I love about writing which is:

  • The way it helps me understand the constant narrative in my head,
  • How it helps me to navigate relationships with friends and family,
  • How it has been instrumental in helping me work through grief and depression, and
  • The fact my words have connected with, and positively impacted people around the world.

Two years on from the initial idea of an anonymous blog, people are still reading my words. Even on this extended writing break, I am getting traffic to my blog on a daily basis. My first blog, in particular, is experiencing a resurgence. I was trying to figure out why this was and then I typed the title into google.

When did you know you were gay?

Over a billion search results. Wow. Scroll down, nothing. Page two. Scroll down a little bit. There I am It’s Character Building. On page 2 of bloody Google! And there’s something poetic about the fact that it’s the first blog I ever wrote. It’s like the universe is reminding me that what I have to say is important.

So this is where am I now, surrounded by the din of piano and guitar. People, talking excitedly and creating expressions of love and wonder. Teaching each other, supporting each other and appreciating each other. What a privilege it’s been and a grounding experience. Who would have known that stepping out of my comfort zone and learning about something new would bring me back to the beginning? It would bring me back to the why and my purpose statement.

Do good and spread good, together.

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