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Sunday, 23 August 2015

On the hard shoulder - by Helen Murray

There are times in my writing life where the words come in such abundance that they’re falling over themselves to get to the paper. I’ve had seasons in the last few years where I'm flying! I can’t decide which idea to explore first; my blog has multiple posts waiting in draft, my desk is festooned with post-it notes and my notebooks are all open at different pages. Those are exhilarating times. They’re like harvest times where the fruit is right there, ripe and beautiful, ready to be picked.

Then there are other times where I know that I’m doing the hard work of planting and tending and it’s all a bit of a trudge, but necessary. I know what I should be doing, and although it’s undramatic and laborious, it’s progress – still forward motion.

And then there are times when the ground seems hard and cold and I can’t seem to get the tools to work, and I haven’t the energy… I’m making no progress. There aren’t any post-it notes. The scribbled ideas seem irrelevant or incoherent, and the job just seems too big. Too difficult.

To try a different metaphor, it’s a bit like a motorway. A fast lane, a slow lane, and a hard shoulder, where I sit, motionless, with the hazard lights flashing.


There are lots of reasons why I’ve ground to a halt. Life has thrown up a volley of challenges and perhaps I’ve been swamped. I am not good at compartmentalising my life; it’s more like a sandwich. If one layer has gone bad then the whole thing isn’t right. All the different bits suffer, and so when problems come up that knock me off balance, my creative life suffers too. 

This has happened in recent months, and so my WIP is gathering dust and even my much-loved blog lies neglected for the first time in its history. I’m not writing very much.

However, throughout all the struggles, one thing remains. Even when a person is unconscious, the very fundamental functions necessary for life persist – the brain regulates temperature, tells the heart to go on beating - and on this very basic of levels my writing continues.

You see, I’ve found that I can pray more easily when I write down my prayers.

Writing in my journal is a way of slowing down my thoughts, crystallising what I think. Physically, it’s much slower as I use a notebook and a pen rather than my keyboard. It’s a therapy to form each word, each letter. There’s no pressure to get it right or make it elegant - I don’t have to concentrate on language or grammar or style or even finish sentences if I don’t want to. Sometimes thoughts just evaporate because my mind drifted elsewhere. Other times I just scribble down my joy or my grief or my hope or despair, and since God knows the confusion in my head, I know that He understands no matter how vague or poorly expressed. The process is for me, not for Him. He already knows.

Over and over again I begin in one frame of mind and finish in another. Sometimes I don’t know what I think until I try to express it on paper.  I talk to God this way, and He sometimes talks to me too, when He can get a word in edgeways.  When I am still enough, quiet enough, I do hear His voice, and I write His words down too. These are precious times indeed.

So even when the words are impossible to find on this ambitious WIP of mine, and the tumbleweed blows through my poor neglected blogs, the urge to write never completely abandons me. In a small way, I am keeping my hand in. I think God made me that way, and I trust Him that when the time is right, the higher functions might return and I’ll wake up and get back in the game. The hard shoulder is where you wait until help comes to get you moving again.

Until then, these handwritten words of mine might never be read by another human being (indeed, I’m banking on it!) but between me and my heavenly Father, they are special indeed. I find Him there, and He is enough.



Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a Researcher, Pastoral Worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently working on her first novel. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims and has more Aloe Vera plants than you can shake a stick at. 

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. 

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray

Twitter: @helenmurray01


12 comments:

  1. This reminds me that the maid Aibileen in 'The Help' by K Stockett writes her prayers every night. V powerful. She is the true storyteller. Great idea. Eve

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    1. Yes! Of course. Thanks for reminding me. Excellent novel. I'd like to write something as good as that..... :-)

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  2. I love your motorway analogy.

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    1. Thanks Fran. I'm spending far too much time in the Little Chef at the moment.

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  3. This is a great post Helen and proof indeed that you are still writing and writing well - enjoy the break I'm sure once you come off the hard shoulder you'll be heading for the fast lane x

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    1. Thanks, Tania. Hoping it's sometime soon!

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  4. This really chimes with me, Helen. Because I talk too much and too fast and mainly drivel, I started writing my prayers a while back because I felt sorry for God having to listen to my nonsense and hoped writing prayer would slow me down and produce sense. And like you I discovered blessing in it, and God Himself - conversation. And yes, it keeps the writing muscles from rusting! Thank you for this post xx

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    1. Thanks Dorothy. It was a bit of a revelation to me to write down my prayers. My attention span for prayer has always been pathetically low, but somehow it's much better when I'm writing. Blessing indeed. Thank you. xx

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  5. Thanks for this post, Helen. I'm finding myself in very much the same place. My daily journal is mostly prayer and seeking guidance. Words flow there, and I always make sure I do that. My grasshopper brain still jumps around a lot, but it's easier for me to stay focused if I write it down.
    It's also occasionally useful if my husband asks about when some particular thing was a issue, like when he first developed a particular health issue, and I can go back and check when I mentioned it in my journal!

    But despite tight deadlines, and knowing I can do it after already publishing five books, getting story word count feels almost impossibly hard.

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  6. Helpful, Helen. I am also finding writing tough at the moment but aren't those moments of break through all the more sweeter then? Went on a writing course at the weekend and was inspired to write, what I think, to be one of my best poems for a while. Thanks Helen.

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  7. Great post Helen that really chimes with me. Thank you :) x

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  8. I love this Helen. And sometimes God uses the periods of 'lull' to draw us closer to him.

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