|Every writer experiences The Big Chill from time to time.|
When you set out to write honestly and authentically, whether it be in fiction or non-fiction, it can sometimes feel like walking a tightrope. Dwell too much on the downside of your subject and you risk disengaging your audience; keep things disproportionately upbeat and you risk losing credibility (unless your writing life really is trouble-free).
Anyway, seeing as you’re here…
Life often provides the balanced to our internalised obsessions. Writers will find this list of mantras familiar:
“Will I ever finish this?”
“Is it any good?”
“Will I ever get a contract?”
“Will I ever be published?”
After those jolly pieces of self-talk the next one on the list may well be, “Can I sustain this level of success?” I’m here to tell you that, in most cases, the answer may well be ‘probably not’.
It is possible to blaze a never-ending, upward trail, like one of those x-y graphs we used to stare at in class. However, generally, the world is too big, too competitive, and, dare I say it, too fickle. In short, much as you might want to believe otherwise, the world doesn’t revolve around you and your book/s.
Life’s little smackdowns are not only character building, but they give us perspective and test our mettle. They can make us groan, laugh, sigh, bristle with indignation or shrug our shoulders and grip the pen that little bit harder. What they can’t make us do is give up writing because that’s only within our gift.
Here are my recent jabs from the middle finger of fate:
– A thriller reviewer for a newspaper agreed to look at a paperback copy of Standpoint with a view to reviewing it. Six months later we’ve heard nothing.
– Promised book reviews for review copies never materialised.
– A newspaper that I’ve written for previously failed to even respond to a pitch about cybercrime, following a thwarted attempt to steal over £6,000 from our mortgage account.
– My thriller series is under commercial review, following Line of Sight’s sales compared with Standpoint. This means that if Cause & Effect doesn’t do sufficiently well the publisher won’t be optioning the fourth book in the series. In fairness, in that event, they have suggested an alternative sub-genre they’d like me to write for. (This is not a guilt trip to make you buy more of my thrillers, but feel free if you want to do your bit!)
I’m the first one to recognise that these are not real problems. They are disappointments and unfulfilled expectations at best. But they serve to remind me that my bubble is only one of many glistening in the foam. When I started writing books it wasn’t for reviews, or sales, or social media marketing; it was for the stories. Fortunately, I still have that drive and curiosity to want to take a theme, or a character, or a conflict and to follow it and see where it leads.
If you can carry on writing when you’re not getting what you want, without unduly fixating on what everyone else is doing or has done (for some reason I look to Jack London), you stand a better chance of staying true to your own voice on the page. That’s what makes a writer. Just that. You write, you refine and you complete.
A literary smackdown is a bit of a reality check.
Meanwhile, what’s a writer to do?
1. Stay inspired. This is a piece I return to, from time to time, by Johnny B Truant
2. Keep writing. I’ll say that again – keep writing.
3. Let your writing deepen and enrich your experience of being alive instead of isolating you from life. Grab a notebook and get out there!
4. Try other forms of writing and other art forms, just for the hell of it.
What do you do when your writing life serves you lemons?