Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Self-Doubt and Smoky Slumber.

If blogging is an exercise in vanity, then maybe it's no surprise that this post is so belated, as the last few months have been marked with scary-soul-squashing SELF-DOUBT.  Caps lock necessary.

Sylvia Plath once stated, 'the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt', and while I know that all writers have to deal with that dictatorial bellowing in their ears ('this is shit! Who'll want to read this pile of dung?!'), and while I've managed to ignore the niggles before (for the most part), over the last few months it's manifested itself in a distinct 'MEH' feeling about all of my writing.

2013 so far has been pretty unsettled for various non-writing related reasons, but whereas before having an artistic outlet was an anchor when all else was topsy-turvy, now I'm tempted to toss it all overboard and paddle off to a nice, safe office where I can happily file things without all the horrible revising-rejection-self-recrimination business.

Related to this is the fact that it's my birthday in a month, and while I'm not THAT old, yet (30-ish, if anyone asks), I did envisage myself more settled at this age, and with some major publications under my belt, so every passing year (silly as it sounds) prompts a new bout of nail-biting and teeth-gnashing.  Why? Maybe because young writers are instantly marketable. Maybe genius is only aligned with precocity. Maybe I'm just a mediocre writer, who won't see see (major) publication until I'm middle-aged? Worrying about what will (or won't be) is ridiculous, and racing, racing, racing against time is as foolish as Dick Dastardly chasing the pigeon, with lots of 'drat-drat and double-drat'-ing, when one should really be focusing on making their flying machine more effective, to flog the metaphor. AND I KNOW THIS. But still... (And apologies for referring to myself as 'one'. Unforgiveable.)


Related to all this gloom, this semester at university is the second (and final) writing workshop module of my MA, which has made several melodramatic things whir about my mind:

-I've seen how far my peers have progressed from last year to now: am I keeping up?

-I've seen many of my peers find agents/garner agent interest/do well with regards to publications and prizes: where am I now? 

-This is the last chance to get 'proper' feedback on my writing: am I ready to whip off my stabilizers and sway off, or will I smash into a tree and cut my head open?

My peers are all wonderfully supportive, and their feedback has been essential in helping me hone my work, so to use them as points of comparison is self-defeating and misery-inducing, but while I know this, there's that voice, still whispering, 'Pull up your socks, woman! Stop being so lazy! if they can write a book then why haven't you done it, sloth girl? It's just a hobby for you, isn't it...? and on, and on...

And it doesn't stop there! Twitter. Facebook. All my writerly 'friends' tweeting and posting about their deals and film contracts and their wonderful stories being published in all the best magazines, the same ones who've rejected me over and over, which makes me want to throw my computer out of the window, and join a commune, away from all those social-network-succubus-things that suck my confidence away.

Of course, even reading back through this rambling it's clear that a sense of proportion is needed, as (the unfailingly helpful) Chuck Wending states in his column about how to kill self-doubt:

'....you’re not exactly saving lives. You’re not pulling children out of burning buildings or shooting Osama bin Laden or curing a global pandemic. You’re a writer. Self-doubt for those other guys is life-threatening. They fuck up, people die. You fuck up, the the ink on your manuscript bleeds from your blubbering tears and you put on a couple pounds from wolfing down three boxes of strawberry Pop-Tarts.'

Quite.  So enough whining, for now :)

Publication News:

My short story 'Smoke Surfaces in Slumber' was published by Menacing Hedge at the beginning of the year,  a love-story, of sorts, set in Medieval times and inspired by reading about anchorites and martyrs, and Jersey Devil Press will publish a short-fantasy piece entitled 'Dippin' and Dustin'' in April, I think.(Check out this page too for a Kickstarter project with a difference, where your contribution will buy not a book, but a new pair of lungs for JDP's founder, which certainly puts all my self-centred grumbling into perspective).

Other than that, my focus has been getting my first draft of my Victorian Fantasy novel finished, and reading all the Victorian/Neo-Victorian stuff I can, but more about that next time, once I pull myself back out of the 19th Century.

So, thanks for letting me ramble on, and on, and until then, then!


  1. This may come across as sounding like I've got a case of schadenfreude, but it's not really - I found this blog post kind of comforting. Mainly because I've read some of your writing, and really liked it. And then I tried submitting a story to the magazine I saw your piece in, and they turned me down. So... I guess there's some perspective, if you still need some? :)

    I think everyone who does anything creative feels the way you do at some point. And whether you pull through it or not is determined by how much you need to write. It blows. But if you love writing, you'll make it through. Stay strong sistah! ;)

  2. Thank you! :) For the kind comments and the much-needed 'pep' talk. As for perspective, I'm not happy that you got a rejection (those inbox-heart-sinking-horrors NEVER really seem to get easier) but it's 'good' to know that we're all in the same shaky boat.

    I'm glad you found it comforting, and I'm sure (as you say) that all creative types have to learn to push on, regardless. The love of writing and passion to carry on is key, I think, and what makes people 'actual' writers, rather than people who maybe like the label, or like the idea of being a writer (for some god unknown reason!)

    Maybe we should keep the Rocky music close at hand for moments when our spirits are flagging ;)

    Cheers, again, and all the best with your own writing (we can do it, and repeat!) :)

  3. As JC says above, everyone does feel like this act some point. Not too long ago I was feeling much the same as you describe here Nic, which should show you that things change. The key is not to lose faith in yourself. To persevere. Also, I decided during my own wobble that comparing my progress to other writers was counter-productive and instead decided to compare myself to myself a year or more ago. Had I made progress? Was my writing improving year on year? And that's not to say I don't still have the odd moment of doubt. I think however successful a writer gets they never get beyond self-doubt at times. It's part of the process.

    I've honestly enjoyed reading your work, both online and in the MA sessions. Just keep going and it'll all fall into place.

  4. Thanks Dan :)

    It's definitely counter-productive to compare yourself to others, and maybe some of it stems to from being impatient and putting too much pressure on writing -the 'I'll be happy when I get into this magazine/get an agent/ get a book deal' kind of thinking - which is ridiculous, I know, as that then brings a whole new set of issues (sales, getting dropped, PR etc!)

    Focusing only on your own progress is great advice, and I think (maybe you had it to?) that the 'meh'-ness occurs when you've already made progress, but aren't quite where you want to be yet, but you definitely know how to get there now...but you STILL can't quite get there. argh! :)

    Glad you're feeling confident about your work now(and so you should, it's great!) and cheers for the wobble-sharing and the support. I did hope that in writing this post/whining that it would be something that other writers could relate to, but yes, time now for deep breathing and mental star jumps and rolling up the sleeves, again :)

    1. I definitely definitely have my own 'meh' moments, and I know exactly what you mean about not being where you thought you'd be by now. I still read stories that show me how far I still have to go before I am even halfway happy with my own work. I didn't read your post as whining at all, more a serious reflection of where you are in your writing life., which is a good thing. I just posted a video on my blog today where John Hodgson gives some great advice for writers. Take a look if you have the time, it might strike a chord.

  5. we can do it! And repeat...

    I just checked that link out, good stuff (and a fine moustache!), so cheers. I think it's interesting how you may not essentially 'know' what you really care about when you're sitting there writing, but when you look back over your own stories you can see the same themes and issues reoccurring and think, 'ah, yes!' The subconscious is a wonderful thing :)