This is one of my favourite quotes on being a writer, and I often use it. Here it is again, in case you’ve missed all the other incidences of it on my blog!
“A book is so much a part of one’s life that in delivering it to the public one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.” (Quentin Bell, nephew of Virginia Woolf, and author of a number of biographies including the fabulous ‘Charleston’.)
Yes, Quentin, that is exactly how one feels about one’s book!
You see, it’s kind of a weird thing, but as you write, the book/fag packet/old envelope becomes a living thing. And like a child (or ‘one’s own child’, I love that!) it seems so fragile, so vulnerable, so at the mercy of strong winds and icy chills. And once you’ve bundled up said child/book to send it off into the world all alone, there is a certain amount of anxiety that attends its imminent return, and you hang around the front door, or the post box, wringing your hands, hoping for a glimpse, a clue, anything to tell you (or to tell one, I should say) how your baby is faring. and of course, until the parcel is dumped in your greenhouse with a note through the door saying the postman has left you a package, you have no idea what is happening.
Sometimes I look at my piles of paper, neatly wrapped up in the manuscript boxes on my shelves, and think, ‘There you are, all snug and safe, no nasty people are going to hurt you if you stay here with Mummy.’
Of course, if I’m really honest with myself (usually about two o’clock in the morning), it’s me that is afraid of being hurt. And it’s me who is afraid of being unappreciated/viewed as talentless/doomed to be unsuccessful. So really, each story I write, each manuscript is an extension of myself: and my hopes, my dreams.
But if I want something to happen in my life, if I want anything to change, to have any chance of being appreciated, my books read, of gaining, increasing and developing my skill as a writer, of being in some measure successful, I have got to do it–I’ve got to step out into the traffic, or at least, put my child out into it and watch as it survives or dies.
Rejection. It’s something we all fear, I guess. We are born craving acceptance–if we are not accepted we will die. Or at least be put up for adoption. Writers are no different in this respect to newborn babies. We need to be loved.
Or maybe we are more like the loving mothers urging our offspring onto others and not able to see that our little angel has a huge nose or squinty eyes.
I have had a few bad reviews for my books on Amazon over the years. When I first set out on this crazy road of self-publishing back at the end of 2012, I knew that sooner or later it would happen, that I would get a bad review, or maybe poor sales. But when it happened, being pre-warned was no help at all. I went through the usual stages of grief: I started with a kind of ‘so what’ shrug, then went into a depression and a downward spiral, felt like everything I wrote was worthless and what was the point anyway, I was surely kidding myself I could write? I stopped writing. And was even more miserable. Then, I took a big step and asked a Facebook contact, who is a very well-established, successful writer, ‘What do you do, how do you deal with this?’ She told me what I already knew: ‘You can’t please everyone. Accept it and move on. Don’t let it get you down. Don’t let it stop you.’
To begin with, I don’t flatter myself that I have universal appeal, and just as there are books I would not enjoy reading, I realise that my books may not appeal to everyone. But I have to be myself. The thing is, it would be so easy to try to change myself, my style, my genre, everything, in order to please the dissenters who don’t ‘get me’. I’ve tried writing the ‘proper’ way, as I was taught by a number of well-meaning even successful writers and teachers of writing.
But I have to be me: (at this point it would be a huge help if you could visualise someone running down the road into a golden sunset, arms outstretched in triumph, singing “I Gotta Be Me – just gotta be free”). I need to write to be happy but also I need to be happy to write, so I have to make a decision to set aside the slings and arrows, and choose not to let them hurt me or distract me from what I am trying to achieve. I write my way. Some of my sentences begin with ‘And’. I use adverbs without shame. I split infinitives, and I occasionally tell instead of show. Some people actually like that.
So If you’ve had trouble with confidence, rejection or self-doubt, it’s now time to push it aside and forge ahead. If you don’t write your story, paint your picture, make your dress, plant your garden, train your hamster, bake your muffins or craft your craft, who will?