So, last week I had a bit of a meltdown. I reached the end of my tether, the point of no return, the edge of the abyss. Not to be dramatic, but I lost my creative mojo. I had been working on a project, a collaboration with a friend and colleague. The project allowed for me to ease back into freelancing and for her to advertise her new business. Just write a good article, I thought, then send it in to local press, easy. I knew my writing was good, I knew the article was good and the subject was great. A graduate starting a new business in her home County? A business which is original and dynamic and eco-friendly. A producer of beautifully handmade leisure wear and knitwear for all markets?
The little detail I forgot, was how difficult it had been to get freelance work a few years ago, how much has changed in the world of freelance since. Then a hint of success, a confirmation of publication with a newspaper I had worked for previously, ended in disaster. The same day it was due for print, the paper folded. A depressing example of the decline of print media, the effects of economic and political uncertainty on businesses and funding for those businesses. In short, we were both disappointed.
Yet the project would continue. With new targets and a rewrite on the cards, hopefully success is just around the corner. I took it well, we both took it well. Being past the meltdown stage, lifted slightly by a rearrangement of my work area and this – at first – exciting news of imminent publication. I’ve come to learn, maybe not accept, that this is part of the job of being a writer. You have to take the rough with the smooth, you have to take the knocks with the successes. As a good friend advised, ‘you have to have a thick skin for this business’. And boy is she right.
I’d spent the early part of the week dwelling on the fact that I’d written 2 books, and was now working on a third, with no suggestion of publication. That, despite being shortlisted and long-listed for competitions, I had never won any. Having written many articles, short stories and poems, I had only had a handful published. That my freelance work for a local paper, had come to an end after just 18 months or so, and it was proving difficult to find more work. My job in a local Theatre, although great, is customer service based and not contributory towards the creative side of the business. But more painful to digest, was the fact that there was no other option for me. To write was all that I wanted. To write and write successfully. Something which a friend and colleague pointed out (the beauty of my working environment, is friends with similar creative ambitions), can be defined as many different things.
I asked myself… what do I class as success? If it’s to be a writer, then I’ve succeeded. If it’s to write a book, then I’ve succeeded.. twice. If it’s to get something published, then I’ve succeeded in that too. Everyone counts success as different things. What might be seen as success for me, could be different to another person. It’s extremely subjective and some people are extremely tough on themselves. Yes, that’s me. When this was pointed out to me, by several different people, I began to realise, that just because I felt like I was failing to achieve my goal, that I hadn’t actually done much at all in my life, that isn’t how others see it. To an outsider, a friend or a stranger even, it might look like I had achieved a lot of things.
This extract from Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet particularly registers with me:
You will be happy to write. You will be happy to be published. You will be happy to be published again. You will be happy to have a bestseller. You will be happy to have a number one bestseller. You will be happy when they turn your book into a movie. You will be happy when they turn it into a great movie. You will be happy when you are JK Rowling…..
His point is, when does it end? We are never happy with what we have or what we achieve. Do we ever really stop to celebrate it? Or are we on to the next thing, constantly searching for happiness and approval? Never really feeling happy at all.
I’ve just googled the average age of an Author, and it came back as 36. Curtis Brown, a leading Publishing Agency, published an article on this a few years ago, suggesting the average age of a first time Author on first publication was 36.
That is my current age. Although many Authors that are currently in the bestseller list, or Authors that I read, are above that, I’d say the average Author age of books I currently read is at least 40 plus. Of course there are younger Authors, Mary Shelley was just 19 when she wrote Frankenstein. Christopher Paolini started writing his best selling novel Eragon at 15 and had it published at the age of 19. Catherine Webb had 4 YA novels published by the age of 20! But generally, first time Authors are in the 36+ bracket. So maybe I am right where I need to be.
Yet, when you have had a dream since you were 10 years old, surely it’s excusable to get a little lost and frustrated at times? The 10 year old me, with the wonderful imagination and passion for books and writing, had no idea that this dream would take so long to come into fruition. Or that it might take many forms, on varying levels of success. She just wanted to create stories, to enter that imaginary world and be happy. So when I return to my writing desk, I need to remember that little girl and try and see the world through her eyes again. After all, she brought me to where I am today. I’ve no doubt that she will continue to fight for that dream, whatever shape it takes in the future. Maybe her dream is already in fruition. Every day of my life I have the option to write and to create. I have the tools, the space, the imagination. Maybe not always time and energy, but the basics are there. I’m doing it now, I’m succeeding now. There has to be value in that.