The Angst of Being a Writer

Many of the people I meet, on hearing I write, tend to say, ‘Wow, that must be great being at home writing all day and seeing the fruit of your labours in print at the end of it?’

They make it all sound so easy when in fact in between those two words  - ‘Great’ and ‘Print’ are ones like, Procrastination, Frustration, Indolence, Despair, Self-Doubt and at times sheer panic.

On a good writing day, I can churn out a couple of thousand words with ease as the characters tell me how they want to interact with other characters and push the story forward.  On others, and these tend to occur too often, I stare at that blank screen while my character sits with their arms folded and tells me they have nothing to say. 

When I employ one of my diversionary tactics in an effort to prompt me into action – writing action that is -  I delve into social media – and wish I hadn’t when I come up against pages of the smiling faces of authors who can churn out a bestseller in a matter of five months and sit back waiting for the accolades to flow in – which of course they do and from every direction -while I have been struggling with Chapter seven for a fortnight! 

Then there are the posts and tweets which expound on what you MUST do if you are an author. The circles you need to move in, the societies you must be a member of, the type of website which is essential to portray your Brand, the social media you are expected to participate in. After a while the mantra convinces you it must be true, and if you aren’t doing all of it – you aren’t a proper writer.

I know I am not alone, most of my author friends go through the same process, and to some extent we all suffer from ‘Imposter Syndrome’ - that feeling that someone will challenge you openly and demand to know what right you have to describe yourself as an author. Dolly Alderton said in her Sunday column earlier this month that it’s a myth created by the self-obsessed, but I want to tell her it’s quite real.

‘Because I write,’ doesn’t seem enough. Especially when social media is crammed with posts screaming about ‘So and so’s bestselling novel that has hit the Amazon No 1 spot three days after publication’ or, ‘Launch Day for our superb new author whose debut novel she wrote in a corner of Starbucks in three weeks has sold zillions of copies!’ 

What was I thinking to believe I could write when thousands of writers out there are producing more insightful, fast paced, better narrated and more engaging books than I am? Why am I spending hours poring over research books, articles, newspapers and videos on You Tube trying to immerse myself in the age my characters lived in, when I can’t even contrive credible dialogue between a female suspect and a misogynistic detective?

I found an answer to author envy, or part of one anyway, in Bonnie Friedman’s book, Writing Past Dark: 

The antidote to envy is one’s own work. Always one’s own work. Not the thinking about it. Not the assessing of it. But the doing of it. The answers you want can only come from the work itself. It drives the spooks away.
Um – not really. It quietens them for a while as I concentrate on a chapter that is going well – but does it banish the demons forever? Nope. But if I don’t keep trying, then I must stop writing altogether. And that isn’t an alternative. It’s who I am.