The other day I was directed to Emma Green’s blog about the constant stream of disappointments that one experiences as an author. Writerly angst is always in vogue among us creative types, isn’t it? Green’s experience sounds quite painful, but also, dare I say it, rather naïve.
That might make me seem rather heartless, and I do sympathise with Emma – this is a hard slog and requires a tough hide at times – but at the same time I think one has to approach this writing and publishing stuff with one’s eyes wide open. Satisfying our artistic and creative impulses is important – even necessary – to us humans, but if imagining that being an Author will be the defining characteristic of your life, a transformative panacea that will slake your intellectual thirst while providing financial independence, then you’re bound to be, as this lady is, disappointed at every turn. That’s not a healthy place to be. In every walk of life we’re sold perfection as an attainable quality, a thing that you can get, like milk or bread, or a car or a trinket from a souk. So it is with being an Author, to the point that authorial status is bestowed almost mystical qualities by those aspiring to get there, when in fact it’s just a job, but one where the pool of interviewees stretches to hundreds of thousands of people, and a only a few available spots (at least, that’s how it looks with the traditional publishing model).
But the flip side of the perfection coin is at best disappointment and disenchantment, and at worst ingratitude at what you have and entitlement towards that which you do not. A sense that you don’t measure up if you don’t have X or Y. Don’t have a publishing contract? Not good enough. Oh, you do have a contract, but no awards? Sorry, not much of an author, are you? Oh, you have a couple of awards, but you’ve not had a bestseller? Not really much to write home about (sorry), is it? And on it goes.
I’m happy. More to the point, I’m lucky, and I’m grateful. I have an enjoyable and interesting job, a wonderful family, a nice house, and last year I got a publishing contract. I was over the moon, but it didn’t really change anything. I’m still me. A friend of mine, a sports psychologist, worked with a millionaire owner of a lower league football team a few years back. And one of the things Mr Moneybags said to my mate was, “I always thought money would get rid of all my problems, but it didn’t get rid of me.” My gratitude is one of my greatest weapons in my attempts to be a successful writer, because it means I’m not scared to fail; if I don’t get anywhere, c’est la vie. If I do, fantastic. Bring out the pies. But, contrary to the cliché of the tortured artist who needs the angst for fuel, I don’t think it’s helpful to view being an author as the Way Out.