The life of a writer is a kind of madness. We have the pressure to produce. The expectations of ourselves and, if we’re lucky, our readers. We have, usually, the feeling that we can never do enough – can’t write enough words or books, can’t be in enough online places, can’t sell enough copies. We might also have the feeling that we’re failing in comparison to others, that we have too many opportunities we can’t fulfil well enough – or no opportunities at all because, as we hear every minute of the day, the market is glutted and nobody needs any more writers.
But writing and publishing are long games, and those of us who keep at it have to develop a resilience. Day by day by day, there’s a secret fuel that keeps us keeping on. Otherwise this would be a dumb way to live, right?
In my corner of the world, March has dawned bright and full of promise. I still can’t figure out how, as it seems just a fortnight since Christmas, but as we’re here I thought I’d share the things that put a spring in my step.
Noting each hour I’ve spent on my fiction. Those of us who write and edit as a day job often find our soul projects get pushed aside. That’s one of the surprising truths about the writing life. Emma Darwin posted about this recently, in which she talked about ring-fencing time for her own writing. I cherish the time I spend with Ever Rest each morning before I open the deluge of emails. Just an hour loads the book in my mind and keeps it ticking over while I deal with the day’s demands. Sometimes deadlines make it impossible, and if that continues for a few days I start to get twitchy. But a proper appointment with my own writing restores my equilibrium. Even if that’s an hour of filleting a paragraph over and over, hunting for the right tone, that was well spent. Page by page, it adds up to a book.
The sense that so much of a book is serendipity. I look back at my completed novels and can recognise where incidental details came from, and sometimes the big ideas too. So much of a book’s texture seems to have come from random remarks I heard, news headlines I glimpsed, a novel I happened to be reading or a film I saw when my own story was at a sensitive point. My books are made of a collection of happenstances and lucky discoveries. Which is a bit magical.
Finding an email, a tweet or a Facebook note about one of my books. Sometimes they’re from a stranger, or a name I recognise only glancingly. We are probably more widely read than we suspect. But every single remark is a genuine, welcome surprise – or at least confirms I’m not howling into the wind.
An afternoon reading for pleasure. My reading time is usually appropriated by work – manuscripts in progress, research to get ideas and to make sure my WIPs are properly informed (both non-fiction and fiction). So I try to make time for an indulgent read, purely for fun and curiosity (which is how the rest of the literate world probably reads anyway). Again, I don’t always succeed when the deadlines go wild. (If you like to explore more about how writers read, bookseller Peter Snell and I discussed it recently in one of our radio shows. Find them all here – it’s show no 21.)
A good sales day, of course, which is different for everyone, and seems to be more of a challenge now than ever. But they do happen. I’ve written before about how much harder it is to sell fiction than non-fiction, and how to take a long-term view, and how a sale of one of my novels delights me about five times as much as a sale of a Nail Your Novel book (but I’m still very grateful to have those, thank you very much).
The Undercover Soundtrack I started this series on the Red Blog and have kept it going now for four years. It’s fun. People enjoy it and it’s nice to be able to offer an unusual kind of showcase for other writers. But also The Undercover Soundtrack keeps me in touch with the essence of creativity. These essays ground us in the work we do. It’s not about communities, forums or sales. It’s the pleasure and struggle of sitting down with yourself, the long persistence of flying blind through an idea, seeking clarity, gathering substance, the process of gradually making something from nothing.
The wonderful web of writer support. Most of the time we all try to be upbeat on line. And there is much to do, and many opportunities to grasp, and many reasons to press onwards and upwards. But I’m grateful whenever one of my co-conspirators lends an ear for a moment of woe, or confesses they are having just the difficulties I am – when I thought I was the only one.
Thanks for the pic MadAdminSkillz
Over to you – what keeps you resilient as a writer?
32 thoughts on “What keeps you resilient as a writer?”
I’ve been a fan of your craft books for quite a while. For some reason, this post made me want to read your fiction. Just bought the kindle version of “My Memories of a Future Life.”
Now that’s definitely the kind of remark that keeps me going – thank you, Carolyn & Paul!
Far from ‘The Only one’! You might change places for a day and see yourself as the great success you are! Guardian courses, travel courses. known as the Book Doctor! But I am not belittling the work and discipline that had made it so!
Hi Philippa! You’re demonstrating so well that we don’t see ourselves as others do 🙂 Thanks for the boost.
I think my resilience can be summed up in one short pithy phrase: sheer bloody-mindedness.
Viv, I’ve used that phrase myself when talking to another writer recently. We were both having an exasperated wail and mine finished on the words ‘I am very, very stubborn’!
In a way, I think those of us who got writing before we got social media have an advantage. We’ve had the many years of being able to keep our writing to ourselves, and form habits about creativity, before we’ve had all these added distractions and places we could network. Wonderful though those are, they are a pressure of their own.
It can also be summed up with “What else would I, could I, actually do?” I’m at a point in middle age where I am virtually unemployable. I began the writing journey as a child; it’s a part of me and I suspect I could no more walk awayfrom it now than I could walk away from my own feet. That’s what’s so difficult to get across to the people who tell you that if it’s not bringing you joy/money/satisfaction (whatever, they’re almost always those chipper, practical people) you should stop doing it.
You prove a great point in this post. It’s not easy being a writer. We have to keep on fighting and never quit writing. All it needs is patience, and time. It needs great optimism and determination.
Patience, time, determination and optimism – that about sums it up. Thanks, Raul!
My resilience, in part, comes from…
a desire to share my truth
the feeling I get from writing — it fills me, like nothing else can
passion for the topics I write about
love of story
There are so many other points I could add to this list, but that will do for now.
That’s a good list, Leanne – thanks!
My resilience comes from remembering why I started writing in the first place– genuine love of the written word. That’s what keeps me going, come what may.
Hi Tonya! Certainly it has to come back to that – the writing is a reward in itself.
My resilience? SImply that nothing else I have ever done gives me the same sense of completeness. Plenty of days when I’d like to ‘give up’, but how would I fill the hole it left behind?
Hi Wendy! What a good reason. If I didn’t write I certainly wouldn’t know what to do with my brain 🙂
I feel a lot like Wendy in the previous comment. Sometimes (often?) when I think of giving up because it’s too hard, I’m weary of all the struggle, it seems pointless, I think of the gaping absence that would exist in my head. The thought of a life – bleak without the imagination and creativity of writing – sends me scurrying back.
Well said, Lindsay.
I’ve given up on several occasions, but the stories just prey on my mind demanding some sort of outlet. Also, I think over years I’ve developed a steely willpower. It comes from wanting to get better and better at the actual craft of writing.
Hi Deborah! I recognise that willpower and the feeling that you’ve earned a skill. And also, I can’t help but continue to learn – and to find new techniques I want to use.
Well said, but I don’t have enough skill for become a English writer,sometimes I unhappy for my writing skill.
Well thanks for reading and replying anyway!
My resilience comes from the satisfaction of releasing a new novel. I enjoy everything about the process of writing, and I love seeing my writing improve as I learn more with each story, but nothing beats the excitement of pushing the button and releasing a new book of the kind I like to read. The fact that I have a small group of fans with similar reading taste is a bonus.
Hey Daniel! Yay for that moment. No going back… and a lot has built up to it.
I’m not sure resilient is the word I would use. I enjoy the creation of stories and only hope to entertain my readers. With numerous ideas populating my mind, my only problem is writing them out before I die!
Hi Mandy! I also have the rather large TBW (To Be Written) pile. Thank you for reminding me. 🙂
Great piece Roz. So agree with what you say – it can be easy as authors in our lonely garrets to forget that we are not alone! Thank goodness for ALLi and Facebook!
So true also about serendipity – I think we can also put ourselves into positions where serendipitous things happen – by trying new things/places /experiences where those lucky discoveries can take place.
Thanks, Clare! And I’d also like to thank Twitter and WordPress too!
The pressure to produce more, interact more, post more…it’s crazy. I have to remind myself, it’s not quantity that’s important but the quality. No reason to post if what I’m saying isn’t worth people’s time. So one valuable post is far more worthy of my time than five filler pieces.
Absolutely, Jennifer. When people’s attention is at a premium, we have to make sure everything we present is worthwhile.
I love the idea that a book is built, one page at a time. It adds a sense of continuity to a process that can sometimes be drowned in the everyday. Thanks. 🙂