Friday, 2 November 2007

Writerly anxiety.

First off, thanks to David and Matt for setting this up and for inviting me to the party. My own blog is so shamelessly self-promoting that it feels at times like the literary equivalent of an Amsterdam brothel window. I get tired of sitting out front in that red basque all on my own. Nice to come inside the bordello and... actually it's not a good idea to push the writer-as-whore analogy too far, so I'll stop there.

Secondly, congratulations to Faye on her P-day!

I've been thinking a lot about writerly anxiety recently. I think this is due to the fact that I've had a longish break from writing fiction, certainly a longer break than I have allowed myself ever before. And now I find that I must get back to it, but I also find that there are new pressures to deal with that I never used to have to face. Rather than get churned up and miserable by confronting the new pressures head-on, I procrastinate. But all that does is make it worse. I don't count this as official writer's block, by the way. Maybe just writer's funk.

It struck me that I for one, because of my temperament, will never be free of a sense of anxiety about this activity that seems to be so necessary to me. (Weird, I don't get anxious about breathing.) When I was unpublished, or minimally published, which has been pretty much for the greater part of my writing life, the big source of anxiety was the fear that I would never achieve that goal. I'm just not good enough, my inner critic was fond of telling me. Didn't have it. Never would have.

Now that I have been published, my inner critic has not changed his opinion of my literary merit and still likes to whisper the truth about my utter shiteness so only I can hear. On paper, perhaps, you might think, I had managed to pull off something that I could use to silence the twat. But, he won't have it. It was all a mistake. A lapse on the part of publishers who should know better. Don't worry mate, he says, you'll get found out soon enough. He trawls the internet looking for bad reviews and disparaging chatroom asides that prove I already have.

And those are the things I take to my breast - like discomfort blankets - and cherish. The good reviews, the kind words of other readers and writers, those things count for nothing. People who say nice things about my work are kind but misguided, possibly deluded. That's my inner critic's point of view anyhow.

So will I ever be good enough for that evil bastard? Definitely not. And when the day comes that the world, in particular the publishing world, comes round to his way of thinking, I'm sure I'll feel some warped sense of relief.

The shift from unpublished to published writer has not done away with the sense of anxiety. It has simply replaced one set of anxieties with another. Will the book that did get published do well enough for me to get another chance at this? Will the next book match up to the first? Will I run out of ideas, or more fundamentally, words?

Or the big one, when will I get found out?

It got me wondering whether there is any writer in the world who doesn't suffer from this. Who is so confident of their own ability - their own genius even - so full of self-belief that they couldn't begin to understand what I'm talking about. I can think of a few names who I imagine might be like that, but I wonder if the bluster and arrogance is not put on to hide a chasm of self-doubt as deep as the ego is monstrous.


David Isaak said...

Wonderfully put.

Truth is, I have met some unpblished writers who seemed to have utter and complete confidence that what they had written was the best stuff penned in the history of literature.

On examination, however, it was some of the most horrendous writing ever perpetrated.

Rufi said...

David! Stop talking about me.

David Isaak said...

Very funny, Roo.

Actually, amongst the people I'm thinking of is someone you almost knew, and have probably heard of...