When in doubt….
I have been in a period of doubt of late. There are glimmers of coming through it but I’m not out of the woods yet.
I wasn’t sure whether to write a post about this or not (doubt about doubt!). Sometimes, if I am feeling a little wobbly, people say – well-meaning and light-heartedly – that I should try reading my own books. And that is why I am writing this. I hope that my books are not just about being relentlessly jolly and full of energy and purpose. In fact, I think that is a damaging expectation that I have actively tried to balance out.
The reality is, for most of us, that there are times when it is unclear what direction to take, and we can be beset with anxieties, tiredness and a general loss of mojo. Does it damage my embryonic reputation as a self-help writer and psychologist to admit to having mislaid my own mojo recently?
There’s a risk of that which I am well aware of. But I have always tried to be honest in my writing too. This state of mind is part and parcel of navigating my life right now – with uncertainties about whether it really is possible to develop a viable long term career which involves writing as well as not inconsiderable challenges in a household that includes two teenagers about to sit A levels and one about to sit GCSE’s. Challenges that aren’t quite as we’d anticipated, having seen this perfect educational and coming-of-age storm on the horizon a long time ago. There’s another blog in that which I may return to at a future date.
There are real ironies in my doubt. Perhaps that is the nature of doubt. I have been about as successful as possible in terms of opportunities and profile-raising activities in relation to Bolder and Wiser. In the New Year, I set out to leave no stone unturned in this challenging book-promotion shenanigans – and it’s worked by and large. At the weekend I was quoted in the national press for the first time, my local Waterstones is championing my efforts enormously (tickets are still available here), and I am delighted and honoured to be included in the forthcoming Lowdham Book Festival programme on 28 June.
I’ve also been involved with some brilliant coaching projects over the past year (which I am currently writing up as creative non-fiction case studies) and would love to be doing more of that too.
I love the contact that the books have brought about with all sorts of people and I enjoy both the writing and the connection enormously. As an example, I’m going to be in Waterstones on Friday (2 May) between about 11am and 2pm and I am really looking forward to meeting people there – do drop in if you happen to be in Nottingham at that time and say hello. It’ll also be a very interesting insight into the business of book-selling with one of the big names.
So why the doubt?
Much as I don’t like engaging with it, there remains the vexed question of finance. Writing takes time and the hourly rate for me is still a negative sum, given the (not unreasonable) costs of design, editing and printing. The time and emotional effort it takes are very rewarding hours – but they are not spent doing something else that earns money, and we all know there are only a certain number of hours in the day. This is a long game which I am still fairly confident of getting payback on eventually – but the doubt creeps in about how long ‘eventually’ is. So much so normal for most writers. I fully accept how lucky I am to have the opportunity at all and know that my doubt is something of a luxury.
So I am querying whether to write, and whether this is the right way to write. Should I try to find an agent and traditional publisher? (so many pros and cons to that). Should I take a break from blogging and the newsletter? Should I get going on my next book ideas which are all primed and ready to go, and – money aside – I’ve got huge enthusiasm and conviction for, but could mean another very expensive year? Is it worth trying something like Kickstarter or is that even harder work than promoting books? Could I partner with someone? Could I be a writer in residence for an organisation, and bring writing and psychology together for specific clients? Is this simply, as I heard the excellent Jane Friedman say recently, “the bit where you have to muscle through it even when things don’t feel that great”? The dark before the dawn?
She says the two top qualities required for making a living from writing are persistence and discipline. By which she means decades of persistence and discipline regardless of the short term results or lack of feedback or apparent progress. But what she also says, which I wholeheartedly agree with, is that this requires a good strategic plan as a guiding star. I have that plan in place but have kind of lost faith a little with it lately. Doubt is a call to re-engage and perhaps to re-tweak the strategy.
(and as an aside, I have recently watched the latest series of Rev which I thought was truly brilliant in its bitter-sweet portrayal of organised religion and religious doubt. None of my doubt is about that but as a portrayal of the nature of doubt in a life you consider to be vocational in some way, I’ve rarely seen something as insightful).
Is this the point at which my writing becomes serious? Where it feels as if there are things at stake over it? Jane Friedman raised these questions in this video interview with Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors. It certainly feels as if I am staring these questions in the face right now.
What am I doing about it?
Well, as it happens I AM taking the advice from the books. I am doing regular meditation and exercise. I am eating well and trying to get good quality sleep. I am seeking the support of good friends, and I am taking many opportunities to ask advice from people I admire and trust. I’m trying to take my time. I know very well, that decisions tend to evolve out of this process and that actually, every time in my life when I have been beset with doubt, it usually indicates a necessary if uncomfortable phase that nearly always leads on to something well worth waiting for. ALL of the women I spoke to in Bolder and Wiser recognise these periods – especially any who are involved in creative work, or work with people, of some kind.
I am open to suggestions right now. Not that I promise to follow them – but if you are reading this and think to yourself, “Why doesn’t she….?” or “Perhaps she’d like to work with us on….” I do promise to listen.
(and by the way, the pictures are close ups of some of the session I did with Dawn Reeves and discussed last time. It’s all shorthand about our reflections and I must emphasise that I love Cornwall with a passion!)