On success and giving up writing

Cruikshank_devils_headache
Cruikshank’s ‘the Headache’ feels relevant.

At my writing group the other night, someone asked how I was feeling about the success of Salt Magic Skin Magic and I spouted a whole lot of weird stuff and nearly burst into tears.

Yes, friends, this has been a very strange time for me.

I’ve read hundreds of posts on dealing with rejection, on keeping on writing in the face of indifference or negativity. But what about if your book gets good reviews and sells better than you expected? What then? Well, that’s just great, isn’t it? You’re just happy, aren’t you? You’ve achieved a life goal. Boy, your confidence in your writing ability must be soaring, right? I bet you’re writing up a storm!

Er…well…actually I’ve barely written a word all year.

I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. I keep thinking of all those writers (i.e. me, last year) who would kill for that good review or those sales. I am happy and grateful, I really am. I am delighted that people liked my book. I am over-joyed to have had good reviews. I am amazed that literary agents and audiobook companies are coming calling. And, most of all, I am charmed that some generous readers would get in touch to tell me how much they loved my story. You’ve no idea how wonderful that is.

I’d wanted to publish a book since I was old enough to read. You know all those times kids are told to make a wish? All those shooting stars and birthday candles? I always wished to be a writer. I thought writers were magicians—creating worlds that come alive. I wanted that magic so badly.

Well, the wishes caught up with me. To an established author, I’m sure the level of success I’ve achieved with Salt Magic Skin Magic is pretty tame, but I think as unpublished writers we get so used to hearing ‘don’t expect anyone to take any notice of you’ that all this attention astonished me.

And, perverse creature that I am, my confidence in my ability as a writer has plummeted.

Yes, I’m afflicted with ‘difficult second novel’ syndrome, even though it’s a book late. I’m scared Salt Magic Skin Magic was a fluke. I’m scared my next book will disappoint people. I’ll mess up in some stupid way. I’ll misjudge a scene. I’ll use the wrong word. The whole thing will fall flat.

I’ve become hyper-critical of all my ideas. Everything seems stupid or questionable or maybe offensive or, at best, unoriginal. I don’t know where I go from here. If I’ve lost faith in my ability to judge my ideas, how can I know which ones to keep and which to discard? It is helpful discussing them with other people, but even if they say the ideas are good, I’m the one who has to believe in them, and if I don’t feel the spark of glee, the divine ‘yes, yes, yes!’ then how can I write a whole book based on them? I’m not talking about inspiration here. I know waiting for that is bollocks. I’m talking about the lasting joy in an idea that enables a writer to get through the hard work of actually writing the damn book.

I’ve taken breaks. I’ve taken walks. I’ve considered giving up writing altogether. I’ve tried writing for my own pleasure. I still have no idea if I can write another book that’ll be good enough to show people.

When I started this ‘writing seriously for publication’ journey in 2015 I managed to vanquish my demons of self-doubt with the magic words ‘it’s all just an experiment’.

Make the salt circle. Get out the wand and charge the amulet. It’s time to say the magic words again.

And hope like hell they still have power in them.

AChoiceOfMagic_RobinJacques
Artist: Robin Jacques.

12 Comments

  1. Headaches pass, and I hope this horrible phase does too. (A year is a long time.) Sadly Panadol doesn’t work for what you’ve got. I feel for you. Also, Judy sends her love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Inez! And please say hi to Judy for me! I’m experimenting with different ways to get past this – and writing this blog post and making it public was one experiment. Next, I shall try to write the crappest, stupidest book IN THE WORLD merely for the pleasure of wallowing in it. I’ll let you know how it goes 😉 x

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    1. Saying this kind of thing in public makes me feel as if I’ve been lightly sand-papered all over. But I thought 1) it might be cathartic and help me move on and 2) as you say, that it would let other people in the same boat know they’re not alone. I’ve read some very honest blog posts by various people in the past that really helped me deal with life and feel more normal. There’s a tendency online to curate our lives so that people only see the positive stuff. I curate because I don’t want to burden other people with my crap: I mean, it bores me, so why wouldn’t it bore others? But sometimes honesty is refreshing and helps everyone. That’s what I hope anyway!

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  2. The magic words will! And we will all enjoy your experimentation. Thank you for sharing at least a part of your Roller coaster ride with us! 😊 Roz

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    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can understand your predicament and it must be a painful time for you, but never give up. I hope you continue to enjoy your writing as your enthusiasm has been infectious. Thank you for such an honest post. (sorry I haven’t commented for such a long time as I’ve been unwell since the beginning of this year, but I’m on the mend now :D).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m one of the people who loved your book, liked your novella and left positive reviews for both books, and got subscribed for your newsletter.
    You have a wonderful writing style, very engaging, informative and heartfelt. Even this site is a pleasure to read through.
    I’m very sympathetic to your doubts and understanding of your predicament.
    I’m sorry to hear that your are plagued with the self-doubts, I hope this phase will pass.
    Maybe you should write the next book that will have nothing in common with the Skin Magic Salt Magic, something contemporary, SiFi or medieval? Even non-fiction. This way you’ll completely disassociate (at least in your brain) with the sub-genre you’ve succeed in and will rediscover the joy in writing and will widen your niche.
    My apologies for any writing mistakes, English is my second language.

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    1. Hi Mari – yes, in fact, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to myself – so I’m having a go at a high fantasy in the hope it’ll be a bit different (and thanks so much for your kind words about my writing).

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  5. Salt Magic, Skin Magic was not a fluke because Mended with Gold was as exquisite and made a fan out of me. Take all the time you need. I’ll be looking forward to reading your new book whenever it comes.

    Liked by 1 person

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