Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Ups and Downs of Writing, by Abie Longstaff

What is it about writing that provokes such highs and lows?

In my academic work, when I have followed the wrong thread of research, or when I fail to phrase things clearly, I simply rewrite the piece. I accept peer review of my work, listen to my boss's criticism without worry and just go back to my desk and change it. There is no despair, no angsty wails of 'will I ever be able to write anything good ever again?' And, when I finally get it right, I feel happily smug, and relieved that a piece of work is done.

For me, the process of creative writing is completely different. When I get it wrong, when work is rejected or given a bad review, I get so upset, to the point of tears. Suddenly, because I have had ONE bad day, ONE rejection, ONE bad review, I feel I will never write again and that all my achievements up to this point have been random flukes or the result of fraud on my part.


I am a very rational, positive person. I am not prone to tears or self-doubt. I am confident and happy. I like being challenged, I like criticism, I like making my work better. So why do I sometimes feel so down when my writing suffers the inevitable dips?

Is it because writing pays so badly and, as I am self-employed, I am dependent on a book deal in the way I am not with my steady, permanent academic work?

Is it because it's easy to compare myself to other writers -  the prizes, the book deals, the film deals, the puff pieces on Twitter celebrating every good review, every book reading?

Is it because everyone tells me they could write picture books? 'One day, when I have time, I'm going to write a book;' 'Are you going to write real books one day?' 'What value do you actually add if someone else is doing the pictures?'

Or is it because they really matter to me, these little stories that I write? Each one has a bit of my values, my family memories, my voice. So a rejection cuts me personally in a way a cold critical analysis of my academic work does not.

Whatever the reason; if the lows in creative work are lower, the highs are higher. Nothing feels as good as having nailed that character, sewn up a troublesome plot or written something that will be read over and over, something that provokes strong feeling and emotion in others.

Nothing feels so wonderful as when a small child I have never met before comes up to me at the end of a reading to say:
"I love that book!"


Catherine said...

Thank you for sharing this Abie. It is good to know that published authors feel this way too. My latest WIP has taken a completely different turn since I had it critiqued but it's taken me a while to get back into it and not take the comments too personally. I know that I have lots more to learn about writing picture books but even well meaning, constructive criticism (for which I am extremely grateful!) can take a while to bounce back from :o)

Caroline Green said...

Was nodding my head all the way there. Am exactly the same. I think we invest a part of ourselves in our fiction. Great post Abi!

Tamsyn Murray said...

I feel much the same way about performing on stage - I guess it's because we pour so much of ourselves into creative projects.

Good to know I am not alone!

Paeony Lewis said...

Thanks for sharing, Abie. A few year's ago, when writing essays for a qualification that didn't give grades (just a pass or fail), I found it truly liberating to be able to use words without worrying about publication or being judged. When I told others I was having FUN writing essays, they thought I was weird! Writing picture books is also uplifting and fun, but there's always a nagging voice that says it won't be good enough.

Kit Berry said...

Whether it's picture books, early readers or full length novels, I think that for the author, the self-doubts and highs and lows are perhaps the same. That book is a piece of you, a small piece of your heart and your soul. You've poured yourself into it, exposed yourself to the world and asked for the world's approval. A rejection or criticism is therefore personal and hurts so much. Impossible to distance yourself - but of course, that's why praise and approbation feel so very good too! I really love your work, Abie. I can't wait to have grandchildren and share your books with them.

Linda Strachan said...

Most writers I know feel the same way, I know I do, that rollercoaster of emotion.
Rejection is also never easy, because of all the time, energy and 'self' we put into writing, but I think the best lesson is not to let it stop you. Make it work for you, taking note of any suggestions and reworking to make it better.

Pippa Goodhart said...

It's because these stories we write are personal ... and that's the power of them for others as well as their power to hit us up or down.
Wishing you lots of picture book ups!

Lynne Garner said...

Fab post. I tend to have my low points when a book is not going well. When I'm struggling to make it work. Having it rejected is part of the game. It's rejected, I make it better, I send it to another publisher and so on.

Alison Boyle said...

A touching and balanced view that many authors will I'm sure share, Abie. Thank you. My approach is to have several things going at one time, so that when you get stuck - whether on your own or because of someone else - you can flip your enthusiasm into one of those other areas. As you say, the highs can be really high, even if you find out later they are an intermediary step in a long-running writing saga involving multiple drafts.