Friday, 22 March 2013

Why I Quit Writing--Part One

At some point every writer asks:  "I wonder if now is the time to quit?"

This might mean stopping work on a work in progress that has lost its way, or halting submissions to agents or publishers, or letting go of the notion that you actually have some talent and aren't merely an idle "scribbler." 

It might mean downing tools forever, and not writing another bloody word.

And, at some point, most writers' blogs will come up with a "when should you give up?" post. The answer that bloggers come up with is always "never". You must never, ever give up, despite the bitter disappointments and brutal rejections. Writing takes its own time, so be patient but persevere! 

That would also be my advice, except that, several years ago, I did quit. 

I quit totally.

I gave up completely.

I threw in the frickin' towel.  

Actually, describing my "hiatus" from writing as I've just done makes it seem far more conscious and noble act than it was. I made no public declarations or took no moral, fist-shaking, stand of defiance.

 In fact, I didn't actually quit, but simply ran out of energy, of ideas, of places to submit my work (I was then writing screenplays). In fact, what I really did was slink away, tail between my legs...

And it was the right thing to do! Despite some success, and plenty of "affirmation", writing was making me profoundly unhappy.

This unhappiness culminated in a disastrous residential course. It was a huge honour to have been selected by the tutors, who were (and are) internationally celebrated screenwriters. I got Arts Council funding for my fees and expenses, and couldn't have been happier or more excited about this wonderful opportunity.

Not real house...similar, though! 

I don't know why it all went wrong for me. I can only describe the experience, in an isolated house somewhere in Yorkshire, as being returned for a few days to a nightmare state of child-like anxiety and insecurity, of feeling foolish, awkward, incompetent, and of trying to remedy these feelings by doing and saying all the wrong things. I'm sure everyone else on the course had a great time, but for me? Even thinking about it, years later, it makes my stomach twist and my breathing get shallow...

So, quitting was easy. Writing brought misery, ridicule and shame. Real life, on the other hand, was full of lovely, happy family and friends, who didn't induce feelings of inadequacy, who weren't judging me on some spurious criteria that I couldn't completely understand, who thought I was funny and clever and talented without even trying!

There is no moral to this story, other than to savour and be grateful for the good, happy, constant things in our lives, for there are many, and they have nothing to do with writing. I'd also advise you to listen to your inner voice. My gut instinct, when arriving at the residential course, was to flee--I had a visceral sense of impending doom--and I should have paid attention to that feeling and not stayed on trying to "fix" the painful situation I was in.

Sometimes it's best to walk away, head held high...

And next week--what got me started again!

Monday, 18 March 2013

World Book Day 2013

I spent a brilliant World Book Day at Peacehaven Commmunity School in East Sussex, where I gave my first  author's talk (complete with jazz hands...)

Met some charming teachers, librarians and members of staff...

And, most importantly....

Got to work with some amazing students!

Thanks for your kindness, enthusiasm and good work, PCS! 

And once more with those jazz hands! 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Bravo for Booklinks! Hooray for Hackney!

I visited two very impressive schools in London yesterday, Our Lady's Convent School and the Clapton Girls' Academy, both in Hackney.  Thanks to Booklinks and the Pop-Up Festival for allowing me to take part. It was a pleasure to meet such enthusiastic and insightful students and to witness the work that dedicated teachers and librarians do in schools every day--not just during World Book Week!

What makes the Booklinks event extra-special special to writers as well as students, is that the students read a visiting writer's book and create their own work based on what they've read.

This experience--of talking to large groups of girls who'd actually read At Yellow Lake and had questions for me based on their reading experience--was so exciting! I feel like I learned as much, if not more, than the students--their brilliant responses and comments helped me focus on my writing in a way that I'd never done before. Working with real readers, especially readers as active and engaged as the ones I had the privilege to meet, is an experience every writer dreams of. I consider myself lucky to have had the chance!