Author Envy

After much soul searching, I’ve realised that I am indeed envious of the folk who do NaNoWriMo. Not on account of the quantity produced, but the confidence and self-assurance with which it appears to be done. Those enthusiastic facebook postings of word counts, lives happily rearranged to fit it in. Perhaps I had that once, but it was a very long time ago.

Writing for yourself is a safe kind of pleasure. The only person who has to enjoy it, is you, and that can work well. However, until you attempt to put your work in the public domain, you have no real measure of how good you are. It takes a lot of belief in your work and your qualities as an author to start putting yourself in front of agents and publishing houses. Many big houses won’t take you without an agent, and many agents aren’t interested in unpublished authors. There are exceptions, but the odds of you being one of them are pretty slim. How many rejection letters, or telling silences can you take before your faith in your own work starts to waver?

There are of course plenty of smaller houses who may well let you in, and there is self-publishing. They can say no. The editing stage is a shock for anyone who believed their work was pretty much perfect. Been there, back at the start. I’ve also seen it lots of times as an editor, with a lot of authors over the years who could not handle editing as an emotional experience. It was awful for them, and I felt for them, but if a paragraph doesn’t make sense, or a scene is full of continuity errors, there’s work to do.

The work goes out, and you get reviews from readers, and maybe from professionals. Some of them will be awful. All well known and successful authors get bad reviews now and then, no one is universally loved and respected. For less prominent authors, the bad reviews can be pretty damning and demoralising. One bad review can rip your guts out, even if the other ten were excellent. Worse still is the absence of reviews, because no one was interested. That happens. Putting a book out does not guarantee that anyone at all will buy and read it. The reality of tiny and non-existent sales causes a lot of aspiring authors to quit, or to give up on what they cared about and make the professional decision to write something more obviously lucrative. I’ve done that one, too. Even if you self publish your work and give it away for free, this can all still happen. As soon as you share, you are exposed and if you care about your work, it’s going to hurt sometimes.

Some people are only in it for the money and a vision of fame, and don’t seem to care who hates their stories. Some people are so confident in their work that they won’t hear criticism. The first set do produce successful authors now and then, the second set hardly ever, if at all. There’s a really hard balance to strike here. You need enough faith in yourself and your work to keep going in face of all the inevitable setbacks. You need to be able to hear the feedback and criticism so that you can grow and learn. It is not easy, and seldom comfortable.

So yes, those distant memories of a time when I did it just for love and without fear, leave me envious of NaNo folk. The time before reviewers, before editors, before people who hate my blog, before putting myself out here in front of all the people who are at liberty to knock me down any way they like. The days before I lost my nerve, lost my faith in my ideas, my skill and the point of what I was trying to do. The days before I hadn’t come to hate my work, and when I hadn’t been subjected to the judgment of those around me. Most people don’t care whether you make good art, they care whether you make good money, and there’s only so long you can spend writing books before you’ll start to hear about what an irresponsible waste of time your hobby is. I’ve done it all, got up and tried again.

And yet, the project I have that’s been most commercially successful is the one I made purely for love. The man who inspires me most, believes enough in my writing to keep encouraging me to do it. I can’t imagine feeling any pride in simply having written two thousand words, or fifty thousand words, or a hundred novels, come to that. I am envious of the people who do. I probably sound very bitter and cynical to anyone who has not walked this path. It’s easy to stand in a place of inexperience and know you’re the special one, the super gifted talent who will break through with an instant best seller just as soon as you put yourself forwards. Being able to imagine that is not the measure of you as an author. Whether you make or break, eventually, is probably going to depend on whether you can keep dreaming even when every dream you ever had has already been trampled on.

And in spite of it all, I am still here.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “Author Envy

  • asuburbandruid

    Hi Nimue

    Yes you are still here and from what I have read on your blog (which, incidentally I enjoy tremendously) you will still be here until you are carried out feet first. Being a writer is what you are, despite the knocks and criticisms. Whatever detractors say or write they can never change what is essentially you.

    I take my hat off to the NaNo writers, my problem is that I am so hard on myself it would take me huge amounts of time to drag together 50,000 words, especially if I was having to deal with the vagaries of characters and plot. So I stick mainly to short pieces.

    I think the NaNo is a good thing, it gets people writing. I may be wrong, but I think your glimmer of envy lies in remembering lost innocence. You have walked the walk and know just how painful the book-making process can be. The NaNo people have yet to experience this so are still living in the bubble of self assurance that the innocent live in. It’s that age-old tension between youth and age, innocence and experience.

    Who knows? NaNo may produce some great work, but as you know well, throwing down that first draft is just the beginning.

    • Nimue Brown

      innocence and experience, yes, you may have pinned a thing down there. Short pieces are good though, we don’t value the short story highly enough any more, I think, and its a potent, punchy form with a fine tradition. The loss of the magazine markets in the last twenty years has really undermined it, but it’s such a great form of expression, and in no way inferior to novels.

  • D.L.

    I finished writing my first book 10 years ago. I started it 13 years ago. It’s shit. But I had to do it. Just so I could say that I did actually write a novel. It was a Mills and Boon style romance. The first third is decent, then it falls to bits. This was before NaNo. I’ve tried NaNo twice since, believing if I can do one book I can surely do another. But the pressure to do the word count alone in November causes me to freeze and I can’t write more than 5000 words. That kind of pressure does me no good. So I have a new tactic. My wall is covered in an outline and notes and I have worked very hard creating decent characters, finding voices for them, and personalities and outlining like crazy. And after a few months I’m still not ready for NaNo. I simply can’t write that way. But outlining the way I have has been a remarkable awakening for me. I have a plan! It’s going to take me a long time, and I can spot some continuity errors already, but I am working them out, and I have set writing days to fit in with my work (because I haven’t ever been paid to write so I must work as well), but this is working. This one I will a) finish, and b) like. It still might be good enough to publish, but it’s a story I need to tell and that’s the important bit for me. Hopefully I will also do it well enough someone will buy it. And yes, I’m scared. I’m scared even to admit I’m trying, to be honest, because people seem to assume it’s some kind of an ego thing “oh la de da look at her she’s writing a book”, when it’s not about that at it. It’s simply something I have always needed to do, since I was my daughters age.

    • D.L.

      PS: Sorry for the typos and lack of paragraphs. I trust you can figure out what I’m saying as you’re smart and all. 😉

    • Nimue Brown

      The death of a first book, or two, is a rite of passage, and I think if you get past that one, you’re in a whole other place. You know things. Most importantly, you know things about how you work and what you need. Writing in your own way is as important as writing your own ideas, if you’re trying to use someone else’s formula for how much, how often… that can just mess with your head and as you said, freeze you up. Sounds like you’re building a really workable process, for you, which is brilliant. Best of luck with it.

  • L. Palmer

    I’m finding the key is to write something I’m really passionate about. Last Thursday, the day before the beginning of NaNoWriMo, I had set my mind on what I saw as a more commercially viable project. On Friday, the idea for a story that is less ‘commercial,’ but I am more passionate about, came. I am hammering out that story because I feel the urgency that it needs to be told – and it is very freeing to write something that is just fun to work on. I think other people will like it too, but I have to like it first.

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s really hard to sustain doing it for money. I’ve found I can do it in short bursts but only if I keep up a sideline in things made for love. Sometimes, happily, the things made for love turn out to also be popular, and its wonderful when that happens.

  • Anne

    I am thanking today for bringing me to your blog. I finished reading and commenting on your last post and this one popped up on my Reader. So, I couldn’t help it, I had to read.

    Your experience shines through so much in whatever you say. But, more than that it’s your voice. So strong, calm and secure. It’s actually quite incredible because it made me “listen” and feel. – In the last few weeks and with the stress that comes with working too hard to “get it right” I’ve felt myself sinking a little. I completed a story last year in 5 months. This year I began to rewrite it and the amount of time and energy it requires really shocked me at first. I’m easing into it slowly, spending a lot of time on research, outlines, deepening the characters (or “my people” as I call them) and pounding away at the keys working every line, thought, dialogue.

    I’m willing to do what it takes, and I know it will have to be worked on time and again. But, then I see all these writers, publishing, screaming about their success, posting on their blogs about how it’s done and how hard it is but “not as hard as you think” and it’s distracting you know? Because we’re all human and thinking “Should I?” or “Dammit what the hell am I doing drowning myself in every tiny detail when I can do it more easily like they’re doing?”

    And, then I see posts like this, and the struggles and work is laid out bare, but the voice which lays it all out? That’s the voice some of us strive for, hope we’ll one day have. And, if it means all what we’re doing now and much much more, then some of us will do it.

    So, again. Thank you. – You just gave me the “kick” I needed. 😉

    • Nimue Brown

      Tearing up a bit here, because what gets me up and working is the hope that it will have some utility for someone else. The quest for voice, for tone, for the best that you can be… is a journey and a half. Often at odds with the pressures of the writing industry, which does all too often what the cheap and easy sell, and does not value the art as much as it might. Balancing the professional against the artist is not easy day to day, but it is possible. We need more work made from love and integrity. Best of luck.

  • catchersrule

    Eh, I’ve gone and retailered it to my own needs/capabilities, and it suits me better this way:) Can get stuff done without killing myself, and at the same time it’s something I’m happy doing.

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