Friday, 30 October 2009

Stopping Anxiety Attacks

Advice on beating anxiety attacks.


A question for you: What is the thing you are most worried about, in terms of how others see you? What do you think that others think is your worst trait?

For me, it's being annoying. I guess that's a bit vague. I'll try and pin it down. Whenever I meet new people, I'm convinced that the majority of them find me annoying. Mainly because I have very few powers of self-censorship. I open my mouth, and stuff comes out. Loads of it. Constantly.

It's not that I'm particularly offensive. I do possess some powers of tact, some social skills. But there are two problems: (a) I get terribly enthusiastic about things that I've thought of, and once I've thought of them I have to express them. And I have no self-consciousness about speaking up in the presence of strangers. (b) The whole thing is magnified when I'm nervous. If I'm new to a bunch of people, I want to impress them, and I feel like I should do this by saying lots of stuff. And I forget to stop talking.

I do it in print too. If I join a new internet forum, for instance, rather than doing what most people do - which is to lurk for a while, get to know the feel of the place, build up the confidence to say a cautious hello - I just jump in with both feet and write a million long posts in quick succession.

In one spectacular recent example I alienated a whole internet forum, and my name is still quoted as a prime example of their worst member ever (I can't help it, I still lurk there - and recently someone said of another annoying member "He might be a bit bad, but he's no Beleaguered Squirrel"). It wasn't quite that simple - it was actually rather a horrible place, with a nasty culture, and I got picked on by the resident bully. But if I hadn't done that thing of leaping in at the start, shooting my mouth off and not censoring myself, it never would have happened.

Recently I've started a new job, and the usual paranoia is kicking in. In lots of ways it's gone really well. I've made several friends, who seem to genuinely like me. But I have this lurking suspicion that the majority of my colleagues regard me as intensely annoying. I don't even have any proof for that, apart from one email. I tried to organise a Friday night curry, suggesting that it would be nice to meet up for food and a natter - and got one response which simply said, "What's the point? You'll be the one doing all the talking." And then when I asked to join a Facebook group several colleagues belong to, I didn't get an instant response (by email) and was suddenly thinking, "Oh no, they don't want me to join because they've all been using it to moan about me!" Of course I then got the email inviting me to join and was obviously wrong about that.

But the worst thing about this kind of paranoia is deciding how to deal with it. Sometimes I tell myself, well duh. Rather than constantly agonising about this, why don't you start censoring yourself a little better, and remove the issue altogether? But other times I think, it's just paranoia. You're irrepressible, it's who you are, and it would be a shame to take that away from yourself. Yes, there'll always be people who are annoyed by you, but that would be the case whoever you were. Most people don't find you annoying, or not unbearably so, and those that do are obviously not the best choice of friend for you. And anyway if you were to ask people what they hate about you most, they'd probably come up with something completely different, that you hadn't even thought of.

The problem is that, as long as I keep vacillating between these two mutually-opposed positions (change yourself, accept yourself), nothing will ever be resolved.

So what about you? What is the thing about yourself that makes you wince, when those unwelcome memories pinch you in the small hours?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

One More and Then I'll Shut Up (Maybe)

Nicola Morgan has written a great post here about my situation in particular, but also in general about the life of the struggling author.

In attempt to wrap it all up, I'd say that money was the biggest killer for me. Writing gradually stopped being something I wanted to do after it became something I was trying to earn a living from. That's a simplistic view because there was other stuff going on, but I do think it was the main factor.

Also I think it's very tempting to imagine that your life would be wonderful if only you could spend all your time doing your hobby - particularly if your day job isn't making you happy. I was trying to be a mother, a writer and a full-time worker-in-an-office and I couldn't do it, so I thought I could remove one of those and then everything would be all right. I thought I needed more time alone, more time at home, less busy-busy stress. I've since realised that I rather thrive on getting out of the house and being busy. I was just in the wrong job.

And for me, for now, writing is something that ought to be a hobby and nothing more. I do suspect that most artistic endeavours suffer from having to provide an income, but I know many writers who are full time and happy that way, so I won't push that one.

Right. My new job - which I rather love - involves a lot of late nights at my computer, so I'd better get back to it.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Wrong Focus

That Debi Alper, she's very wise:

"I think you're focusing on the negative aspects of being an author - and there are plenty, but as with anything in life, if they become too prominent EITHER something practical has to change OR you need to switch internal focus.

Seems to me from this post that writing had become (whether by accident or design) a means of seeking money - always a Very Bad Idea - you know that only a tiny number of ostensibly successful authors actually make a living from selling books. And also, because of everything else that was going on, a means of seeking validation. But the problem with that is that it's out of your control. It means you're relying on others to make you feel good.

All of that stuff is not a good reason for writing and I'm convinced they weren't your real reasons but it all started getting mixed up so it was impossible to see what was really going on.

I DO believe you're a good writer.
I DO believe that if you ever come back to it (not gonna say I'm sure you will cos that will really annoy you!) you would eventually achieve a deal. Look - you already had a book published here, another in a foreign country, and (no matter what happened) impressed an agent enough to take you on.

There are plenty of writers who would give teeth for that amount of validation."

She might have a point.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Cautionary Writer's Tale

Hmm. My mind has been hijacked by Being A Writer mutterings, and I want to unpick it all. So here's an attempt to describe the thing, and where it all went wrong.

I started writing ten years ago, at the age of 30, with little warning. Along with millions of others, I'd always thought I might write a book (but probably wouldn't). And then... I dunno. My life was stagnant, my job was boring. I wanted to stretch my creative muscles. I arranged a weekly day of spare time, and started to write.

I expected it to be harder than I expected it to be, and it was. Often like trying to pull a dead cat through my own gut. But I'd said I was writing a book, and I'm stubborn like that, so I kept going. I didn't know what I was writing about, I started from scratch a gazillion times, I took a year out to have a baby. But eventually I had three good-ish chapters, which I sent to a few dozen agents and publishers. Who, of course, sent it back. They were the worst, or the best, kind of rejections. The "you're talented, but..." kind. I got a bit fed up, and slowed down. But then I thought, sod it. What the heck. So it'll never see the light of day, so what? I've started so I'll finish. And I did. And rather spookily, within 24 hours, I got The Call. From a (small but well-regarded) publisher I'd long since given up on, asking to have my book.

It was the best thing that ever happened. Validation of the highest order, and I floated around on an I'm-so-great cloud for well over a year after that. I threw everything into publicity. I had two launches. I started a blog. I founded a small community of fellow writers. I started the second book. Which was, of course, more difficult than I expected. I rewrote several times. But eventually, it was ready.

And then came the hard part again. The first book was out of print, as the publisher had ceased trading. I needed an agent. I sent the book out to dozens of them, and the responses were similar to the first time around. "Shows great potential, but..." I got further this time though. Some of the reasons for rejection were good ("I'd really love to but I already have a client with a similar book"), and then finally I found someone who loved and adored my baby, and was raring to show it to the world. Woohoo!

I was never convinced the book was that great, but I never am. Sometimes I thought it was pretty cool. And somebody who appeared to know what they were talking about was telling me it was only a matter of time.

So I waited. And waited. And a year later, I got the call... to tell me the book was being published... in another country, translated into their language. This was good news, and I was pleased, but it wasn't the main event. The real prize was publication in my own country, and I was assured that this was close. In the meantime there would be more foreign-territory deals. I laughed at how funny it would be, if my book was never available in its own tongue. I laughed because I didn't think it would happen.

When I was younger, I had various creative interests. Music and acting were the big ones. I knew many people who didn't attempt to get "proper" jobs, and threw everything into trying to make it big as actors, artists, musicians. They never got anywhere. I scorned them. I was highly practical, hated uncertainty, got on with the serious business of getting an education and a job. Being sensible.

And then I was published... and started to dream of being a full time writer. My job didn't fit well around my writing career, and then I had a kid and it didn't go well with that either. My shorter working hours meant that the best work was always given to someone else. Maybe... if I got a decent book deal or three... maybe one day I could make a living from my art? Wouldn't that be something?

I wanted another child, I didn't want to face motherhood AND financial insecurity... so I hatched a vague plan. I decided to finish the second book before trying for another kid, in the hope that it might find some lucrative publishing deals in the meantime, and by the time the baby arrived I might be in a position to give up work. If not, no problem. I would go back to my job.

And then it all went wrong. I had a miscarriage. I was made redundant.

Suddenly I found myself, jobless and babyless, unwilling to look for new work because I knew I might get pregnant again, and with a large redundancy payment burning a hole under the mattress.

So I thought... well, I do have this foreign book deal after all. It might not be much, but it's something. And the agent says there are bound to be a flood of other deals coming through any minute now...

I did it. I became a full time writer.

But it wasn't planned. I didn't know what I was doing. I was grieving for a lost baby. I was trying to get pregnant. I couldn't decide what my priorities were. Should I be working on book three? Trying to get freelance work? If so, what kind? Journalism? Short stories? Erotica? Live blogging? I had a spreadsheet listing ways I might earn money from writing. It contained over 20 items, and none of it seemed urgent because of that redundancy money and the fact that I might have to drop it all if I got knocked up (at which point previous health issues were likely to kick in and prevent me from working).

So I faffed and fiddled and did fuck all, and then I was preggers again and it all faded into the background for a while.

Until I found myself, nearly 40, with another baby and no job or income, supposedly a full time writer, but still with no clear idea or plan, and no new effing book deals.

I arsed about some more, flitting from one project to another, trying to do all the peripheral writing stuff (networking, self promotion, the stuff you can spend your whole life on without seeing tangible benefits).

There was so much uncertainty.

Promotion. For my first book I plastered myself everywhere I could think of. I did book tours, book festivals, multi-media launches, the internet. My Great Moment was when I hit the mainstream media in a big way, myself and my book presented positively to an audience of millions... and as far as I can tell, it resulted in less than 10 book sales. Possibly none at all.

My time and effort were impossible to quantify. What was worthwhile? Was anything? It was paralysing. I would spend a week researching women's magazine fiction, only to realise that success would take months or even years and might not happen at all. The same applied to everything I thought of. And I still wasn't earning.

The publication date in the foreign country came and went without anyone notifying me. There were no author interviews. This was standard, according to my agent. There was nothing I could do about it. There was no feedback at all, no validation, nothing like the stuff I got with my first book. It felt like I didn't exist.

And I was running out of money, and I was suffering from mild post-natal depression, and I didn't know who I was.

And then I lost my agent, after months of rumbling problems.

I made some attempts to find a new one, but nobody was interested in flogging a book that had already been shown to most of the UK publishers, who - again (it's getting familiar) - said many nice things about it... followed by "No", "Sorry" and "No."

A couple of Amazon reviews appeared. They weren't positive. I'm not a person who pays that much attention to reviews, but this is the only feedback I had. Nobody I knew could read the damn thing. Nobody could stroke my ego*.

I couldn't even blog about it. I had to remain upbeat for the sake of all those publishers (from all over the frickin' world) googling me. Constantly trying to sell myself, constantly failing... it doesn't do much for your ego.

And then I rebelled. Fuck it, I thought. I've had enough. I need an income, I need validation, I need structure to my life, certainty... I need to know what I'm fucking well doing.

So I gave it all up, switched careers entirely.

The new path I've chosen makes it impossible for me to write, or even admit that I'm an author. Was this some subconscious decision? Burning my bridges? Running away from it all in a massive great sod-you sulk?

Yes. It probably was.

And it still makes me sad, when I think of what I've lost. But what I've gained - for the moment at least - is better than what I had. And I know I'm still bitter and smarting, and I know I'm acting like a spoilt child, but the publishing industry can be a horrible, life-sucking beast. And though I miss being able to think of myself as A Writer, I also don't miss it at all.

*Before any polyglots start offering to read the book and say nice things... don't. Because I no longer believe in it. And I suspect the translation is bad. And it would be so horrible if you read it and hated it.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009



I dunno if it's cos I been ill this week and am having that post-ack downness thing, or because I found a one-star review of my book on Amazon (to accompany the three-star one, and between the two of them adding up to the only feedback received from the reading public), or because despite my best efforts to gag myself, I keep scattering pessimistic little moaners all over the web about how rubbish it is being a writer and how glad I am (which is clearly not true) that I no longer am. Or temporarily amn't. Or whatever.

Are you following me? Probably not. I do think that becoming a full-time writer was a bad decision, that I'm better off not doing it any more, that it wasn't doing me any good. But I'm also prepared to accept that my ongoing bitterness re the whole subject may be a tad subjective, and there were other life factors involved in me giving it up. And I really don't think it's fair of me to keep harping on about it to other writers who are quite happy doing what they do, and why the hell shouldn't they be? I'm just in a massive childish sulk about not getting a UK book deal and, crucially, not getting attention.

I do feel I can't write, that my books got progressively worse instead of better, that I won't ever feel motivated to properly finish my third book and go through the wearisome slog of finding an agent and a publisher and then selling my soul to the devil for the price of a cup of tea.

I find myself hollow-chuckling whenever I see writers expressing optimism. Ha, I think. You'll learn. I hate myself for thinking like that, and even more for expressing it. Whine moan whinge. Shut up, woman.

But I have a tendency to make dramatic statements and decisions, to throw infants and waste H2O merrily in the same direction without a thought as to whether they'll have a soft landing or not. I'll probably write again. I'll probably stop sulking at some point. I might even reconsider the whole publication hamster wheel. But I do suspect that the happiest writers are those who never even contemplate publication, and only do it for fun.

If only that were me.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Let Me Entertain You

...or maybe not.

I've been noticing for a while now (I suspect since having my second child, though I might be wrong) that my capacity to write entertaining blog posts has seemed... diminished. Not that I can't do it, but that it takes more effort, happens less often, is less likely to be spontaneous. I've also noticed that my comments on other people's blogs have become much less humorous, much more procedural. Responding literally and directly to questions asked, making helpful points, but not being as entertaining as I believe I once was. Or maybe I never was. I dunno.

I was thinking about this because recently I've joined Facebook (under my real name), and suddenly find myself updating it, and checking it, much more than the blog. And I notice that some people are witty / entertaining / erudite on Facebook, whereas I... just give very factual - and not particularly interesting unless you're my friend and want to know about my life - descriptions of what I'm up to. And this seems to be how I want to use the internet at the moment. Not as a way of getting attention, just as a way of keeping in touch.

And as for my ability to entertain... it seems a bit lacking. This may be because I've lost my mojo. Or maybe I'm just too tired. Or maybe all my creative energies are going in a different direction (the new career). Whatever. I dunno.

I discovered (I think - it may be a namey-likey) someone I knew on Facebook today, and sent them a friend request. But afterwards I thought... what did I do that for? Because when I say I "know" them, I lie. In fact they are a prominent blogger whose blog I admire and occasionally comment on, but apart from that we have minimal interaction and I know very little about them. Likewise they me. They're the kind of person I'm eager to impress, and they'd have no reason to be interested in the kind of updates I tend to put on Facebook. This reinforced for me that Facebook is the first internet tool I'm not using as a look-at-me-aren't-I-clever device. It's more of a don't-look-at-me-but-i-just-ate-a-cheese-sandwich thing.

I suppose this was a very long way of saying this blog is liable to stay dusty indefinitely, and if you are my friend and want boring factual updates on my life, feel free to do the Facebook friend request thing, but be warned - I'm keeping it private and am trying not to add people as friends unless I know them quite well. It's a funny balance though. Not easy to get right.

Update: Haha, I should know by now that whenever I write an "I'm not going to do much blogging" post, I end up doing loads of blogging.