Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bitterness, Guilt and Shame

Part of me is ashamed to even write this blog, but I think it may help so I will get it onto the page. I went out for some fresh air and ended up sitting in a local cafe with a cup of tea and the latest issue of the Stinging Fly. As is my wont, I turned first to the Contributors Page, and took a look at where the 22 writers were coming from and who'd done what. One writer's name was familiar from something else I had read today, so I decided to Google her on my cellphone (yes, fancy one with Internet, just adds to time wasted). Through various digressions from this author etc.., I ended up on Fish Publishing's Alumni page, where they have followed up on those who have won or being finalists in their competitions, to see where the accolade took them next.

As I read the descriptions of how each writer had gone on to win more, to be published, to release collections, etc.. etc..., I found to my disgust that a wave of bitterness was rising up inside me. It swelled until I became, frankly, distressed. I desperately didn't want to read of other writers' achievements and feel bitter, so my ensuing guilt and shame compounded the feeling. I stopped, switched off the phone, and sat there with my tea, thinking about why I was feeling this way.

I quickly realised that it was not that I was reading about their success and thinking

"Why them??"

but that what was buzzing through my brain was:

"When me? When me??"

The mere asking of that question then opened the floodgates and what came rushing through was "you, you'll never get there, you'll never make it, they're great writers, who do you think you are, why do you even bother", a whole stream of self-doubt and flagellation.

I paid for my tea and walked slowly home, forming this blog post in my head, knowing I needed to get it all out there. What do I make of this? On the one hand, I definitely do not want to write in order to win things, to see my name on a myriad of publications, to make money. I want to write because I need to write, because I feel ill if I don't, because what I write makes me laugh, moves me.


Yet, I have a Word document on my hard drive, a table with a list of everything I have submitted stories to, and all the upcoming deadlines, and that list is growing, I add to it daily, and daily I check through the publications, the competitions, to see if they've announced, I check several times a day, I constantly refresh the pages to make sure they are up to date, I click and click - and it is making me crazy. This isn't what it is about. It isn't, is it?

And I have an agent. Well, I have been in touch with an agent for a few years. But nothing is moving on that front. I know it is because she believes I am not ready, my material isn't ready. And I know she's right. I don't have enough stories I love passionately to put in a collection. But still... I feel a rush, I want it now, I want it all.

So, do I delete this document? Do I forget about the agent? Do I stop sending off stories? Do I shut myself off from potential readers and just write?

I feel I am in a real transition period now - a few months ago, three or so, I stopped working as a journalist to try and write short stories full time. I am now a full time short story writer. This means I write for two hours a day, on the good days, but the joy of it is that I don't have a head full of editors clamouring for articles, of people I have to phone and interview, of technologies I have to look up on the Internet and try to understand. No, all that is in my head are stories, characters, ideas. And it's bliss.

So perhaps I need the bitterness and the guilt and the self-doubt to push me, because no-one else is pushing me. Perhaps in moderation the negativity will keep prodding me to do it. Moderation, that is the key. I have to keep positive. I have to have other writers around me, physically and spiritually, in person and on line.

I feel a little better now. Not fully. It's still inside me, all of it. It will take a while to dissipate. Maybe I can turn it into something, maybe I can work with it. We will see.

I imagine I am not the only writer who feels this way. Of course not. If anyone is out there and has some words of advice, wants to tell me to quit whining and just get on with it, be my guest! I need it!


James said...

yes, acknowledge the hard days as well as the good. A toughness, resilience, spiritual worldview will see you through (oh, and me !!). James

Vanessa Gebbie said...

hello and have a hug.

What you're feeling is no different to what most writers feel. You just have to put it in perspective.

Turn the clock back to before you had even submitted your first piece of work, anywhere.

Wouldn't the thought of being a 'published short story writer' someday have held a little magic?

What about that impossible thing... to one day be a prizewinner... not only to be placed in a comp with lord knows how many entries, but to come first?

Didn't those seem unattainable back then?

fast forward.

You are published, many times over. You are a first prize winner. You have a superb course/qualification under your belt. And goodness knows what else.

but you know all this.

And those people in Stinging Fly... the writer - whoever it was - that you were tracing around this morning... that writer also , at some point, was exactly where you are.

No-one is born a prizewinning author. no one is born with a collection of stories the publishing world will snap up with a smile. Everyone has to work like stink.

especially short story writers. we've chosen a difficult path, T.

And I tell you summat else... however successful people are, do you think this feeling ever goes away?

This feeling of 'I can't do it. I'll never do it."

I dont think it does, unless you area really hard-nosed, commercial animal. Which, thank God, we are probably not.

One thing Ive lelearned is that it doesnt matter how many successes I have, I never lose that feeling of 'I can't do it'. I wlways fear that a success is an abberation. That its not repreatable.

And as far as Im concerned, that is a GOOD feeling. Its where good writing comes from, partly.

Complacency is a shot of cyanide.

you can quote me, and use that as the next prompt.

have another hug.

and remember youve got 20 years on me... loads of time to get things right.

much love


Vanessa Gebbie said...

oh and being able to type accurately is such a boon, don't you think?



Frances said...

Tania, this is such a great post. Interesting that those competitive, out-of-the-loop feelings (so familiar to me!) have come hard on your recent writing experiences of joy, freedom and connectedness while writing (also familiar). These two worlds of feeling are so directly opposed and conflicting - although I suppose jealous energy can be used to spur achievement, at times.

Anyway, as well as confirming that you're definitely not alone, I wanted to say well done for becoming a full-time short story writer! That's really great! At this time, you need to allow yourself to relish the freedom and take advantage of it - rather than putting pressure on yourself. I know it isn't easy.


Anonymous said...

From your post it sounds like giving up is not an option. It's in your blood.

So carrying on is the only choice, and it sounds like just like me, you can't just write, you must have readers too.

I've had a few short stories published. At one point I had an agent, and a publisher interested in me at the moment one of their authors won the Booker Prize. You can imagine what a boost that was to me. I felt invincible, for a time.

Then the book deal fell through and the agent lost interest.

But what can you do? You have to keep on - there's no other way.

I had a crisis earlier this year, and convinced myself I could give up writing and use photography to assuage my creative urge. When I started dreaming of winning photography competitions, I knew something was going wrong. I was just transferring my aspirations to another medium (and made it even harder for myself in the process).

So I started to write again, tentatively at first. Finally I realised that writing is the thing that motivates me, the thing I want to succeed at.

It's still a struggle for me to motivate myself at times, but there's a quote by Mary Pickford that sums it up for me.

"Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call "Failure" is not the falling down, but the staying down."

Tania Hershman said...

Thank you James, Vanessa, Frances & Debra, your comments mean a lot to me. When I posted my blog, I realize I was reaching out and wanted to hear from others, to know I wasn't alone. So thank you for listening and being there.

tafka PP said...

I tried to be there for you but bloody blogger wouldn't let me leave a comment all week!

- What they all said. You are fantastic, and I look forward to reading about this period in your life in my signed copy of your autobiography!

Rachel said...

to take a bit from Vanessa: What you're feeling is no different to what most PEOPLE feel. Same sentiment, different goal.
Love to you.

Ahron Shapiro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ahron Shapiro said...

Ahron said...

Tania, great blog entry. I can really relate to it.

You simply must put the negativity out of your mind. Avoid it like the "mokshim" on the sidewalks of the German Colony.

I have learned over the years to avoid reading about the accomplishments of other writers.

I know myself and it always makes me feel like putting my head in the oven.

I once half-jokingly offered to pay a colleague at the Jerusalem Post to kill a story about a writer I shared a creative writing class with back in college, who went on to have a New York Times bestseller. (You know this author, of course, but in the interests of discretion I will not mention his name here!)

I have nothing against people who are successful in the field, except that it makes me feel inferior. That is my own issue.

I do my best writing when I am not beating up on myself. So I refuse to indulge myself in the self-flagellating practice of professional voyeurism.

I create in a vacuum these days, and am much happier for it.

Ahron Shapiro said...

Oh, another thing. Am I ashamed I feel the way I do about other writers?

Absolutely. But I forgive myself for it. It's not my fault I grew up with self esteem issues.

I'm not saying that you have self esteem issues, but for me, that is the root cause of my reaction to others achievements.

And I can still admire, respect, and can maintain close friendships with these other writers. My bitterness is strictly aimed inward.

However, I look forward to the day when I can overcome this character flaw.

It doesn't do me, or anyone else, any good.