Two years ago I wrote the post – 10 Things Children Don’t Say to Writers – where I talked about confidence, and other people’s reactions when you say you’re a writer. It proved to be one of the most popular blog posts on this site.
At that time, March 2011, I was newly signed up to Bloomsbury, but The Night Rainbow‘s publication was still two years away.
This last month I have, at last, been enjoying celebrating publication, including launch parties, signings and a lot of chatting to a lot of people, mostly about being a writer. And things have changed. People say different things to me now that I have an actual book available to buy and read.
Broadly, they seem to fall into three categories:
Things people say that make me feel proud and happy. E.g.
1) I’m so impressed.
2) What a great achievement.
3) You’ve inspired me to get back into my own writing.
Hearing this is like the clouds clearing and the sun shining right onto my little patch of Earth. When you’re an unpublished writer, you don’t get enough of this food for the soul. The struggle is the thing, and it can be a lonely one.
Things people say that make me want to run away and hide. E.g.
4) When is the film coming out?
5) When is the next book coming out?
6) Have you stopped work altogether now?
There’s nothing really wrong with the questions in this category. They are well-meant and show enthusiasm and a high expectation of success. So I tried to work out why I feel agitated with them rather than flattered. I think it’s that I worry I feel the bar marked ‘Success’ is being set too high and that in the end I am going to disappoint people after all.
And most notably, a *lot* more questions about my writing. E.g.
7) Have you always wanted to write?
8) Who are your favourite authors? (Note – if you ever put me on the spot with this question, be warned that I’ll expect you to reciprocate with your own list!)
9) What inspired your novel?
10) What else are you writing?
They are the kind of questions that often don’t get asked to unpublished writers. Which interests me because it’s not the same for other artistic pursuits. If someone says they are a painter or a sculptor, even on an amateur level, people seem interested and feel free to ask about it. Why is that?
It’s as if, for some, I have passed through a kind of fine, mysterious membrane that separates writers who are interesting (or approachable?) from writers who are not. But I think that membrane only exists if you believe it does. So I suggest next time you meet someone who says they are a writer, why not take the time and ask them about themselves and their writing? You could be surprised what you find out.
Meanwhile, for those who read the 2011 post, what are my children now saying about my writing?
– My mummy wrote that book!
– You’re in a book shop / newspaper / magazine! That’s so cool!
– I’m so proud of you, Mummy.
…And, after they have spotted the book in the umpteenth bookshop I take them into ‘just to check’…
– Please can we choose a book now?‘