There’s a great line from one of my favourite songs (Pink Rabbits by The National) which goes:
‘I was a television version of a person with a broken heart’
The one time I should have felt most like a ‘proper writer’, during my book launch, I felt like a television version of an author. Or what I thought an author should be. In reality, I felt adrift; like a boat that had slipped its moorings. Writing was the one thing that had kept me tethered and yet, while my book was published, I wasn’t being a writer (or at least, not in the sense that I’m familiar with); I was being a spokesperson for my writing, which is a completely different skill set. I never thought I would say this, but it’s official folks – not writing is worse than writing!
Being a published author, promoting a book you have written (past tense) is weird for all sorts of reasons. It’s a time of contradictions, where you feel like the centre of attention one minute, but oddly alone the next. Not many people are fortunate enough to have this experience, so not many people get how strange it can feel. Yet it’s only in the last few weeks, since I’ve returned to my WIP that I’ve figured why. Writing is a verb – if you’re not doing it, then it starts to feel like a distant thing. I felt like I was masquerading as a writer, because I wasn’t actually writing and hadn’t written for months. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not one of those ‘write everyday’ evangelicals (although I probably am still writing in my head, if not on screen or paper). But I feel more like a writer when I’m frowning at my laptop, still wearing my pyjamas at lunchtime and eating cheerios out of a box (although that’s not the author photo I went for in the end).
Maybe, at the back of my mind, it was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it again. Yeah, sure, I wrote this one, but what if there’s nothing left? I know other authors feel this way from time to time – regardless of how many books they’ve written. Because writing a book is never a sure thing. We all have those hopeful starts; manuscripts that crash and burn before hitting the 20k words mark. Potentialities simply abandoned. There is no real formula – either you’re feeling it or you’re not and that’s not exactly the most reliable career path. Because once you’re published, you begin to see writing as a viable career, but only if you can keep writing. Eek!
It’s the same with art. I haven’t painted anything in ages and it’s almost as if that channel gets blocked through lack of use. So if I don’t have dried paint under my fingernails, it feels very far away from me. And I’m not making a judgement or a generalisation here – this is a very personal realisation came as a surprise to me too. But I feel like book promotion is so divorced from story creation, that I almost became a different person. And in a way, I think that’s essential. You have to be a bit harder, a bit more calculating and a lot less sensitive. You need to be cool with seeing your face shared across the internet and nurture the ability to find eleventy-thousand different ways to say the same thing (i.e. please buy my book because it’s actually quite good – for realsies).
To craft a story, you need to be a dreamer. To sell one, you need to be a realist. And I’m not sure either personality trait sits comfortably with the other. I assume other authors feel some or all of these things. I know there are many on tight deadlines who don’t have the luxury of not writing while promoting and I take my hat off to those authors. Promoting and writing at the same time is the ultimate Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde act, which I have yet to master!
For now, I’m back in my happy place… mumbling ideas to myself in the shower, researching, scribbling notes, getting to know new characters and wrangling my plot into some kind of coherent structure. This is where the magic happens and I’m lucky I’ve got time and space to figure it all out and most importantly, enjoy it. It’s the best part – the part you won’t be able to explain fully in words when people ask, ‘What inspired you to write this book?,’ or ‘Where did the idea come from?’ You’ll just remember that year (or two, or three) in your life when you immersed yourself in a world of your own making and you’ll find it hard to believe that other people are now exploring it – as if it always existed, as if it wasn’t a bloody miracle that it ever got written!
So, to all the new writers or unpublished writers out there, wondering if they should even call themselves ‘real writers’ before they’ve got a publishing deal, hear this:
If you’re writing, you’re a writer!
The rest is icing, fur coat, what have you. It is the action of writing that makes you a writer. But crucially, it is the act of publishing that makes you read 😉