Take your work seriously, not yourself

I don’t know why I was so nervous about going to the writer’s workshop last night but I really, really was.

It seems that all of life is a succession of scary things we have to make ourselves do.

What I find ‘scary’ changes day-to-day and is largely dependent on what mood I’m in. Sometimes ‘scary’ is looking at my bank account, contemplating the inevitability of death, or jogging past a herd of cows (the latter two often simultaneously). Sometimes ‘scary’ is as seemingly simple as striking up a conversation with someone.

Last night, ‘scary’ for me was meeting a small group of strangers in a local cafe to talk about point of view in fiction.

Five minutes before I was due to leave the house I thought, what the bloody hell am I doing, I could be eating chocolate and watching Alan Partridge. Instead of avoiding people (which is quite an easy thing to do on a Thursday night) I’d gone and actively sought out an entire group of them.

I didn’t know who they were going to be. Would they be young, older, male, female? Would they be nice? What would they make of me? What would they make of my writing?

Of course even the most socially anxious among us know it’s NEVER as bad as we think it’s going to be.

We turned out to be a motley crew, but really we were all the same. Slightly reserved, a little unsure and, regardless of age, gender, or profession, we were all there for the same reason, to learn and talk about the thing we loved most in the world: writing. And also to drink wine.

The workshop was led by an award-winning writer and former Random House editor, which excited me immensely. I sat next to her like a teacher’s pet and tried to ask her as many questions as I could without annoying her. I was struck by her down-to-earth confidence. She showed us her ‘book bible’, a notepad in which she writes down plot structure, ideas and snippets of inspiration. She said she calls it her ‘bible’ because it’s important to give the book gravitas.

What she’s doing is important. It is serious. What we are all doing is important, and it’s easy to assume – because we’re inexperienced, imperfect, or unpublished, that it’s not.

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a joke hiding away in my spare room every weekend labouring over something that may never be finished, may never be any good, may never even be read by anyone outside of my immediate family (and probably not even that). But it feels important to me. It feels like one of the most important things in my life and I can’t even begin to explain how relieved I felt to have someone tell me that it is.

Take your work seriously, not yourself

If I do happen to tell someone that I’m writing a novel, I always step momentarily outside of myself and think ‘you sound like a twat’.

There’s always a twat, somewhere, writing a novel. And yet, I can’t escape that fact that I am trying to write a novel, and I may also, by default, or perhaps in an unrelated way, be a twat.

But paradoxically if I don’t tell people I’m writing a novel then I’m omitting a massive part of my life. Not only am I denying the time spent writing the novel, but also all the remaining time in which I’m thinking about the novel.

I’m so afraid of judgement. I’m so afraid that if I say it out loud it’ll seem silly, and all of those hours, all of the self-doubt, self-hate, anger, fear, anxiety, immersion and emotion that I experience every time I write, will seem like self-indulgent melodrama.

It cripples me sometimes, that awareness. Sometimes it makes it hard to write freely and every word just looks wrong. I wonder if I’m wasting my time. I wonder how I’ll cope if I never finish, or if I do finish and no one wants to publish it.

But then I realise that beneath that layer of fear is something much stronger, something much more enduring. I don’t write to get famous, or to be perfect, or to seem clever. I write because it’s how I process the world. It’s how I, Zoe, make sense of things. I’ll never stop writing, even if it’s the same novel for the next sixty years, because it’s not just something I do – it’s how I am.

I should stop apologising for it.

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