Monday, 17 September 2007

Slings, Arrows, Self-Belief

During this difficult time, this arid wait for responses from publishers, it's not surprising that one finds oneself assailed by negativity. Writers are a weird mixture of arrogance and self-doubt. You believe you're good or you wouldn't do it - but at the same time, like spiteful tinnitus, there's the voice in your head saying - Why are you doing this? What are you thinking Of? Who on earth would want to read this stuff? etc etc and dreary etc. Is it any wonder so many creative artists have turned out to be bipolar? Even those of us who are not clinically ill suffer extreme highs and lows - and when you hit the lows it's hard to retain any sense that this writing business can be joyful and positive and life-affirming. It seems to be a grinding tyranny, trudging round the treadmill of dreams - of what? Fame? Money? Peer acceptance? A kick at mortality? Just WTF are you doing with it?

All of this disorganised bleating leads me to a couple of recent quotes I noticed: first of all from Graham Greene's letters, where he laments his manic depression but says 'Cure the disease and I doubt whether a writer would remain.' You may well have seen Stephen Fry's documentary exploration of what it means to be bipolar, which was fascinating and moving. He asked several of the people he interviewed whether, if given the chance to push a button that would take the illness away, they would push it. They said no: the rush of the ecstatic hyperawareness of being alive, the joy of fantasy and creation, the sense that anything was possible, counterbalanced the terrible phases of despair. Despair and wishing for death - the price to be paid, and a price accepted - anything better than what they clearly feared, like Graham Greene: no creativity at all. So there. You have to suffer for your art.

That said, some kindly publisher could easily salve the trauma, externally at least: a big fat contract ought to do the trick.

And while we're in self-doubt mode, here's Ian Rankin: 'The reason writers keep on writing even when they don't need the money and don't need the acclaim is that they haven't yet written the perfect book. Each book you produce is another small failure.' I'm comforted by this: I scarcely dare open the pages of The Chase because I'm bound to see something I would do differently now. The apprenticeship is never-ending. So everything you create will indeed be a small failure. It won't match the glittering vision of it you first had. It can't be the Book as Platonic Ideal. So it will be a small failure - and it will be a great success. After all, you wrote it.

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