Seeing as my last post was about how to get the most out of conventions I thought I’d write about my time at FantasyCon, the inevitable comedown that occurs straight afterwards and the not unconnected issue of writer’s despair.
FantasyCon was great, it really was. Catching up with many of my indie publisher friends was fantastic (not only did we talk business, we talked about how to crush the government, which was fun). And getting to know writers, podcasters, reviewers, as well as the all-important readers – all fans of one of my favourite genres – was brilliant too. The panels I spoke on were all interesting, and by the end of the weekend it was clear that I had the ability to predict some of the winners of the British Fantasy Awards (the 3 panellists up for awards on the “Editing the Anthology” panel I organized/moderated all won awards…). Cue BIG congratulations to Unsung Stories, Luna Press Publishing and Shoreline of Infinity.
However, from time to time I took off my indie publisher’s hat and considered the con from another angle – the writer’s viewpoint.
What was that like? Well, I could see how it could be rather overwhelming. It seemed as though nearly everyone attending was a writer. Either a wanting-to-be-published writer or a self-published writer or a small press published writer or a big press published writer or a truly BIG NAME published writer. Depending on one’s life situation and frame of mind, this could either be genuinely inspiring – they’re getting published so I can be published too! – or completely depressing – everyone’s a writer, what makes me think I have anything worthwhile to add?
Then, when I got back home (exhausted but happy) I heard from a writer friend – a talented and published writer – that they had decided to abandon writing. It was simply not rewarding enough – financially, critically and emotionally. And the process itself simply wasn’t fun anymore.
I hasten to add that this friend hadn’t attended the con, but this writer’s experience did chime with how I knew some attendees felt afterwards. It’s one thing to know on an intellectual level that there are many other writers out there, and that hundreds of thousands of books are being published each year in the English language, but it’s another to actually see all those writers in the flesh, and all those hundreds, if not thousands, of books on display all under one roof.
That experience, coupled with the reality that it’s hard to make a living from writing and that it’s hard to find an audience for one’s writing, can be a real blow to one’s writing ambitions.
I often consider this “it’s all a pointless waste of time” conundrum and thought it worth listing a few things to try that might help banish despair.
- Don’t bother with comparison, it’s a waste of precious energy and time. Theodore Roosevelt said: “Comparison is the thief of joy” and it’s true: comparing one’s creative output with that of others really does take away from the joy of writing. Also, everyone has their own path to take and while it may seem as though X, Y, Z are strides ahead of you, it’s always worth bearing in mind that you simply don’t know the full story – or the challenges – behind their progress. Even for the few rare writers that really do have genuine overnight success, so what? It’s a valuable life lesson that there will always be someone with more money/success/critical acclaim/better hair than you. If you focus on the unfairness of it all this simple leads to bitterness and resentment. The solution? Focus on your own path and your own writing, by saying what only you can say in your own unique way, and then reflect on how far you’ve come so far. The only person you should compare yourself to is you – of one year ago. Think about how much better your writing is now compared with then. Consider how much better your writing will be in another year’s time. Now that’s something worth getting excited about!
- As that other sage, Jesse J, said, “It’s not about the money, money, money.” Well, actually it is, but then again it isn’t. While I believe that writing should be rewarded financially, critically and emotionally, in a neoliberal world highly skewed towards the rentiers and away from creatives it’s always going to be difficult to make a living from writing. Sadly, this is something that is pretty much out of individual writers’ hands (though doing the basics of asking for fair pay, not writing for unscrupulous organizations and supporting your local indie bookshop does very much help the situation). But if writing for money is very much a necessity, then do as Tom suggested in an earlier post and focus on the potentially most lucrative project that you’d like to work on, then work on that like a demon.
- Critical acclaim and awards can be a real boost, but they’re not the be-all-and-end-all of your writing career. By all means hanker after awards and praise from the established critics – after all, it’s very important to dream and dream big – but individual writers have zero control over such flighty things as praise and prizes (which are often very much influenced by personal taste and fashion). But if you concentrate on what you can control, that is, improving your craft, then these kinds of “buffs” – to use a gaming term – may well come to you one day.
- As Rachel Joyce outlines in her piece, “Advice to a new writer” in The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2017, writing is a generous act: “Writing is a deeply solitary process but it is also, I think, the most generous piece of reaching out.” But sometimes, yes, it can feel as though you’re writing and giving of yourself emotionally and yet not one single person cares about your generosity. But the process of writing itself is generous. If the writing process is pleasurable, fun, joyful, then it is giving to you. The day it stops giving to you in this way is the time to take a break. Focus on other things instead. Like, you know, living life. And perhaps before you know it, you may well be itching to write in a low-pressure way again. Just for the sheer joy of playing with words and ideas and worlds.
- Finally, as C.S. Lewis wrote: “Take courage, dear heart!” Many writers have experienced this kind of disheartenment. Sometimes, all you really need to get over your woes is to tell a good friend about them over a beer. Encouragingly, FantasyCon had plenty of both. (Good friends and beers, that is. Not woes. For proof, check out the excellent video below, produced by my incredibly creative friend @Nottsflix)
— Nottsflix (@nottsflix) October 24, 2018