For the past few years I’ve had what people call a ‘portfolio career’. As well as writing, I’m a consultant, an external examiner and a creative writing tutor. That takes a lot of swapping of hats and this week has been particularly hectic. Monday morning saw me at an important meeting in York, Monday afternoon I was on the train to London where I stayed with my sister overnight and had time for a bit of sword fighting (with polystyrene swords, in case you were worried) with nephew. Tuesday I had an external examiners meeting in London and when I left there I’d got a message on my phone about a community publishing venture that I’ve recently got involved in which I replied to on the train. On Wednesday I was attempting to teach creative writing to teenagers as part of the Widening Participation Summer School to encourage more young people to attend universities. On Thursday I was in the office trying to catch up with all the things I’d not done earlier in the week. And in between all of this, in snatched minutes here and there I’ve been working on my third novel, Storm Witch.
Not surprisingly by yesterday I was shattered and as I lay on the sofa watching Outlander (I’ve seen it before but with season 3 coming in September I felt the need of a recap and it’s always cheering to see Jamie in a kilt) I was feeling a bit fed up and wondering why I keep on putting myself through this.
Last night I dreamed I had to go back to the high pressure office job I left 5 years ago. I woke up feeling tense and panicky as if I was really going to have to put on a suit and face it again. If you’ve read Beltane you’ll know that I never dismiss a dream and I think this one was to remind me how far I’ve come.
When I think back to how life was for me when I was working in the office from hell and writing Beltane in my spare time, I was pretty unhappy most of the time. I certainly did an awful lot of moaning about how much I hated my job. I used to day dream about Beltane being published and teaching creative writing one day. Admittedly in my day dream, publication equaled immediate bestseller status which meant I could wave goodbye to the office from hell and become a full time writer. But hey, it was a daydream, it’s allowed to be a little on the optimistic side!
But I’m pretty sure that, life changing riches aside, if I’d asked the me from 5 years ago as I put on my suit and trudged off to the office from hell how I’d feel if Beltane was published and got excellent reviews, if I’d then finished and published another novel, was teaching creative writing and working on my third book I’d have said, ‘That’s amazing! That’s what I want’.
So why does it not feel like the success I dreamed of back then? Is it because I still need to do other jobs to pay the bills? Is it because I’ve not sold a million or even a thousand copies? Because I don’t have a bestseller flag against my name? Or is that the goal posts have consistently shifted as I’ve gone along and what I thought, back then, would be a major achievement now only feels like a step along the road?
When you’re starting out it’s easy to think that the road ends with publication. To feel, rather like the happy ever after in a romance novel, that everything will be perfect after that. I did a talk for my creative writing group about how to get published a couple of months ago and it was clear that they all think, like I did, that publication is the goal. But once I was published I started worrying about sales and rankings and reviews and it became this spiral of things I couldn’t do anything about but couldn’t help worrying about.
In this constant rushing forward and chasing the next level of supposed success I’ve never taken the time to go, ‘Wow, I’ve actually done this.’ And I think I’m starting to realise that’s not a very sensible way to live. I’m pretty sure this is not something I’m going to become good at overnight so I’ll let you know how it goes but during this rather rainy weekend I’m going to take the time to drink tea, eat cake and tell myself, “You’re doing alright.” (After all, I am from Yorkshire and we’re constitutionally incompetent of giving fulsome praise!)
Have you had a similar experience? If so and if you feel you’d like to share it, then it’d be great to hear from you. You can leave a comment by clicking below.
The pictures in this post are from the beautiful Chalice Well in Glastonbury. If you’d like to find out more about Beltane then click here.