Stopping to take stock

Stopping to take StockFor 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.

DSC01155 (2)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?

DSC01158When 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.


8 thoughts on “Stopping to take stock

  1. I love this post, Alys, and I can so relate to it. Back when I was scrabbling around with bits of scenes that made no sense to anyone but me, I remember thinking, “All I want is to have a book published. Is that too much to ask?” When There Must Be an Angel came out, I thought that was it. It was all I needed. Then, unfortunately, I developed a rather nasty complaint. It’s called, “YesBut Synrome”. Angel was published. Yes, but it’s not exactly selling loads of copies, is it? I have two books out and people are leaving me good reviews. Yes, but it’s not literary fiction, is it? My third book made it to around seven hundred and fifty in the overall Amazon Kindle chart. Yes, but it’s not in the shops, is it? I have a novel on the shelves in WH Smith and the supermarkets! Yes, but it’s only a pocket novel, isn’t it? I have a bestseller flag against my book! Yes, but it only lasted for one day, didn’t it? The truth is, whatever I achieve, there’s this little voice saying, “Yes, but, it still isn’t good enough.” I don’t know if that will ever change. Every writer I know seems to be extraordinarily hard on themselves, but the sad thing is, all the worrying and stressing and striving for better, impacts on the very reason we started writing in the first place – the joy of telling a story. What you do is amazing. Not just through your own fabulous novels, but by encouraging others to write. People who might otherwise not have thought themselves capable – who might never have had the courage to even try – are putting words on paper because of you, and people like you. That’s a massive achievement. And, seriously, how fabulous to wave farewell to that awful day job that dragged you down so much. Now that’s one achievement I really can’t wait to emulate! 🙂 xx

    1. We need to find you a cure for the ‘Yesbut syndrome’ because you’ve achieved so much and you have absolutely no need to qualify it at all. And, what’s even more amazing, is that you’ve achieved all of this in only four years! That’s incredible, Sharon! You have no need to say ‘Yes but…’ to anyone. You’re a star and I really, really hope you’ll come to see that xx

  2. Hi Alys, I’m pretty sure we had a conversation about this some time ago just after I left my stressful career as a teacher. I had no idea that what I now do is called a ‘portfolio career’ but I have the same feeling as you that I run about all over the place! But I’m still writing (my 3rd book just like you) and every new project takes me a bit further along the road in my publishing journey. I think that is something to be proud of but as Sharon says in the comment above, we do tend to be hard on ourselves. I think you need to turn it round, just like you’ve said in your post and think about what you have done, and when you add it all up, you’ll see that you have come such a long way since giving up your stressful job and that that is all that matters. You’re doing more than alright! Well done 🙂

    1. Thanks Julie. It’s really lovely of you to take the time to reply. Yes, portfolio career is the term for it. I think it’s just a fancy term for professional plate spinner and hat swapper! I always feel like I’m running from one thing to the next and it can be exhausting. But I’m so much happier and healthier than I was before and that’s worth an awful lot. Best of luck with book 3. Hope you keep finding time to fit the writing in around everything else xx

  3. However many books you write, however much ‘success’ you have, the Inner Anxst will always be there. In a high-powered career, it comes from work pressure. In a writing career it comes from within. You/I are lucky to be able to write and teach. But we still are never free from time constraints, deadlines, review worries. Just that this time, the ‘control’ is with us. Good luck.

  4. You’re doing a whole lot more than ‘all right’ Alys. This does seem to be a common feeling though. A friend said to me the other day ‘I don’t suppose you ever thought you’d get so far with your writing.’ (She meant it as a compliment, though you could take it another way.) My initial reaction was to ask her what she meant, because to my mind I haven’t got very far at all. But then I thought about my four books with a publisher, a couple more self-published, and a batch of stories in People’s Friend, so, yes, I have got ‘somewhere’ but it’s not enough and I have a long way to go before I’ll consider myself to have got anywhere at all! Stupid isn’t it? You’re absolutely right, we must take time to sit back and take a look at where we are, and then be proud of how far we have come. You’re doing amazing things with your teaching as well as your writing. Good luck x

  5. I love this post. So true. You reach your original goal and suddenly that’s not as great an achievement as you thought. So you chase the next goal and the next. I can totally relate to Sharon’s ‘yes but’ syndrome!

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