There is a danger for programmes in which authors with publishing contracts talk about how hard the act of writing is, that the speakers sound supercilious and ungrateful. For part of its fifteen minutes, that’s exactly how Rachel Johnson and her interviewee AL Kennedy came across on last Tuesday’s One to One on Radio 4. I wanted to throw something at the computer (I was listening on IPlayer). Luckily they saved themselves by recognising how arrogant their ‘plaints sounded, though it was a close run thing. (Note to self, if I ever become a writer people listen to, may I please remain humble and appreciative.)
And it was a good thing that I didn’t throw my computer out the window, mostly because it would have cost me a great deal to repair it and also because AL Kennedy did eventually say some useful things about the craft of writing. Firstly, that writing – or any creative art – is about giving oneself permission to engage. There are so many reasons not to and so many internalised (or not so internalised) voices telling us we can’t or shouldn’t, if we can’t give ourselves permission, no-one else will. Secondly, we commit ourselves to what we are doing. The question we must ask ourselves is if we don’t take ourselves seriously, if we constantly let ourselves be side-tracked and give our craft a low priority, why would anyone else treat what we do as having any kind of significance?
AL Kennedy then went onto say that giving ourselves permission and making a commitment is frightening. She said (I paraphrase), you’re packaging your soul up and putting it out there, and that’s scary. There are other things which could be frightening, perhaps we give ourselves permission and make a commitment and we don’t ‘achieve’ against some kind of scale of what it means to be a good writer? Or perhaps we do achieve? Perhaps we can fly? Proving wrong long-held beliefs about how rubbish we are at everything….
It’s worth hearing this from a published writer. However, how we manage to keep going as an individual will vary. My strategy is to surround myself with people who encourage me and do believe in my writing. Though, on those grey mornings with the doubts nuzzling in, and since I don’t have a publishing contract or an agent to keep me focused, all I can really do is keep putting one word down after another, and then another, and then another…