This started out as a late night Twitter post but I think, I hope, it’s worth posting it here. It was inspired in part by SFF writer Matt Dovey’s own, extremely honest thread about the doubts and tribulations regarding his writing process. Since it resonated so hard with me, I can imagine it resonating with others.
This is what I wrote yesterday, expanded a little, because I’m not restricted to 280 characters here!
“I wrote a new poem. That’s a much bigger deal than it sounds. I haven’t dared to write anything truly new in four years: since I was nominated for a BSFA Award in 2017.
In hindsight, I found the sudden sense of scrutiny crushingly intimidating: it juddered me to a slow crawl, during which I made many notes and obsessively squinted at poems/fiction I’d been writing already. I barely submitted anything. What I did submit bounced, usually with encouraging noises attached; two publications that did accept pieces sadly folded before they could bring their project to life.
Looking at that, it was my confidence that was shot (by getting an award nomination.. the irony), rather than my work lacking, per se. Not that I saw it that way, I was my own worst heckler. But considering no one else at the time went: ‘Your work stinks, Suna, give up!’, I was definitely getting in my own way. I did an interview here, a blog post there. I could talk up a storm about my WIP’s. I just omitted they’d been ‘IP’ since 2011 or thereabouts! I knew intellectually it’s fine if you’re not prolific for a while, or at least not as prolific as you feel you should be. To not beat yourself up on top of everything else. Easy to understand, harder to break. Especially since words and concepts swam opaquely around my head but I just didn’t seem to have the whats to capture them with a pen.
I never entirely stopped but my heart wasn’t entirely in it, either. I just dribbled occasional words into notepads or my writing app. Then something did change. As insidiously as my confidence leaked away, my will to write crept back. I’d love to say I made a conscious choice to grow a spine, but it grew over time.
A drabble prompt clinched it: short enough to not be daunting, challenging enough to make blood flow back into places I thought I had only tar. It got accepted almost immediately. The validation, the sense that I am doing something right after all, helped enormously, too 🙂
I felt excited about writing again. There was movement, albeit still a bit uncertainly. Then I read Matt Dovey’s thread. A long heartfelt sharing of his difficulties, obstacles both internal and extrnal, his doubts: his honesty and vulnerability were so moving and galvanising, it helped stoke up the fire in me. Yesterday, I used another call for submissions to write an entirely new piece. What made all the difference: I spent no time fretting about The Gallery of Scrutiny, its nameless judgements and the shameful sense I should pander to it. It was mine.
Afterthought after having posted the thread: “Maybe I’ll hardly publish actual fiction again. The most important and liberating thing is that the shouldism and self-judgement are gone. I play music, I perform. It’s an infinite luxury to have a creative career at all. When they flow, there are words. I’ve made amazing friends through writing. If you’re still reading, you are probably one of them, so: thank you.”