I’m thinking about the work, about where the next work is coming from and what the next work should be. To be frank, I’m growing anxious about it.
Sometimes people talk about the source of their creative work as a well, and that sometimes that well is empty. That’s not what I’m experiencing.
When I close my eyes and focus inwards, I can sense it is there. There are the fossils waiting to be carved out, the seams of lead and gold, and the diamonds within the coal; old bones too, strange vapours and rare herbs that only grow in darkness
It feels that there is an additional layer between myself and my material, and having thought long and hard about it, it seems to me, that layer is publishing.
As a child I loved to read and to write, but also to paint and sew and act. I grew up on a farm, and would wander the fields dressed as a boy, singing odd little songs to myself and collecting objects that possessed magical properties. At times it felt as though the whole world spoke to me. It was the madness of being a child that goes undiagnosed.
Inevitably, alongside the magician, a critic developed inside me. You make a picture, you show it to your parents. Is it good? Is it bad? Through reading, you become aware that some stories are better than others. Some songs are trash, some speak to something deep inside you.
Then there’s education, often as much as 20 years of it. Education, particularly the liberal arts education, teaches us to evaluate, to criticise, ‘We murder to dissect.’ Most people do not grow into adults who sing and paint and dance, however much they loved doing it as children. Of course, you can live creatively; that in itself is an art form, and perhaps the greatest, but for so many, the gift of education comes at the cost of their creative self.
I survived mine and in my twenties wrote a couple of novels, short stories and some poetry. The work got better, but it also got harder.
The critic was engaged in a struggle with the creator, more so because I hoped that my creativity would serve the purpose of making me successful, respected, perhaps even wealthy. It was quite a load to bear, and at times I lost possession of the joy of creation for creation’s sake.
Also, of all the arts, novel writing is the most isolating, the most distanced from the act of sharing. There is an immediacy, a co-mingling that is part of the dancer or musician’s experience that is a world away from that of the novelist. Not finding a platform for my work, a way to share it, makes at times for a feeling of horrible impotence.
But, I’ve digressed. What my education failed to do, my association with publishing seems to be threatening.
Knowledge of how hard it is to get a book published, that literary fiction doesn’t sell, encouragement from my agent to explore more commercial genres, my professional move into editing, the information that filters through regarding the latest award winners and book deals, gossip about whose career is thriving and whose failing… It’s like static, white noise impeding my ability to hear the strange music of the spheres that transposes itself as art.
The literary world is light years away from that of the small child collecting bird skulls and snail shells, oddly shaped pieces of flint and owl pellets.
Writing has rewarded me amply and cost me dearly. It is a large part of what gives meaning to my life. It is where I still experience magic.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be read. Above all writing is communicating, but second-guessing what agents and publishers want to read, what’s hot and what’s passé, is doing me harm, is damaging something I’ve striven to protect. So I need to stop that… Beginning right now.