stupid every day of your writing life.
Lately I’ve given some thought to what I’m doing here – doing blogging. It’s grey and raindy outside (Jakob coined that one at 3 or 4, obviously an eminently sensible way of combining ‘rainy’ and ‘windy’, kids being so much better at neologisms than adults), but since it’s usually grey in this part of Germany (and living in Germany can seem awfully grey in the best of weather), I can’t really blame the heavens for not being able to write.
Or rewrite, which is the stage I’m at in my new novel, and all I’m finding is how bloody awful it is, while everywhere I turn, here I confront a great piece of prose, there a mind-blowing insight, and there another acquaintance, internet or warm-blooded, who’s having something published.
Tomorrow I turn 58.
Aha, you say, I thought you indie writers don’t care about being published.
Well, here it is: an admission that I don’t … and I do.
The thing is, part of me is still a dreamy teenager who believes she’ll write great stuff one day. Who only wants to write, and write well, and let the problem of readers look after itself.
And then there’s the part of me that’s waiting for a teacher to say ‘well done’ and give me a high mark, a gold star, a tangible proof of success. (For teacher, read publisher – or maybe father. One day I might talk about mine.)
Tomorrow I’m turning 58. I’ve left it a bit late, wouldn’t you say? To grow up, I mean.
Nobody likes to talk about envy, but it’s pervasive; dreadfully invasive too. Apparently there are a few enviable and wise people who have moved beyond it, or who were lucky enough to be born without the envy gene, but I’m not one of them. I even envy them their lack of envy.
At the moment I’m reading a lot of short stories. There are days when I’d sell my … my what? soul? kids? ten years of my life? … my whatever to be able to write one page – no, one sentence – as well as Colm Toibin or Charles Baxter or Jim Shepard or …
It’s not going to happen.
So to paraphrase a fellow writer, adjust your ambitions.
The internet is deadly for someone like me. Every click takes you to another review, another blog, another site where you’re reminded of how writing is supposed to be; and how far from that magical, mythical place you are, and always will be. Something I’ve learned from years of watching my children do music and of rubbing shoulders with professional musicians, some of them very good indeed, is that competence can be learned, but no one can put in what god left out (I’m an atheist, but you know what I mean). There’s a great deal to be said for craft and skill and competence. A gift, however – that rare way of seeing and feeling and intuiting and analysing and remaking experience as a genuine artist – well, either you’ve got it, or you don’t. For years Jakob rubbed shoulders with fellow cellists who received top-notch tuition, practised six hours or more a day, and yet would never – never – play like Yo-Yo Ma.
It’s bitter hard.
So why keep blogging?
I’m not really the sort of person who likes to air her every thought and feeling in public – in part because I’m afraid they’re not good enough. Nor am I the sort to work hard at crafting my blogging voice – the persona which we have, all of us who blog. We’re playing to an audience. Otherwise, we’d simply write a private diary or journal. And I detest the thought of interviews, speeches, book signings, book trailers, YouTube self-promotion. Originally my main goal was to develop a readership for my fiction. This hasn’t changed.
But something about my blogging feels insincere; dishonest. All of us embroider things a bit – exaggerate an anecdote, polish a joke, suppress a detail – to make a better story. And bloggers are essentially telling a story – if nothing else, about their interests, their take on the world.
Which story do I want to tell in my blog?
I’d like to try an experiment, I think. In the future I want to tie my blog more closely to my actual writing – to discuss as honestly as I can the scary, frustrating, obsessive process of trying to write well. I’ve always been a bit superstitious about this (go figure!) but perhaps it will help to pacify – though hardly banish – the demons.
No, I’m not setting out to rival Neil Gaiman (who is not one of the gods, American or otherwise, some people think him – but remember I’m an atheist anyway).
Perhaps the best thing one can do about envy is give it some living space of its own: blog space. We’ll see.