I began writing professionally when I was 26. In the beginning, I loved it so much it felt as though every moment was a joy, including all the muddy bits and the mistakes and the struggles. Fourteen years and 14 books later, the joy evaporated. That 14th anniversary challenge, my first writing life hurdle, was all about something Jen Storer calls creative shame. My success wasn’t successful enough to meet my hunger for achievement. All I could see was the inadequacy of my books and my writing and it was emotionally crippling. When I walked into a bookshop, I was swamped by feelings of shame and envy. I didn’t want those emotions to be part of my identity, so I gave up writing. Since we’re talking athletics metaphors, I confess I balked at the hurdle and ran off the field.
I spent most of the next decade running a public art business with my beloved, which brought me lots of joy until I realised I missed writing. When I reflected on my writing life, it seemed as though it had barely begun.
I had always written the sort of non-fiction that I wanted to write but my fiction had been entirely transactional. I wrote teen romance for money. That felt sensible but I wondered whether that was the root cause of my creative shame. I decided to put my heart and soul into trying to write the sort of fiction I loved to read: speculative fiction like Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Herbert’s Dune. I was 46.
It took me five years to write and one year to self-publish The Light Heart of Stone. I understand why I self-published but I’m not quite sure why the book took me so long. I do remember that I was very lonely in front of the computer. I ignored the loneliness and started the next project: a science fiction murder mystery, but everything felt pointless. I walked off the field for the second time.
I spent the next three years as the Communications Manager at my local hospital. I loved working collaboratively, but writing other people’s messages wasn’t always satisfying. I kept thinking about my own ideas and the purpose of my working life. I wondered whether I should take a plotting masterclass and whether there was some way I could collaborate to ease the loneliness.
I started writing again last year. I wrote two children’s picture book manuscripts and found the constraints of the genre really stimulating. I wasn’t spending five years on a single story and it was nice to be a beginner again. In the second Covid lockdown, I enrolled in Jen Storer’s Scribbles Academy to learn a bit more about the craft of writing for a younger audience.
And the loneliness problem? I haven’t solved it, but I have resolved to be open to exploring new ways of writing. During the first Covid lockdown, I collaborated on a long piece with an old school friend. It was liberating and exhilarating. I’m also meditating and exercising, and I have my fingers crossed that the resultant improvement in my mental health will usher in a better writing life now that I have turned 60 and have become so clever and wise.