So. A new year dawns, and with it, a million resolutions. Write more. Read more. Do better at being ‘out there’. It’s a time of hope and aspiration, and a time, for a group of people to which I belong, of abject terror.
A year in which you have a book published is undoubtedly one of the most exciting there can be. For me, it’s my second: a novel, Lay Me Down, published by Vintage in February. I have loved and loathed this book during the three years it’s taken to bring it to print; it’s taken me to dark places and to extremely happy ones, through the writing, the re-writing and the major, knock-it-down-and-start-again re-writing. I was unspeakably thrilled when Vintage offered a contract for it back at the end of 2013. And now we have the cover and the proofs and, just this week, the finished copies. It’ll soon be out there in the world, this thing I did.
Which is, frankly, terrifying. It’s wonderful, of course, but it’s also scary. There’s the joy and the pride and the disbelief that swell through you when you first hold a copy of the novel. And then there are the doubts and the questions and the nagging worry that nobody is going to like this except me.
Self-doubt is natural, especially in a career as isolated and introspective as writing. For so many stages of the process, it’s just you and the words, and it’s all too easy for those little inner voices to start chipping away at your confidence. You start to second-guess everything; you walk – and trip over – the oh-so-fine line between good self-editing and unhelpful self-bullying on a daily basis.
This time of year is one of the worst for The Doubts, with social media churning out list upon list of books to look out for in 2015. Author Claire King rightly explains here how unnecessarily stressful it can be – especially for a debut novelist – to scan those and not find your book listed. And, let’s be honest – there’s always some handy stick-shaped internet fodder you can find to beat your poor old ego with. The six-figure advances you read about when you’re still halfway through a manuscript or a handful of rejections down. The two-books-a-year author who’s also writing films and plays and working full-time. Always something or someone we can hold up and say I’m not as good as that. We can’t help ourselves; we let The Doubts in.
This time round, I’ve promised myself I won’t get hung up on the reviews or the Goodreads and Amazon ratings. I’ve warned myself not to take it personally if someone doesn’t like the book; that though the book feels like a part of me, it is, to the rest of the world, a product.
It doesn’t work. The book is a part of me, a part which has been difficult and wonderful to wrangle into words on the page. I’m scared to share it but I’m also excited too – I can’t wait for the characters with whom I’ve spent the last three years to make their first steps into someone else’s imagination. I’m proud of it, and writing it has been a joy, a torment and a learning curve.
And I’ve realised that last part is the most important. I remind myself that the review for my first book which meant most to me was a two star one. In it, the reviewer said that it ‘had potential’ but that in the end nothing was ‘particularly engaging’. They were very careful to clear up any confusion that they might be suggesting I was on drugs, and they ended with this line: ‘I look forward to her next book and hope that she stretches herself more’.
I hope that I have, too. And I’m going to keep on trying, with the next book and the next, pushing The Doubts into the dusty little corner where they belong. Because, really, the only thing we have any control over is whether we believe our work is the best it can be. I do feel that way about Lay Me Down, and I’m going to spend 2015 doing my utmost to make it true of Book 3 as well.
Lay Me Down is published on February 19th.