Prior to becoming a writer I wasn’t aware of self-doubt. As a teacher and probation officer I faced many situations which caused me anxiety or in which I lacked confidence. For example, facing a class of secondary school children four years younger than I was; addressing a judge for the first time as to why a habitual offender shouldn’t be sent to prison but be given a probation order. Youth may have helped but also professional training, the support of colleagues and a union.
Writing is self-employment and not only is that a new venture for me, publishing itself is evolving. Very few writers earn a living from writing itself. The craft of writing doesn’t have a common measure of excellence. Sales, prize winning measure commercial viability but in between there is a wide range of writing: literary, commercial/popular and in poetry, performance. If my writing isn’t published does that mean my poetry/novel isn’t good enough? What about self-publishing, instagram poems? What about Emily Dickinson, a poet who is acclaimed today but was little known when she was alive? Had she depended on public approval she would have stopped writing. What enabled her to keep writing?
I am no Emily Dickinson, Carol Ann Duffy, J.K. Rowling. I can write competently and occasionally memorably and both my prose and poetry continue to improve. Self-doubt fuels that process; occasionally it paralyses.
There are times when rejection or criticism feels like failure. I understand that poetry magazines have a preference for a particular style and particular topics. I get it that agents search for both quality and novelty. Stratford’s Stanza group and Cannon Poets in Moseley and Tindall Street Fiction Group provide criticism and support. Self-doubt persists. Is it part of the learning process, will it pass, seem less significant?
During the last month I have been grateful to two events which increased my confidence by validating me as a writer.
One was a public event, Words of Love, held at Merchants, Swan Street, Warwick on 12th February. It was organised and hosted by Jenefer Heap. Local writers- poets, fiction and non-fiction- came together to read their work to each other and to guests. It wasn’t particularly well-attended but it was a celebration of words. Our own words. How each of us chose on that chilly evening to give voice to love. Published or not, mostly our own work, all was read as if the words were the gift we wrapped and gave for the pleasure of our listeners.
Bren Littlewood aka as J.J. Franklin
The other event, at Radio Welcombe, Stratford was hosted by Nick le Mesurier on Sunday, 18th February. Bren, Ellie and I talked about how we researched our novels.
Nick, as was Jenefer, proved a relaxed and interested host.
We take our writing seriously. Not only the stories we tell but the context in which they take place. Research is the bread and butter of writers. I take it for granted. That afternoon, we were novelists discussing one aspect of our craft. For that hour, I was in no doubt, I am a writer.
Nick Le Mesurier is a writer, researcher and presenter of Stratford Words.
Stratford Words is an online weekly radio show featuring all things literary: www.welcomberadio.co.uk on Sundays 4-5pm
Jenefer Heap blogs at www.jenefer.wordpress.com Her latest book of short stories is Women in Shorts.
Bren Littlewood’s latest novel, Echoes of Justice, is available from Waterstones. Her website is www.bmlittlewood.com
Ellie Stephenson’s novel is available for Waterstones Stratford, Creaky Cauldron, Henley street, Stratford and amazon uk