“I find all that capitalistic self-marketing a bit grubby and I just can’t do it. I think my website probably puts people off the idea of me and my books anyway. In fact, as soon as I get around to it, I’m going to delete the whole thing.”
This is Scarlett Thomas, an author who’s writing I much admire, quoted in an interview she did in 2005. She may feel the same way now and she may not, but it certainly strikes a chord with me.
I have been marketing myself and my writing for years. Some of this feels completely natural – putting my ‘small stones’ onto a blog rather than keeping them in my notebook is a kind of marketing, as is creating a blogroll, or showing my friends my book covers.
Sometimes it feels much less comfortable. Organising a blog tour, sending emails to strangers to ask for endorsments, suggesting people buy my book immediately ; ) … these are the times I think ‘enough about me, already’ and ‘who do I think I am?’ and ‘you wouldn’t have to ask if the writing was good enough’ and ‘I find all that capitalistic self-marketing a bit grubby’.
A part of me would love to be a hermit, and keep my writing in a drawer while I get on with real life – tending the garden, reading, spending time with the people I love. Another part of me would love to top the best seller lists and to be recognised in the streets. Another part of me simply wants my writing to be read by people who find it helpful. And there are other parts…
These conflicting parts of me have conversations as I write this newsletter. Am I writing it because I want to – because I find it helpful to catch these confusing thoughts and pin them down in words, like butterflies? Or am I watching the size of my subscription list grow, rubbing my hands together and thinking ‘all those books I’ll sell! All those people who will love me!’.
I’m sure you can tell. Let me know if I stumble over the line.
We must have beginner’s mind, free from possessing anything, a mind that knows everything is in flowing change. Nothing exists but momentarily in its present form and color. One thing flows into another and cannot be grasped. Before the rain stops we hear a bird. Even under the heavy snow we see snowdrops and some new growth. In the East I saw rhubarb already. In Japan in the spring we eat cucumbers.
This is Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, taken from his book ‘Beginner’s Mind’ – I wanted to share it with you because I think it’s such a beautiful piece of writing. I received it via my Tricyle ‘Daily Dharma’ email – you can sign up here if you want to try it out.
Before the rain stops, we hear a bird.
I visited my 80-something-year-old nana this weekend, and was marvelling at the assorted collection of cutlery in her cutlery drawer. I remember the same jumble of knives, forks and spoons from my childhood, and asked her how old the oldest pieces were. She held up a fork and said sixty three years. She got the set as a wedding present.
It still does the job it was made to do. How much of what we create will survive us? How many things do we throw away too soon?
This week I’ve been thinking about how odd it is that the only difference between me-before-I’m-a-published-author and me-when-I’m-a-published-author is that Snowbooks happened to like my novels and happened to decide to publish them.
This is what I’d been working towards for all those years – for someone with the power to get my books into the shops to say ‘yes’. Snowbooks saying ‘yes’ is the world saying ‘you are now a proper author’.
But is this really true? Is it having books in shops that makes a proper author? And what is a proper author, anyway?
I think that whatever the world says is a red herring. You might get a bit of paper saying you’re a PhD, but how intelligent do you feel? Your partner might say ‘no your bum doesn’t look big in that’ but what about your own disgust at your body?
A couple of months before Snowbooks said ‘yes’, I had started to feel ready to become published in a way I hadn’t before. I’d even said to a friend out loud ‘I’m ready for it now’. Of course I’d thought I was ready a year ago, and four years before that – but it really did feel like something had shifted.
Maybe part of the reason that the world said ‘yes’ was because I’d started to say ‘yes’ to myself – a deep, grounded ‘yes’. Kind of like when you find a boyfriend the moment you decide you’ll be happy without one. And how do we starting moving towards own ‘yes’, without constantly pestering the world instead? Maybe the first step is to realise that we’re pestering the world for something it just can’t give us.
Are you the kind of person who likes to get things done?
If so, click here and you can order a copy of my debut novel, which will be out in a mere 193 days time, on the 2nd of March 2009. It’ll fly by, trust me
Alternatively, you can read blurbs for all three novels here, and tell me which one you like the sound of the most…
At the weekend I put some time aside to clean my office. As you can see I only have a tiny office – I can touch the wall behind me by reaching out my arm – and it’s just as well I’m prone to minimalism.
I wanted to give it a thorough clean as I was planning on getting back to my current novel on Monday (which I did). There’s nothing like a clean office for getting the writing flowing.
There wasn’t any hurry. I removed all the furniture (my rickety IKEA table with one leg that falls off) and cleaned in whorls to the edge of every window-pane. I carried all the spiders outside to their new homes. I polished, rubbed, wiped, hoovered, and then I cleaned the contents of my office and moved it all back in.
I’ve never been the world’s best cleaner (just ask my partner). But this cleaning, I relished. This cleaning felt devotional, and I suppose it was – I was devoting my time and energy and care to my office/my writing/me.
What I am trying to learn is to treat all of life in this way. I’m aware that I’m in a luxurious position – if I had three children I imagine it might be a little more difficult to clean my office with this state of mind. I’m also very aware of my limitations – I got started on the stairs next but was fed up by the third step and did a very shoddy job. And I’m still better at devoting myself to tasks that end up benefitting me directly – in theory cleaning someone else’s bathroom should be just as satisfying.
But it feels so good to get a taste for what all of life could be like, if I mananged to slow down and find the reverence. As I cleaned my office, it’s as if I was cleaning my own body, or the body of my child.
The blog I’ve set up for other people’s small stones is nearly ready to go, but I’d love some more to keep the momentum going.
Visit a handful of stones for information about submitting, and if you’re not sure what a small stone is, have a look at my stones here.
I look forward to reading your little gems, and hope you’ll help me to spread the word. Thank you!
I’ve wanted to be a published author for a long time. At least since I started writing novels, six years ago. At least since I started writing poetry, ten years ago. At least since I started stapling together folded sheets of A4, designing my own covers and getting to page five or six of the story before I ran out of steam at the age of ten. Maybe since I fell in love with the books my parents read me, over and over and over.
On the 5th of July, Anna from Snowbooks emailed me to say they liked my submissions. In 28 weeks, my debut novel will be in the shops. So what is it like to be getting what I’ve always wanted? What will it be like to be a proper (!) published author? Why has it happened now? How do I give my books the best chance of being read? How will it feel to relinquish control and let them out into the world? How will I feel about the good/bad reviews/sales?
I’m going to be pondering these questions and more over the next 28 weeks. I subscribe to the view that the journey is more important than the destination, and here I am on the journey. I’m looking forward to going into a bookshop and picking my book up from the shelf, OH yes. But that will be then, and I’m not there yet. What about now?
If you’d like to get these ‘…until I get what I’ve always wanted’ posts via email, sign up to the Planting Words mailing list on the right and I’ll send them out every Monday. Either way, I hope you’ll join me along the way.
Today I received a letter from an author I much admire. It was a reply to the letter I’d sent – a fan letter – saying how much I love his books.
He had spidery, difficult-to-read handwriting. I enjoyed the struggle to decipher his sentences. I enjoyed thinking of him sitting down at his desk, taking this blank piece of paper, and magicking words from his pen. Those words travelled along country roads, into a city, whizzed through a sorting machine (two?) and passing through many hands to land in mine.
I love email. I love how all-at-once it is, and how our computers help us to manage our communications and relationships with people by giving us the structures of address books, blogs, even Facebook.
But a letter is surely something different. Like the letter I sent to my favourite author when I was little, and the signed book she sent me in return. Like the hundreds of letters I exchanged with my penfriend Charlie when we were teenagers. Like the card I received from a new friend in the US – one she’d chosen just for me and decorated in her ink.
The world has speeded up, and I sped up with it. I like washing machines, and cars. I love my blue laptop. And maybe I’m just being nostalgic. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned. But I wish I wrote more letters, sending them out into the world like birds. Landing on doormats, ready to burst into song.
I’ve just come back from a week in Scotland, and I gobbled a couple of books – Dharma Punx (not brilliantly written but a great story) and Caroline Smailes’ book, In Search of Adam.
I met Caroline when she agreed to host me on my blog tour, and I’ve got to know her since then through a mixture of swapping emails and reading the goings-on on her blog. I formed a picture of her in my mind, as we all do when we meet new people.
Her book was quite a surprise. She did tell me it was dark, and a bit different to the style of her blog. It really is! It’s a great book, well written and believable. Unflinching. Inventive. Real. And not the kind of book I imagined the ‘Caroline-I-thought-I-knew’ (what do I know? What do any of us know about each other?) would write.
It reminded me a little of my novel, Thaw. It was too dark for a few of the people who read it, including my mum They found it difficult to match the darkness in the book to what they knew of me. Maybe it disturbed them a little.
Does it help us writer folks to have ‘public personas’, like the one Caroline has, and like the one I’m creating in your mind right now? What if I’m giving you a false impression of what my novels are like? What if I say something that pisses you off, and that puts you off investigating my work?
I’m not sure. But if I hadn’t read Caroline’s blog, then I doubt I would have read her novel. Or Karen’s. And all the ones I’m yet to read. So for now, I’m going to keep on posting.