Whenever I read or watch an interview of an established writer, I can’t help but feel a stab of envy and despair in the pit of my stomach.
There they stand, on the other side of the golden bridge I wish to cross, and they seem so powerful, disciplined, talented and capable, buoyed up a bevy of family and friends. Appreciated. Liked. Secure in their nest. Sure, I’m young and only just getting started out; and perhaps, one day, I will somehow form my own strange support group of writers, most likely online, all as equally strange and awkward as I am, who will cheer on the sidelines as I grind towards the finish line of a novel—but for now, I’m all alone, and full of self-doubt.
One of the things I do, to assuage this doubt, is to also read advice from established writers. Inevitably, this leads to further despair. For one, their minds and the way they write and the kind of stories they write seem entirely different from my own. They also always seem exceedingly talented, good at painting, drawing, funneling their muse into other artistic pursuits–and I can’t draw to save my life. What’s more, there’s a sense you need to be a certain way, spit out drafts or outline meticulously, plow forwards until the deadline, be inspired by certain things. And I can’t help but find it terribly alienating, somehow, in a way that I almost can’t explain.
What I have found to help soothe this feeling is to realise that what “catches fire” in one writer’s mind will not in another. Every writer, just like every person, is different. So just because one book about devils and angels, which I find to be a well-worn trope and wouldn’t dream of touching with a beanpole, seems to ensnare the imaginations of so many writers, as well as hundreds and thousands of readers, doesn’t mean that I must explore devils or angels, in my writing. It doesn’t mean that I have to include steampunk, love triangles, grand destinies and fates, and all the things in contemporary literature I find irritating and lifeless, either because they do not reflect reality, do not light up my imagination, or have been done so many times it’s a wonder readers are not a little tired of it.
But these books are popular, sometimes very popular indeed. These books seem to be the ones the general public likes. It makes me wonder if the stuff I am writing is too otherworldly and strange, too “weird”. If I had to describe my work, it would be the equivalent of young adult fiction characters tossed into a pot of Miyazaki mixed with horror and dark fantasy. I wonder if I am wasting my time, puttering away at work no-one will ever want to read, let alone like.
And then, as always, as with everything that bothers me endlessly, I realise it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I write these books, essentially strange fiction and fantasy geared towards teenagers, who are, as a demographic, not known for their appreciation for the weird and odd, and some people don’t like them. Maybe even lots. I think that, as long as I write what I love, and write for myself, first and foremost, the best books I can, then when I send my Art out into the world, the readers will come.
Also, I don’t particularly need to feel as though I don’t measure up as a fiction writer. So many fiction writers out there are very socially adept, good at interviews, with large fanbases whom they meet at conventions like Comic-Con, are married and have children, and go out with friends on the weekend, live healthy lives. I, on the other hand, being naturally socially awkward and only happy when I am alone, don’t see myself doing any of those things in the future. Not even the ones useful for furthering your career, like literary conferences, though interviews would be bearable. I’m a loner, through and through—and I like being one. I’m solitary, introverted, reclusive, sensitive, nocturnal, all traits unsuited towards the public life many writers have these days. Well, unsuited to modern life, really. I feel no need to interact with people; I am perfectly happy just observing them. Based on what is socially acceptable in society, I’m not a fully-functioning human being, and in the future, if all goes well, I see myself living in a small house filled my cats and books, and writing, from morning until night, rarely venturing outside except to walk by myself in the nearby woods–I love trees, the silent hush of nature; living in the city, as I do now, throttles my soul—or tend to the garden in the shade.
Sure, perhaps, if am very lucky, I will meet someone who is “weird” and understands me and is as inclined towards isolation as I am, and we will fall in love and have children and have our own strange little family in our lonely little house in the middle of the nowhere. It’s not an impossibility. But it’s unlikely. And even if that never happened, if I died, unloved, childless, friendless, with only my siblings to mourn my passing, and perhaps my mother, my life would still have been a happy one; for my first and only true love is imagining worlds and characters, and to spend a life dreaming and imagining and preserving those dreams on paper, to me, is a life well-lived.
If there’s anything you get from this rambling post, it’s that it’s fine just to be who you are, and do things that feel right to you. It’s fine to feel inadequate compared to other people, and it’s fine to be scared. You should always, however, have faith in who you are, and in your dreams, and how you will get from where you are to where you want to be. You are the only one in charge of your happiness, steering yourself at the helm of your own boat across the choppy seas of life. If you drown, no-one cares. If, one day, the boat’s hull scrapes against sand, hailing the discovery of an island, which you then live on for the rest of your days in golden bliss and joy, no-one cares, either.
In life, you’ve got to be your own advocate. You’ve got to trust yourself, and your own intuition, without letting the way others treat you or think of you determine how you think or treat yourself. For many years, I didn’t learn that lesson, and spent many a bitter night sobbing into my pillow because of what someone said to me, did to me, acted towards me, when all I wanted was to be liked and accepted. Listen: in life, if you are different, you will suffer for it. Outwardly, despite my depth of feeling, being deeply introverted, I can come across as cold and aloof. And sometimes, the strangest things pop out of my mouth, and I get excited by the strangest things, too. And people will hate you for it. Oh, boy, do they. They will hate you because they don’t like the way you act, it goes against what they’re used to encountering in people—you’re too strange and too quiet—and deep down, the more acute can’t help but feel that you seem to see and feel things they don’t, which irritates them to no end. And unless you trust yourself, and love yourself, and stand up for yourself, the world will eat you alive, spit out the bones and lick its lips. Wolves walk away from chewed carcasses without the slightest twinge of guilt, my dear, sweet, sensitive child, and that is a good lesson to learn.
So trust. Be your best friend, and hope when there is no hope, and lift up a hand to the world and say, “No, I’m not going to listen to you, thank you very much, you’re quite full of shit, and I will be my own advocate and trust myself,” then get back to work making your dreams come true, come rain or shine, misery or happiness, loneliness or company; and that way, in the end, you will die happy, knowing you did what you had to do, and that is all that matters.