Friday, 6 January 2012

The imp of creative self-sabotage

My brother kindly acting out a scene in my novel

Surprise, elation, apprehension, distress, profound inebriation, acute hangover. That was pretty much the order of internal states for me, the first time my creative writing was published. I’m over it now, but it wasn’t the smug fun I thought it would be.

The surprised feeling was sustained throughout. I was startled by the sinking feeling that engulfed me, and by the abject horror I felt when I saw my words in print and pixels. Why wasn’t I happily directing all and sundry to read my stories, now they were out there? After all, I blab away on this blog regularly and even filled up every day of November with an often hastily produced piece of creative writing, without giving it a second thought. I was excited when I got my first acceptance email. Something went wrong, not in the process of getting into print, but in my head.

The prime suspect in this mental fray is the internal success-avoider. Many creative people seem to have one of these invisible imps lurking behind their apparent desire to get their work out into the world. It’s that undermining force that makes you forget to contact people who would be interested in, and useful for, your artistic progress. It’s the curse that you believe holds sway over you, preventing you from ever completely finishing a story, sculpture or sketch, lest it then be ready for inspection by others. It’s the wheedling voice that persuades you to give up on something because it’s not good enough, even though time and editing could turn it into something powerful.

When I whinged pathetically to a friend about my misery on being published, she theorised that it was a bit like letting a child go off into the world that you have nurtured, and the pain of relinquishing control. The published story (in my case) takes on a life of its own, and with each different reader, becomes a slightly different story depending on how they interact with it. If you can’t determine any longer who sees your work, you can’t even begin to guess what your story is becoming in the hands of strangers.

It didn’t feel quite like that to me, though I have no children with whom I might blithely compare my stories. Anyhow, I have cut the apron strings thanks to the realisation that nothing much happens when your work gets out there. People (possibly) read it, have some thoughts of their own, probably forget it, and you can get on with writing something else.

This was a very round-about way to state somewhere other than in my head that on Saturday 7th January an excerpt of my unpublished novel The Tarney Scalp will be in The Times online, along with chunks of the fifteen others shortlisted for The Times/Chicken House children’s fiction competition. It’s the ultimate in letting go: I have no idea which tiny section of my novel will be out there for all to see, how it will reflect on the rest of the book, nor how it will compare to the other candidates. It’s terrifying, but I know it’s good for me. Fingers crossed it isn’t that bit about the raw chicken, or the bit about the headmaster, or the bit about the mermaids... Well, I’m trying.


  1. Sending work out is scary because it then has a life of its owen - things happens, connections are made, not always as you intended - but largely they are good.

  2. Well done Zoe! The link to The Times/Chicken House isn't working (in our house at least) which is a shame. Rosie xx

  3. Unfortunately you need a subscription to The Times Online to access it... Thanks for looking though.