However, don't stop.
Death doesn't always become you[r story]

Not Me Me Me at all

It's been a bit quiet here lately, for which I apologise. I tried to get Jerusha Cowless to stand in for me, first while I was going full-steam-ahead with re-building the first 100,000 words of the novel, and teaching an OU tutorial and a six-week Writers Workshop online course in Self-Editing Your Novel. And I tried to get in touch with Jerusha again just before I headed off to France to research the novel (6 days, 2 planes, 1 dead & 1 live (hire) cars, 10 novel-settings, 270 photos, 1100km, ∞ bad French/good food/great ideas...). Eventually I got a message carved on a coconut shell saying that Jerusha's been slightly wounded while in hand-to-hand combat with a wombat she was trying to interview for her next job ghosting Dr Seuss books.

But now I'm back, and just as I was psyching myself up to tackle the Open University marking which descended while I was being sunburnt and then snowed on in the Pyrenees, I heard a friend, whose book is being published by a very small press, saying how hard she's finding it to do the promotion which is basically up to her. She finds it excruciating to stand up (or write/phone/email/blog/Tweet) and talk about herself and her work. 'Twas ever thus, to some degree, but although I don't think the barbarians are at the literary gates in the least, it's undeniably true that because publicity budgets are contracting, and the possibilities for promoting your own work are expanding, authors feel they must do it themselves more than ever. And lots of them find it extremely daunting.

This isn't quite the same problem as Jenn Ashworth's, which I answered when Jerusha was out of contact this time last year. But it is still about the stress of a very private activity - writing - which tends to be done by private people, having to go/be public, and here, you are the person claiming public attention for yourself. Maybe it taps into your fears of scorn or bullying from family or peers for anyone who does something different and claims attention for it. Maybe it just feels too like stripping yourself naked, without the buffer of time and space on the page clothing your private self. Either way, it's very hard to do. Talking to Jenn, I mentioned the possibility of finding a kind of performing persona, who is a slightly different person from your writing self. But today I found myself suggesting that it might help to think of the book as a child, or some other separate being who you want to help achieve their potential.

Plenty of parents and mentors who have no show-off or performing instincts in themselves can be doughty and determined about going public on behalf of their protégés. With many, I suspect, it's because the Don't-Show-Off wiring that society fits us with (in Britain, at least) is bypassed: you're making noise on behalf of someone/something else, after all, which is much more socially respectable. With others it's perhaps the mother bear instinct that overcomes a quiet and introverted nature or the terror of being judged a failure. (And, after all, a public failure is a kind of little death). A bear doesn't think she's being self-centred - no one accuses her of being all me-me-me in being the first to try the slightly dubious river or the unknown fruit, or to charge out of the cave to go for the wolf's throat... nor for deciding that on this occasion discretion is the better part of valour, and withdrawing.

The thing is, a book doesn't quite come alive until people read it. You know that; so can you know that it needs your help to come alive in that way? Imagine your lovely nephew. He's pale and clever and quiet, and overshadowed by his bouncy sister who doesn't know what shyness is... until he's on a stage with a character to play, when that character fills him and he comes twice as alive as she ever will be, because he's lit from inside. But he could no more march up to the local Great Actor and ask for help, advice or even a recommendation, than he could fly; he genuinely, as himself, has no capacity to do that. If he's young and awkward enough - and Local GA is hungover enough - it might go horribly wrong and close off that avenue forever. But you know local Great Actor quite well, and a couple of directors too. Might they be, or might they not be, willing to audition your nephew? Your job is to explain why he could be just what they'd like, and just what they're looking for, even if (you imply but don't say) they don't know it yet. You're doing it for your book, not for yourself.

Comments