Thickening My Skin
You may have noticed a large gap since I last wrote a blog. I certainly have. I’m currently working my way (very slowly, baby/job/rest of life permitting) through The Artist’s Way. It’s a wonderful book that is forcing me to stop and look at when I really stopped writing, stopped believing I could do it.
For me, creative things have always been a hobby. A nice little thing you do on the side to make your day a bit brighter but certainly not something that should substitute ‘real’ work. There is a huge creative streak in my family – I watched my mother, aunt, cousins, all produce work of stunning quality in paint, wood, material and even snow, but it was only ever done under the banner of frivolity.
I suspect this might have something to do with our incomes. There’s a reason that a high percentage of people in the creative industries went to private school. Film, theatre, art, writing – these are all areas where it’s necessary to do some extended unpaid work in order to work on your craft, ‘get good’ until someone decides they want to pay you for it. Rather a tricky prospect when you have no savings, property or rich relatives to tide you over until you’ve found your voice. Funny how rare it is to hear of the famous writer that used to be a waitress. Or tragic. All the potential beauty and insight that hasn’t been experienced by the world thanks to the pressure of bills and the imbalance of wealth.
Even now, as someone whose professional salary affords me a decent lifestyle, taking time over creative things still seems like a waste, something to be kept to my free time, a little hobby that I can enjoy after all my other tasks as a teacher and mother are done.
One of the things I was assured of when I started to write was that I would need a thick skin. A well-meaning family friend smiled at me and said maybe the problem was that I was just too soft for such a hard industry. At the time, I think I agreed with him, even though it grated against my view of myself.
The thing is, I can trace my lapses in writing back to rejection. Just last summer an agent backed out after a lovely meeting where I was sure that I was on my way to securing, finally, some sort of success. Back when I decided to increase my hours at work, I was at the end of a slew of rejections from my long-laboured-over first novel. How silly, I thought, to cling onto the idea that writing could be a source of income.
What I hadn’t factored into the equation was how much I felt I deserved it. How included I felt, how welcoming it was to enter particular rooms and claim the name ‘writer’ for my own. I was part of a network of various creative types which had regular meetings. Every time I would leave feeling horribly uncomfortable, my attempts at networking a few comments along the lines of ‘I’m trying to be a writer.’ I didn’t feel I deserved a place among them.
It’s not as if I haven’t been through difficult times. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself to be a weak person who withers under pressure. Perhaps, rather than my skin thickening, it’s my sense of belonging that I need to work on.
Each week, The Artist’s Way asks you to undertake little ‘tasks’ to help you think about your creative self and her development. Rather than find my stilted output linked to rejection, I realised that the thing it was triggering was how I saw myself – my fully ingrained belief that I wasn’t a writer, had no place in that particular room and had nothing of interest to offer.
Every day I see the power of role models. Pupils who look at the world around them and see no-one like themselves, or see only limited options for the kind of person they could become. Any artistic endeavour, as in so many walks of life, is so crammed full of privileged people of a particular colour it’s incredibly hard to place yourself next to them and assert your right to be there too.
I don’t need to toughen up. My working class background and struggles over the years have more than provided me with that. What I need is to feel I belong. Submit my work with the confidence that I have a voice that should be heard. As DFW said on The Guilty Feminist, people will believe whatever story you tell them. From now on, my goal is to tell the story that I am a successful writer-in-waiting, only no-one else has realised it yet. I hope you can do the same with whatever rooms you feel are denied to you.