Monday, 13 September 2010

INSECURITY: I HAZ IT

And just in case the blog title didn't clue you in to what I'm talking about today, here's a lolarious poster.


Okay, so on Friday I was reading the Road Trip posts on YA Highway when I came across this section:

Hannah Moskowitz wrote a thought-provoking post: "Has the internet community changed YA?" Amy Lukavits responded directly with some arguments for both sides. Natalie Whipple and Ally Carter posted on similar topics, both saying you can worry about the online YA community all you want, but in the end, it's the book that matters.
And I realised that this is exactly the stuff that turns me into the B*tSh*t Crazy Lady. Exactly. This. Stuff.

When I submitted The Swan Kingdom to Walker Books they didn't really know what to do with it. But they liked it, and I had all these convincing arguments about how the popularity of Harry Potter, Meg Cabot and Dr Who was paving the way for fantasy aimed at girls and where my book fitted into the market. I talked to them passionately and at length and I think my knowledge of and love for writing really came through because, after some re-writes, they decided to publish it. And somehow...somehow...it did not sink without trace.

I remember promising myself that if I just managed to sell 5,000 copies, I would never ask for anything again, and I can safely say that it surpassed that number long ago. I mean, don't run away with the idea that The Swan Kingdom was a bestseller. Or even a big seller. It wasn't. It sold unexpectedly well, got some good reviews, and my publisher was happy about it. So was I.

Then Daughter of the Flames came out. We sold that to Walker before The Swan Kingdom was even in copy-edits, so it was the same story. And it did okay. Not as well as The Swan Kingdom, but all right. It was a modest success. Again, the publisher was happy with it. So was I.

And then came The Dark Ages. We shall not speak of them in depth. Suffice it to say that during this period of about eighteen months, many not-nice things happened in my life. My house was flooded. My editor turned down my third book. Family members became ill. *I* became ill. And while I kept writing through this, it was to very little effect. I didn't finish anything, and every time that I nearly did, my agent or my publisher didn't like it.

During this period I discovered Teh Interwebz. I don't mean this was the first time I ever surfed the net - I mean it's the first time I was ever captivated by it. And what captivated me was not internet shopping or YouTube, but the corner of the net devoted to YA writing. It was like a whole other world for me, a world where YA writers weren't working all alone in their tiny boxroom in their damp, building-site houses, with a permanent cough (I was later diagnosed as asthmatic) and going days without speaking to anyone but their dog or people who had phoned their work to shout and verbally abuse them. A world where YA writers were slap in the middle of a community that seemed full of kindred spirits and dear friends. I watched their vlogs, I read their reviews on Goodreads, I laughed at their funny blog stories about the time they all rented a castle and got chased by a cow. I told myself that I found their success inspiring and that they helped me to keep positive and keep working.

But that wasn't the whole story.

I didn't want to feel envious of this group of people, but the simple fact was that they all had things I wanted desperately for myself. Not just their success, but their LIVES. So different from mine. So full and rich and FUN. Book tours and writing retreats, twitters, mutual book blurbs, blogs where a dozen people answered each tiny post as if it really mattered. I looked at my life and found it sadly wanting in comparison. I was working a full-time office job where I was miserable and squeezing writing into every other gap there was. I didn't know a single other YA writer well enough to call them a friend and what was more I had no way to change that.

I couldn't go to the conventions where these guys all met and hung out, or share tour dates with them. I live in the UK. They live in the US. Besides, their circle was already formed - they knew each other through writing fanfic or being critique partners or because they shared agents. They didn't know me from Adam. The occasional 'LOL' reply to my comment on one of their blogs didn't mean that they knew me or cared about me.

I began to feel like my entire writing career was, basically, pointless. I began looking at The Swan Kingdom and Daughter of the Flames and thinking 'Why did I even bother? No one likes them. No one's ever heard of me. I wrote high fantasy when I should have written urban fantasy/paranormal romance and I didn't promote enough or connect with the right people and I flushed my chance down the toilet. My life is exactly the same now as it would have been if both those books had never been written. I'm the scum at the bottom of the writing barrel. I ought to just. Give. Up'.

See? B*tsh*t Crazy Lady.

Because...what the HELL? Since when does who I know, or whether or not famous-name-writer follows my blog, or if I got to go to BigDealBookExpo have anything to do with the value of my work? Thankfully, at the point where I really felt the lowest, the lightbulb went on. I realised I had gotten totally caught up in this imaginary fantasy world I wanted to be part of and forgotten the important thing - the most important thing in the world - which is:

I'm a writer.

That's what I am, what I've always been, and what I will be until I die. I love stories. I love books. I love crafting imaginary worlds and living within them, I love bringing characters to life and laughing and crying with them. I love words. I love the spaces between words. I love commas and semicolons and fullstops and even the occasional exclamation mark. Exposition, description, dialogue, action; I adore them. And NOTHING and NO ONE can ever take that love, that passion, away from me...except me.

I think the reason this snuck up on me so easily was that I never WANTED to 'fit in' before. I was determinedly, stubbornly, proudly the odd one out at school. Even when I was picked on and bullied at every turn, I continued to be me, refusing to wear the fashionable clothes, talk the 'in' talk or act like one of the popular kids in any way. I carried on reading books in public, putting my hand up in class and getting A's no matter what anyone did to me. That aloneness, that knowledge of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to act got me through a lot of hard times, but it was based on the fact that those people who tried to make me miserable at school weren't worth imitating or fitting in with, and I knew it. But the authors I admire are admirable and worthy of my respect, and it turns out that I'm vulnerable to that in just the same way that some kids at my school were vulnerable to wanting to be popular.

It's so silly. No doubt that group of writers all have their sorrows and troubles and periods of insecurity and depression too. Being part of them wouldn't fix that about me. And yearning to be something I wasn't and can't ever be - a bestselling American urban fantasy author who goes on fabulous adventures with other trendy American urban fantasy authors - was making me hurt myself and, more significantly, my writing. And my writing is the Number One Thing in my life that I should always protect and nuture and make time for, because so long that as I do that, I will be happy.

Guys...if any of you are freaking out right now about how you don't fit into Whatever Group, about how your whole life/your writing/your hobby is pointless or how you should do/be something else than what you are...stop it. Okay? You are so much more special and strong and wonderful than you realise, and even if no one else in the world knows that I DO.

I might never have met you. I might never meet you. But I know that you are wonderful and you don't need to change in any way that doesn't make you happy. So the next time YOU feel the B*tSh*t Crazy Lady taking you over? Remember that. Preserve and protect the special thing that makes you who you are, no matter what. And be happy.

20 comments:

Deborah said...

Zoe, what a fab blog post. In fact swap books and writing for fabric and sewing and you've just written what's in my head right now! Thank you.
Can't wait for your next book to be out I read the extract on your website and it seems like another winner.

x

Saya said...

Dear Zoe,

I love you.

I was doing the BCL thing for a long time - and I write like I breathe like I read - I always have. Yes, I haven't got very far down the road like a lot of the people I admire, because I decided to do different things, like go to school, like try to qualify as a chartered psychologist, like try to put my parents' needs first because they're unwell, and in the end it became a spiral.

So this post = heart. Yes, yes, and yes. You have to be authentic to who you are, and what star you follow, and what the hell, who cares about whether or not you are the Queen of Wands or whatever - you are you. And when that isn't enough, that's when we have to look for someone to hit us.

All that said...when you then find somewhere where you fit in - with people who fit in with you and you fit in with them, and you can grow and change with them, and they help you change and grow, that's something else. I'm not even talking about friends - there are many brands of madness very few of my friends can understand. I'm talking about Kindred Spirits in the most kindrediest way ever. My Rock Pool girls are amazing (come and hang out with us more! When you have time. If.), as I keep finding out in new and surprising ways all the time.

Also, paranormal romance is overrated, and some of it is, frankly, crap, and will be forgotten in five years. A good book is a good book, regardless of the genre it claims.

Peace, crazy lady. Peace.

natshannon said...

I love your blog today, it's awful the way so many things in life don't work out the way we want them to esp the things there isn't anything we can do about :(. I'm really glas you haven't given up on writing 'cause I think your brilliant and I can't believe Daughter of the flames or The Swan Kingdom didn't become bestsellers because they are 2 of my favourites! :) I love that picture of the dog it's so cute.

Alex Mullarky said...

What a lovely post. The title really doesn't reflect the depth of the content lol!

Just so you know, if I'm ever published, you'll have at least one other English YA author on the web :)

meghaz said...

This is plain amazing. Really.
I've given up on writing these days; all I do is crit o read other work. I've forgotten that I'm a writer too.
Thanks for reminding me.

Zoë Marriott said...

Wow, guys, what a great response. It really shows that if you dare to tell the truth and be vulnerable, people will see that and be touched by it. You - the talented, caring, intelligent, passionate ladies that you are - are just the ones I wanted to read this post. And just the ones I want reading my books. And EXACTLY the ones I write writing the books of the future. You rock, peeps! Stay awesome:)

Zoë Marriott said...

By which I meant: exactly the ones I WANT writing the books of the future. Gnarh.

Bekah said...

Zoe,

1. you rock.
2. on days like that, I repeat this little gal's mantra to myself - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3rK0kZFkg
3. thanks for vocalizing for independent artists of all sorts. =)

-AJ from Abe

Zoë Marriott said...

I can see that little girl's point: her hair IS fabulous. Thank you for sharing!

The way being a passionate artistic person can both simultaneously be the most amazing and the most sucky thing in the world is a constant source of amazement to me. Maybe that's why they call us all craazy.

Jayme V. said...

Zoe,

Thank you. I always love reading you blog because it seems more real than other blogs (not like you are trying to entertain us but rather that you are just putting your thoughts out there). I also must say that you make me want to write and look forward to writing and thinking about my stories even if no one else ever reads them. I love the two books you've released so far and I can not wait till your new ones come out.
Much Love <3

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Jayme - that's a really nice thing to say. I wish I could pretend that I'm deliberately doing something right here, but I really AM just throwing my thoughts out there and hoping that someone finds it interesting. To hear that I somehow manage to offer inspiration too (like the free toy in a Happy Meal) is enough to make me want to carry on blogging, no matter what.

bfree15 said...

Hey Zoe,

I just wanted to say that post was amazing, it moved me to tears by the time I got to the end. It made me feel better about myself and reminded me that no matter what life throws at you it's important to stay true to yourself.

Your books are a amoung the first books I read that made me fall in love with fantasy and since then I have never looked back. I read your books at a time in my life when I needed a world to escape to and rarely have I read a book that gave me the same feelings as your's did. I like a book to pull you into it's pages and drag you along on the adventure with it sending you on a rollarcoaster ride of emotions that when you get to the end it leaves you begging for more of the same. That is what I get from your books everytime I read them and more.

If you had caved into the BCL and not got your books out there I would probably never have found fantasy and the only fantasy world I would have would be the one inside my head and sometimes it's best not to go there.

Keep living, loving, laughing, writing, creating and whatever else that makes you happy.

We love you Zoe, thank you.
(you must never go anywhere I rely to much on your books and blog)

Zoë Marriott said...

bfree - when I set out to write, it was in the hope that someone, somewhere, would one day feel the way about my books that I felt about Robin McKinley or Tamora Pierce's books. Your comment moved *me* to tears, because it means I succeeded. Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere!

Deva Fagan said...

Hello! I came over here originally to comment on how lovely the cover for your new book after seeing Steph Su tweet about it. I'm sad we'll have to wait for a US version - it sounds great! Though since I've somehow missed your other books I will happily seek them out in the meantime.

Anyways, I saw this post and read it nodding all the way through. So much of what you say here is so familiar (despite the fact that I am in the US). I particularly appreciated this bit: "And NOTHING and NO ONE can ever take that love, that passion, away from me...except me." I think I need to print that whole paragraph out and stick it on my writing desk!

So thank you!

Zoë Marriott said...

Hi Deva! Thanks for commenting. I wish SHADOWS was coming out a bit sooner too, but they've already moved up the pub. date in the UK and the US by about six months so I probably can't complain. By the way, I have 'Fortune's Folly' on my wishlist - I love the blue and gold and stars!

I'm kind of stunned at the response I've had to this massive freak-out post I did where I got all emotional and basically wept on my keyboard. I'm really glad if any of it turns out to be useful to people:)

Rosie Lane said...

I'm a really late commenter I know, but I just found your blog.

You summed up everything I have been feeling in this post. I lurk on twitter and blogs and wish I knew how to lead a fabulous writerly life with lots of writerly friends and make lots of contacts, but truly I don't have a clue.

You're right. It's silly. Just be who you are.

Excellent post, thank you.

Zoë Marriott said...

Late is still better than never, Rosie! Thanks for commenting. It's so strange how even when you get what you wanted most in life (to write stories) you still always find yourself measuring your value by other things, often damaging, shallow things like how many followers you get or whatever. Cutting free of that feels so good, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so.

JChevais said...

You know... SCBWI has a hopping and amazingly supportive British Isles group. You may want to look into it. www.scbwi.org

And I'm in France and even though I just found your blog today, I'd still like to hang out. If you're ever in Paris...

Zoë Marriott said...

Thanks for the recommendation & the link, JChevais - I'll look into it! And if I'm ever in Paris, I'll look you up.

Taymalin said...

<3 yeah. I needed that.

I'm at the b*tsh*t crazy lady period where the writing has stopped happening. I haven't stopped thinking about it, but nothing I think of is ever good enough.

My genre is overcrowded. My ideas aren't fresh enough. I'm not good enough. Why am I bothering? It'll never go anywhere, so I should give up and try to make something of the dead end job that I hate...

It's a terrible place to be.

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