RetroFriday was inspired by my own love of delving into blog archives, where I've found many treasures. I enjoy it. But I'm aware that others probably don't have the time to work backward through posts from a year ago in order to enjoy my wit and wisdom, and so I decided to do the work for you. A couple of times a month I will dredge the murky depths of The Zoë-Trope Archive in the hopes of finding gold: a post which you probably didn't get to read the first time around, or which you may enjoy re-reading.
Today, in honour of the YA Mafia - a topic which has been alternately amusing and infuriating writers, agents and publishers all over Twitter (read about it here and here) - and by popular request, I bring you INSECURITY: I HAZ IT, a post written after dragging myself out of a nasty depression and realising that in actual fact? The world was NOT out to get me (shocking, I know).
Just in case the blog title didn't clue you in to what I'm talking about today, here's a lolarious poster I made.
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 them at their crappy office job to shout at 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 blogs. 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. Most of them lived in the US or flew there regularly. 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 whose books I love are admirable. They're worthy of my respect. They're not trying to make anyone miserable, they're just living their lives. It turns out I'm vulnerable to that (probably we're ALL vulnerable to it) in just the same way some kids at my school were vulnerable to wanting to be popular.
It's so silly. Bestselling writers? They're not superheroes in the Justice League. They're individuals, like the rest of us. They all have their sorrows and troubles and periods of insecurity and depression. Being one 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 to conventions and flies all over the world having adventures - 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 a group, about how your whole life or your writing is pointless or how you should do or 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. You don't need to be anyone but who you are, or dream any dreams but your own. 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.