The terror of writing; confessions of a coward in Sevilla

Writing produces in me this fear so profound, that I become the Master Procrastinator, and end up hating myself.

Is this normal? Here I am in Sevilla, southern Spain, the ‘frying pan’ of Europe, or so it is called. It’s August 2018, and I am free, free of responsibilities. I am an empty-nester, adult children flown the nest. I can now roam the world and live as I please.

I have a little bit of saved money in my pocket, enough to rent a gorgeous attic hotel room with a private courtyard garden, enough to buy my beloved cafe con hielo (iced coffee), and eat tortillas and jamon, enough to feel calm and happy, but here I am, in the midst of an existential crisis. About writing!

I have a beautiful story idea, one I am in love with. I have made notes and have started to build the foundation of the story, the structure on which the poetic elements will be woven, but I am terrified and this terror is like a silk handkerchief tied tight around my mouth. It goes something like this:

I am going to die, and death is coming and I need to tell this story because nothing else matters, and I don’t want to vanish and not have told this story. This story is in my mind and no one cares about it at the moment. It’s a story that resonates only with me because it’s in my mind.

Life is beautiful and life is tragic and life is all we have and nothing much matters except the emotional desire to be free and pure and live experiences as they arise.

The internal crisis continues: I have written novels before but can I write others. Why should I bother on this path, when it’s a path littered with disappointment and invisibility? Can I write? Do I have the energy to write? Should I open a shop and be a grocer, after all people will always need to eat but they don’t seem to want to read books anymore.

Can I compete in this world? Do I want to compete in this world? I am getting older. Is it too late for me? I am invisible so perhaps it doesn’t matter. Maybe all that matters is the universe and nature. Does this mean I am becoming religious? I don’t want to become religious because religion scares me. Everything scares me. There is a fork in the road and one says ‘die’, the other part of the fork says ‘live’. Which do I choose?

Humans are complicated and we are our own worst enemies. Just write, my annoying inner voice says. I will try. 1000 words today. Amen.

edf
My private writing space, Sevilla, Spain, August 2018
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Rebel Yell, a word to my younger self

I’ve always been ‘weird’; that’s what my parents and siblings called me growing up. My father told my mother I would ‘calm down’, that the love of good man would quieten me and calm me and make me OK (meaning more feminine), but none of that has happened. 

If anything I have gotten more rebellious as I have gotten older. I have always loved rebellious people, those who jump outside society’s ‘normality’ boxes, those hard lines that define our lives every minute of every day. 

I meet rebels (whether they be quiet grandfathers, old ladies at bus-stops, secret rebels who clothe themselves in the conventional outfit of ‘normal’ life) and they become instant and life-long friends. 

To my younger self I say, life is a bloody roller-coaster but the rebel is still in you, and you’ve gotta live that type of rebel life until the end. 

That rebel life is saying: no, I am not going to accept this or that, I am not going to stop challenging this or that, I am not going to stop being curious and young at heart and determined to make a difference. 

My nine-year-old self wanted to run away and be a gypsy. Decades on, I still want to run away and be a gypsy, and a laptop and social media is my megaphone to the world, so I’ve gotta get this social media thing down, and quit the overwhelm of it all. 

xx

What authors really want – to sell their books and make money from them!

If you’ve devoted your life to writing stories, novels that provide the pure escapism we all need to function in this increasingly chaotic world, then you’re a very, very special person.
    But you’re also a person who’s vulnerable and easy prey; this makes you extra special in so many ways. Your vulnerability allows you to write the stories that need to be told, communicate your vision of the world with readers and share some serious soul healing.
    This gives you an extra layer of ‘special’.
    Now, take this concept one step further, and peel away all the bravado that’s needed for survival on a day-to-day basis and you’ll find another purer story.
    The bravado consists of self-talk that goes something like this;
    “It’s okay, I’ll self-publish my novels, I really, really, really want to do this, I want to design the covers, do the editing, step on the 24/7 marketing merry-go-round and walk tall with the knowledge that I am ‘out there’.
    It doesn’t matter that my self-published novels will rarely (if ever) make it to bookshops, will not be eligible for literary awards, will not be taken seriously, will not be reviewed in the mainstream print or online media, will not be seen or touted by the industry ‘bigwigs’, and will not offer any sort of financial security on any level; that the offering of my closely guarded content for free seems to be the regular way to go; that before anyone will buy my novels I will have to get many, many excellent reviews, and for that, I have to give away my novel for free and wait many, many months; that there are a few authors who sell hundreds and hundreds of thousands of their novels and why can’t I be one of them. I could if I tried hard enough, I have to try hard enough. Yes, that all it takes. More effort, more determination.”
    Now let’s get real and start peeling back the bullshit. Self-publishing is hard graft. Uploading your carefully edited opus to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is touted as easy as sneezing. And it is – all kudos to Amazon and KDP.
    It’s the stuff that comes after that, that is crazy-making. Just like in life, some people have endless time on their hands and a nice lump sum of money to keep themselves in food and rent, and no responsibilities to others, so they can plough themselves in to becoming the robot you need to be to be a self-published author.
    Others think differently (and get abused for it) preferring the traditional publishing route which makes them no more money (often less) but gives other little gifts in return; a bit of time to think and write, a bit of time to be human, the kudos of being with one of the Big 5 publishers and let’s face it, which author wouldn’t want to be published by one of the Big 5.
    It’s our dream, or at least it was, wasn’t it? It doesn’t matter that the media tears down the Big 5 and Amazon Publishing on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter that authors know their royalty rates are total rubbish, and advances are almost a thing of the past, that anecdotes comes in that the Big 5 do zero promotion of novels, that it’s all up to you (us) the authors.
    But still……put one thousand authors in a room and I’d bet 90 per cent of them would want at least one of their novels to be published by one of the Big 5, regardless of any crappy contract or lack of promotion. It gives kudos and reputation and in building a non-monetary career based on giving away free content and being paid a pittance if royalties do come your way, I’d bet that a massive majority would plump for a traditional publishing contract from one of the Big 5. I keep saying the Big 5, because I do not consider Amazon Publishing one of the Big 5. It’s not, and I don’t see it ever becoming one. Amazon is good at many things but…….you see where I’m going with this.
    Self-publishing success stories rant and rave about how the traditional publishing industry is dying, uses authors and spits them out mercilessly. These ‘success stories’ are judging things on their own success (and I suppose that’s natural) but I have to ask: why do these self-published success stories jump on the first traditional publishing deal that is offered to them. It smacks of hypocrisy.
    Here’s the thing: Joe Blogs, who used to run an internet marketing company until recently, decided to become an author last year, and has sold 150,000 copies of his novel ‘Bullshit Bullshit’ and X Publishing Company comes running and offers him a contract. Joe Blogs says in the media splat that he felt honoured to have been approached by X Publishing Company and has signed a contract with them. Why? If he’s that good at self-publishing why go with a mainstream publishing company?
    As always, I smell a rotting rat.
    And as the stench subsides, I get to thinking, who am I? What do I want to be in this publishing game? This existential fog consumes me. The stakes are the same, in my view. It’s all about which one takes up less of my near-no energy.
    The bottom line is our art, our content, our carefully drawn stories that belong to us alone are needed by publishers for their own business survival. No content, no them, but likewise if we’re too exhausted and brain-screwed to write, they’ll be no content for anyone, ever, ever again.
    I’m at a crossroads in my writing life (as you probably guessed). No route to publishing is easy and the liars that say otherwise are just that; liars, but I know one thing: when I started out in this game two decades ago, I had a romantic vision of a traditional publisher wanting my novels, publishing them, organising for them to be stocked in lots of bookshops, entering me into literary awards (which I would win), and the whole process repeats itself until death do us part.
    This dream speaks to the real me, the one that hates bullshit, that hates pretence, the one that knows I am not an expert in every last little thing (only an expert in one or two things), and that’s the way it has to be.
    Am I unlike other writers? I don’t think so. If you ask a novelist what they’d prefer I think most would say they’d prefer to get a traditional publishing deal with one of the Big 5 – for kudos, not for money, but for the reputation it brings. There are so many liars in the fields of indie and traditional Publishing.
    I’m advocating being completely true to your creative self and listening to your own voice every single time.
    Do a bleach zap of all the publishing bullshit and you’ll find your answer. Email me jochumasauthor@gmail.com if you want to set me straight on anything, if you want to chat or tell me your own experiences.
    Much love, Jo xx