I like to worry. It’s one of my hobbies. I might as well list it on my CV, because it’s something I spend a lot of time doing. (Actually, this is horrible advice. Don’t add things to your resume just because you wind up doing them a lot. No one wants to see ‘sleeping’ in someone’s hobbies list, even if it is true, least of all anyone who has small children). Anyway, back to my worrying. I blame my over-active imagination. If I don’t have something genuine to fret about, I make something up. It’s wonderfully neurotic, in an almost Woody Allen way. It’s charming. Believe me, I’m charming.
What am I worrying about at the moment? Being published.
I know, right? I hit the holy grail and I’m still whingeing? Is this woman serious?
If it’s any consolation at all, I’ve been through all that “Will I ever be a published author?” stuff. I went through it for years. Until, that is, that I became a published author. It didn’t stop my worry, my constant questioning, my incessant wringing of hands and thinking about why I was spending a lot of time alone with my laptop. If anything, it augmented it. Now I had to worry about the next story – was it as good as the last? Do you think as many people read it? Was it as good as the other story on the website? What about that one on page 23? I wanted, you see, to be one of those writers who gets better, rather than worse. I wanted to belong in the world which had suddenly accepted me.
Then I got a publisher for my novel and I had to think about marketing and giving interviews (which, luckily, are not as bad as they sound). Then my debut, Ashes, was published in November 2017. Hurrah! Party!
Yes. And no.
One of the top 25 stressful life events, according to 1960s psychologists Holmes and Rahe is “outstanding personal achievement”. How can that be? If you are anything like me, you are all set up to achieve. Fame and riches can come walking in at any moment and be welcome, thank you very much, especially if they bring diamonds and champagne with them. Surely, we all dream big and then work away at it, trying to make that dream come true, don’t we? And then, when it does, well, that feeling must be magnificent.
Yes. And no.
How can personal achievements be stressful? You might well ask. Let me tell you: with the realisation of a dream, comes a whole lot of problems that you might never have given headroom to before. People look at you differently. People expect more. Perhaps you even expect more of yourself.
People are buying my book. The newest (but gestationally-speaking slowest) of my babies is standing on her own two feet in the Amazon world.
Obviously, I am thrilled.
Call me crazy, but I had never, not once, looked this far ahead in the publishing process. From conception, and the way that morphed from an original idea into a more elaborate idea with fully-formed characters, through the process of writing and the changes to the plot therein, to feedback from readers and more rewrites than I can even keep count of, I didn’t really think about strangers reading my book. Of course, I hoped people would read it. That was the reason I was writing it. Well, sort of.
I saw being published as an end goal. However, that isn’t really what it was. It was a doorway. It was a doorway I was so desperate to get through, I had never thought what might be on the other side. And now I’m here, I realise there is another room beyond the doorway. I’m in that room and I’m looking around and I’m worried.
I was really writing for myself. I can see that now. I was writing something I wanted to express and I was doing it for me. This is slightly embarrassing to admit. I think, as a writer, you are supposed to keep your audience in mind and entertain them. I was really just entertaining myself. I was my audience and now my audience has expanded to include anyone with a credit card.
The real crux of the problem is that I have lost control. Ashes was mine. It was my idea, developed in my head, written – some parts, at least, by my hand (in some interesting places around the world). To quote my two year old nephew, “Mine. Mine. Mine.” Ashes was mine, until it wasn’t. Until it became public property. People can have conversations about Ashes which I will never know about and will never be party to. It is out of my hands; it is living its own life. And that is stressful.
Not knowing the judgement of strangers is worrying. But, and stick with me here, because this is some A-grade Niles-from-Frasier stuff, knowing the judgement of strangers is worrying.
Sometimes I might know what these strangers who are buying my book are thinking. Someone might leave a review. It’s happened before, so it could happen again. Up until now the reviews have been good. ‘Up until now…’ is the title of my latest worry.
Sarah Mitchell-Jackson is a British writer of short and long fiction. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her debut novel, Ashes, is available to buy on Amazon, published by Lorelei Press. Read more of her adorable musings at www.smitchjack.wordpress.com
In the dead of night, in the height of summer, a house burns. There, covered in ash, unharmed, except for her loss of memory, a child is found. Eva, when no one claims her, is taken into care. Dan, the firefighter who found Eva, mourns the loss of his own daughter and faces a future estranged from his wife. Carrie-Anne, near the burnt out house, lives a half life sleeping through the day and drinking away the night. Ashes brings these three stories together in a beautiful and moving novel about finding hope even in the darkest place