August 28, 2010

Faith, hope and controlled insanity

Joss was, not unexpectedly, awesome. I could have listened to him for far longer and he said many things that will probably make it into blogs at some point but there was one thing in particular he spoke about that I loved.

When asked whether he ever dreamed that his shows would be wildly popular/have huge cult followings, he said "Yes." He then went on to say that to be a writer, you have to be slightly megalomanical. You have to have the sort of controlled insanity that lets you say, "Yes, my stuff is very cool and people will like it so I will sit down and write a one hundred thousand word novel or a TV series or a movie," because without that faith in yourself and your stories, you're never going to survive the constant rounds of rejection and criticism that putting your work out there will bring.

Which I've heard other people say variations of before and which I one hundred percent agree with. But it's a difficult thing to talk about, that sort of self-belief. I would say it's even harder for an Australian because we have a deeply ingrained cultural prejudice against people who "talk themselves up". Tall poppy syndrome is alive in well in this country. And it's probably doubly harder on top of that for women, because women are also culturally conditioned to put everyone else first and not stand up and say "yep, I can do that and do it well." Even as I type this, there's a part of my brain saying "Mel, you can't blog about believing in your work, people will think you're up yourself."

But here's the thing. I do believe in my work. I love my writing and my stories and my worlds. I write the books I want to read. But that in no way means that I think "I am the Goddess of all writing and everyone else is a hack turning out dross and every word that drips from my pen is gold." Loving my work doesn't mean there aren't other writers out there that I love and other writers out there that I adore and would give my left arm to get as good as. There are. Plenty. I don't think Joss Whedon thinks he's God (well, he does but he doesn't believe in himself, so that's okay) and the greatest writer on the planet either. I think, to be a little Whitney about it, he believes in loving what you do. I think if someone had said "did you expect great success", his answer might have been 'no, but I hoped. I wanted it. I believed I was capable of writing something really cool'.

I don't think that my first book is going to be a number one New York Times bestseller because i'm just that damn good and I'm the best thing to hit the writing world ever. I'm not. Doesn't mean I wouldn't love that to happen, that I don't let myself dream that one day I will hit lists (because, to quote Joss again, "Dream Big" is another thing I believe in), I like to hope one day I could achieve that if I work hard and keep trying to be better.

Loving your work means thinking "I have a story to tell. It's a good story. I think other people will like this story". Loving your work means "I will work hard to write this story the best way I can write now and then I'll work harder to learn more and write the next story." It means "Okay, I got a rejection, what do I need to do to get better, or fix the story because damn, I believe in this story and I am a writer and I will crack this." It means that deep down in your gut feeling that this is right for you and the pig headed stubborness to keep writing for nine years (or five or fifteen or however long it takes) before you sell a book.

It means finding it within yourself to fight through the moment when what you're writing really is terrible (or at least feels terrible) and your inner critic tells you you're a hack) and you get the horrible critique or rejection or review and get back to the important thing, the love of your story. Which is what I try to do. I have many doubting moments. Many. Many. I had almost an entire year of doubting moments not so long ago. But I slogged it out. I'm lucky in some ways, I had parents who did bring me up to think I could achieve what I wanted if I worked hard at it (not that they ever said "hey, Mel, you'd be a great writer") and I've found ways that work for me to keep me going (which are going to be different for everyone but I like goal-setting and visualisation and meditation and sometimes sheer bloody mindedness, through reading books and doing classes and listening to other writers talk about tools they use) and get me back to "I am a writer. I love this story, let's get to it." How you do that is up to you but I do think you have to find a way because writing is a hard gig and you have to be your own best cheer squad.

Also, because Joss said so and because he was right.


Barbara O'Neal said...

What an inspiring and thoughtful post! You're right that you have to believe, because it's such a huge undertaking to write a book.

What a thrill that you were able to hear someone who inspires you so much. That's how I felt when i heard Ray Bradbury.

Mel said...

Thanks Barbara! It's always great to hear someone you admire and have them live up to your expectations : )

Robyn Enlund said...

and it's a constant battle when you're going through the tough times, to remember what you love about your work. But I truly believe every tough time we make it through, makes us stronger and hopefully our belief stronger too!
Great post :-)

Eleni Konstantine said...

Dream big - I love it. What you say in your post is so true. A while back with the Bootcampers, we had a month of positivity and we learnt to say 'We are GREAT writers'. The statement is something that can get you through some doubting times, and of course it's encouraging to say it to other people too.

Chris Weston said...

Fabulous post, Mz Mel. Definitely words to drag out and read over again when the doubt demons are circling.

Mel said...

It is hard to remember sometimes. That's when you need your writing buddies to remind you. Or just have to meditate on Joss ; )

Nicky Strickland said...

Mel, am really looking forward to (attempting to sit down) chat on our respective Joss talks. We had a different slant from him which dovetails beautifully with your insights.

Much meditation required for sure - I'm only still wrapping my head around my experience :)

Denise Rossetti said...

Mel, Totally hear you on the Aussie plus female not-being-big-headed thing. It can be a huge handicap if you let it take over - and I know I'm prone to do just that. yes, I think I'm good, but exactly how good, hmm?

Very insightful of Joss and very brave too, but then Americans are culturally more disposed toward self-confidence than we are here in Oz.