Most writers I know live in a semi-permanent, somewhat schizophrenic state, swinging between confidence and terror. You have to have confidence to write, and especially to show that writing to the world. But on the other hand there is always that insidious thought eating away at you that what you have written is meaningless tosh at the best and total rubbish at the worst.
For some, probably many, the fear is almost completely debilitating, it is often the cause of writers’ block, and certainly it is responsible for numerous unfinished stories festering in bottom drawers or on (more likely nowadays) hard drives around the world. At its most severe it can lead to depression and worse.
The actual writing is bad enough, but once the piece is finished and the editing process begins there are even more agonising decisions to make. What should be left in, what should be cut out, is there too much dialogue, or too little description? Does the plot work, do the characters come alive? Or is it basically just boring?
All this is quite enough to keep even a self confident writer awake at night. But then the moment comes when someone else has to read it. And the moment they say they love it, you start doubting their expertise. Or, if they are some poor hapless family member, you immediately assume that they just being kind.
And when you are over that hurdle and the novel is in the hands of a professional reader, agent or publisher, you suddenly have to endure weeks of waiting. It’s only 200,000 words you say to yourself, it doesn’t take that long to read. It must be so crashingly dull they can’t even struggle to the end.
And then finally it’s published and it’s in the hands of real readers. And now, even though it has happily jumped through all the hoops, you are convinced it will inadvertently fall into the wrong hands – horrid, random readers who only really like sci-fi or horror, and who will therefore give your insightful, literary novel the big thumbs down in a scathing, but widely publicised, review.
And even when the fan mail and royalties start to pour in, you still wake up in the middle of the night wishing you had taken out the unfortunate reference to Adolf Hitler, or toned down (or up) the sex a little bit.
So what can writers do to help themselves? The only advice I can give is to work at the craft of writing as much as possible, read and notice what works. And then, if you can, take your time. Don’t rush the process. Getting a book out there should not be the aim. Getting a good book out there is the key.
Because, if you manage that, then you are a real writer, and on top of all the other anxieties will be that nagging thought that before long you have got to go through it all again!
Helen Carey’s new novel, London Calling, will be published in 2015 – catch up on her