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If I'm completely honest...

Things aren't going so well for Jessica's writing at the moment. What's happened?

Last weekend, I met up with two of my fellow Write-Romantics for the afternoon and it was lovely to see them. Sharon lives about an hour away from me so we do manage to meet up every few months, but Jo lives at the other end of the country so it was exciting to hear that she and a friend were having a weekend away in the area.

Over lunch, the conversation turned to my recent appearance as a contestant on ITV’s The Chase and, in particular, how honest I’d been on my blog about the Twitter trolls who’d made some pretty nasty comments while the show was aired. The discussion then turned to how honest I’d been about my recent talk at a local café when nobody showed up except three friends. I could have made out that I spoke to a packed audience or even glossed over how many were present but I was honest and admitted the real numbers. Then we discussed how honest I’d been when I started a blog a few years ago about losing weight and getting fit and I declared my weight at the very start; a brave move given that it’s just under twice the weight I should be for my height.

I hadn’t really thought before about how honest I am and potentially how brave it is to share this sort of information. Or perhaps how unusual it is these days because we live in a world where we often use social media to presents the shiny side of our lives:

  • Look at me, on holiday and having an amazing time
  • Look at me, all smiles on a lovely family day out
  • Look at me going to the gym and working harder/faster than I’ve ever done before. I feel amazing
  • Look at me and my perfect children who I’m so proud of. I love them to the moon and back
  • Look at me, finally able to get into my size 10 jeans again. Hurrah me!
  • Look at me, surrounded by loads of friends, drinking and having fun. I’m so lucky to have these guys

Recognise these? I'd better just point out that these are not a dig at any friends, family or virtual friends; they are merely themes that often appear on Facebook and I am guilty of all of them myself .... well, all except the size 10 jeans, perhaps!!!

What we don’t see quite so often is:

  • Look at me, on holiday. The room smells of wee, I’m covered in mosquito bites, the aircon doesn’t work and I wish we’d stayed at home
  • Look at me, on what was supposed to be a lovely family day out but the kids are moaning, the entrance fees are daylight robbery, and the dog’s got the squirts
  • Look at me going to the gym but I actually hate it here, I feel like I don’t belong, and it’s making sod all difference to my enormous spare tyres
  • Look at me wondering why the hell I had kids because all they do is answer back and trash the place
  • Look at me, finally giving my size 10 jeans to charity because, let’s face it, I’m never going to be a size 10 ever again. Or a 12 for that matter. Or a 14, or a 16….
  • Look at me, looking at photos of me when I did have friends and a social life. What went wrong? Why am I so lonely now?

Why don’t we see posts like this? Because who wants to admit that their life isn’t what they’d hoped/expected/wished when all around them others ‘seem’ to have the perfect life.

As a writer, I am Facebook friends with a lot of other writers and I follow many on Twitter (although I’m very intermittent with my Twitter use). Understandably, most of their posts are about writing, as are mine. On the one hand, it’s inspirational to see news of publishing deals, cover reveals, new book launches, signings and all the amazing things that other writers are doing. On the other hand, it can make you feel so inadequate when your life as a writer isn’t quite so shiny.

So here’s another very honest statement: right now, I’m failing at every part of being a writer. Yes, you read that right, I’m failing. In the past ten days, I have sold a whopping four books. Four. I have five titles out there and I haven’t even managed the equivalent of selling one of each of them. In TEN days! So that’s a bit of a failure. Actually, that’s an epic failure.

Last Saturday when I travelled by train to meet Jo and Sharon, I took my laptop with me and I wrote several chapters in the Christmas novella I’m working on. Since then, I haven’t typed a single word. Another epic failure.

I haven’t logged onto my Facebook page or Twitter in well over a week because my feed will be full of the shiny side of publishing and I will compare myself to everyone else and wonder for the umpteenth time what the hell I’m doing pretending to be an author. I’ll question again whether I should just give this up as an experiment that really didn’t work. Should I accept that I can’t write, that the market is so saturated that it’s almost impossible to get your work noticed (especially when you have a demanding day job and no time to devote to constant promotion), and that being an author should have remained as a distant dream instead of something I actively pursued?

I cried today about this. I sat in my car at some traffic lights and big fat tears rolled down my face as I reflected on how I feel like such a big, fat, failure (and, in my case, given my diet fails, that is literally a big, fat, failure!) There are lots of things in life I’m not good at and I hate that being an author is one of them. I’m not good at sport, for example, and I’m not good at motivating myself to lose weight. And even though I’ve tried and failed to diet for 35 years, I have never felt such a failure at exercise/diet as I do about my attempts at being an author. Never. It’s like a millstone around my neck and I can’t concentrate on anything else because it’s all I can think about.

Yet, for some reason, I can’t seem to say, “Enough” and give up. I may be failing at being an author but being a writer defines me. It’s who I am. I don’t have any real friends where I live and no social life so my imaginary friends have become increasingly important to me over the years and I’d be lost without them!

You know that phrase: Be careful what you wish for? A few years ago, I wished to be a published writer. The problem is, when your wish comes true, you wish for something else. It’s human nature. As a writer, you wish to break the top 100,000 on Amazon. Before you know it, you’re wanting to break the top 10,000. Then the top 1,000, top 100, top 10 and reach that elusive number 1 position. And for those who reach it, the pressure is then on for their next book to do the same. Those goalposts keep moving and I wonder whether we are ever truly satisified with it all. For now, I’d be content not to drop out of the top 100,000 but it’s not looking good based on the last ten days’ sales. If I don’t sell any today, I think I’ll be the wrong side of that number with at least two of my titles. For me, the top 1,000 or even top 10,000 seem like the unachievable … like getting to the right side of a size 20: a distant goal that will probably never, even happen, but it’s always there as something to aim for.

If any other writers out there are feeling the same as me, please don’t give up. I’m not going to, even though it might be the sensible thing to do. What I do need to do, though, is change my mindset. I need to forget about my sales (or lack of them) because it’s really not helping me. Instead, I need to focus on putting fingers to keyboard to produce some more work. Maybe if I have 6, 7, 8 … 20 books out there, I might finally start shifting some! So I’ll say goodbye for now and dig out the Christmas novella and hopefully turn that current writing fail into a success.

Jessica xx 

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