Clap for Our Authors

Lockdown really was alright for a few minutes there, wasn’t it? Obviously the looming spectre of a potentially deadly virus hanging over our every move wasn’t (and still isn’t) ideal, but those first few weeks of ‘working from home’ i.e. lazing around in the sun-soaked garden while making a serious dent in my ‘to-read’ pile was ideal. Even my literature-hating husband, delighted at the prospect of three whole weeks on furlough (how naive we were), was happily spending whole afternoons with his nose in a book. But somewhere within that strange, increasingly unsettling cycle of ‘Groundhog Day’, reading, for me anyway, became less of a relaxing indulgence and more of a survival technique.

It’s a truth which is universally acknowledged that the more you do something, the less enjoyment you will ultimately take from it; I cite the great vomiting incident of 2008 as a prime example – when a six hour turbulent plane journey became the first and last time I ever chain-ate Oreos. Anyway, somewhere around mid-May, when I had exhausted all of my flour-free baking recipes and was even starting to find the ‘Tiger King’ memes less and less funny, I became increasingly reliant on books to pass the endless hours; binge reading anything I could get my hands on until I found myself at the bottom of my reading pile and experiencing what can only be described as withdrawals.

With the bookshops closed, I wiped the dust off my Kindle (never an adequate substitute for the real thing, but it always comes through for me in times of crisis) and spent hours trawling through Amazon in desperate search of a story which I could get excited about. Unfortunately, as with clothing and life partners, if you go searching for something with pre-existing standards in mind, you’ll never be able to find the ‘right one’. So, by June I was reading what can only be politely described as ‘any old rubbish’. As has been made abundantly clear by the general content of this blog, the only thing which excites me as much as reading books is writing about books; but, I’m also a firm believer that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all – especially on the already-cruel place that is the Internet. I would never name and shame books that I didn’t enjoy, not least because it’s just not very nice, but also just because one person doesn’t ‘get’ someone’s writing, I find, generally has no bearing on whether anyone else will; so what would the point be in being rude?

Having said that, even when I was in a lockdown-induced rut of reading things that weren’t really exciting me, books remained the perfect escapism. Obviously, us book-nerds knew that already, but in the midst of new film releases being postponed and production of new TV shows or series being halted, books became one of the few joys which hadn’t been cancelled. I may have missed out on travelling for my honeymoon this year (for the second time, thanks Covid AND Thomas Cook), but no pandemic or financial crisis could stop me from flipping through the pages of a book and allowing the author to take me into another world. We’ve clapped for our key workers (rightly so) for keeping us safe, praised (and subsequently cursed) Joe Wicks for making us realise how unfit we all are and praised the TV networks for uploading our favourite throwbacks (yes, I binged ‘My Family’ and ‘Big Brother’s Best Bits’ because I love a bit of nostalgia). But, at no point do we seem to have acknowledged our authors. Books have remained a constant; their releases have still largely gone ahead (albeit without signings), and well-written stories will always continue to be there to take us away from all the horribleness and transport us to somewhere new and exciting. So, to the world’s authors, I just want to say thank you – for continuing to create inspirational characters, thrilling plots and enchanting settings from within your lockdown workspaces, which are always there to whisk us away from the awfulness to somewhere wonderful, with the simple ease of turning a page.

Why Does Writing Make Me Feel Naked?

Obviously, writing is something that I generally enjoy; I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of setting up a blog if I didn’t (although, as always, I’ve neglected it for the first two months of this year – we’ll come back to that). However, recently, writing has become like every relationship I had when I was a teenager in that it has swung like a pendulum between being the best thing in the world, the only thing I want to focus on for entire days and nights at a time, and simultaneously the worst thing ever and something which I deeply regret ever starting. I think that is probably something which everyone has experienced at some point in their life; we’ve all had that one hideously long job application form or academic project (I’m looking at you, dissertation which I still wince at the sight of), but frig me, creative writing is another beast entirely. I’ve probably said it before, but will most definitely be saying it again, full time writers do not get enough credit.

So, as you’ve probably now guessed, the main reason for having recently ghosted this blog is not because I didn’t feel like writing – quite the opposite. No, I’m not going to discuss it on here because said project which has consumed the last two months of my life is probably totally rubbish anyway and will never come to anything. But, in completing it, I had to put myself through the hideous experience of actually allowing other people to read something which I had written. Again, full time writers do not get enough credit. Unfortunately, reading and writing have a weird, dichotomous relationship. Much like the chicken and the egg, the existence of one implies the other, and so the completion of any writing project is, although satisfying, terrifying because it brings the inevitable necessity of having to let someone else read it. As an anxiety-riddled introvert, this is basically my nightmare.

Even though a significant portion of my ‘day job’ involves writing really long reports and recommendations which get scrutinised by lots of other people, anticipating feedback on any of those has never felt half as daunting as it did to allow someone to read something which I’d made up in my head without any prior instruction. Honestly, the whole thing had me feeling a bit exposed; every word of this project had existed somewhere in my subconscience and was transmitted onto paper (or Microsoft Word, this is 2020 after all) through the filters of my brain and personality, so allowing someone else to cast an opinion over it felt like I was about to appear on ‘Naked Attraction’. And, just when I was getting semi-comfortable with the idea of strangers reading it, I then found myself in the hideously awkward position of needing a close friend to fact check it and give feedback. Again, somehow it felt even more excruciatingly awkward having a friend see it rather than a total stranger; much like being on ‘Naked Attraction’. For the record, I have never been on that programme and have no intention of ever participating; I also don’t actively watch it except when it makes an appearance on ‘Gogglebox’ (which I watch religiously), but if I ever found myself in a stituation where I had to be naked in front of people where it wasn’t medically necessary, I think it would probably be easier to do so in the presence of total strangers whom I would likely never see again, rather than someone I already knew, which would most likely lead to a lifetime of uncomfortable eye contact and avoidance of each other at social gatherings.

Basically, writing on a blog is fairly painless, since I don’t usually know who has or hasn’t read it, and if people do, then they generally seem to keep their opinions to themselves, which is preferred; but writing something which needsĀ to be seen by other people, is really scary and made me feel completely exposed. To make matters worse, I had to leave said project with my friend so that she has time to read it; cue at least a week of heightened anxiety through fretting over what she’s thinking as she reads it. I often say that I would love to be a full time writer, but if this experience is anything to go by, I might need a thicker skin before I attempt it, because the idea of something I wrote being readily available for other people (including my friends and family) to judge, has me feeling like I’m in that horrible dream where you turn up to school with no clothes on. Forget charging into burning buildings or fighting crime, introverted writers are the real brave ones; and I don’t know how any of you do it.