Thoughts & Ramblings

Change or failure? A pep talk to myself

Changing direction can feel like failure. You know, we’re taught to stick to things and not give up, to persist, to be consistent. Giving up is like admitting that the challenge has beaten you; that you’re not made of strong enough stuff.

So if I change my mind – if I stop persisting and give up to try something else – does that mean I’m not made of strong enough stuff? Is it the same as giving up?

This reaction emerged when I sat down to write this blog post. Goodness knows how many times I’ve blogged about changes. Why can’t I just stick something out?

I’ve realised that the sweet spot between my skills and my passions is creative non-fiction (including, perhaps, working with other authors as a publisher). This is quite a move from children’s fantasy fiction, and involves a change of audience as well.

So is this just me following a shiny new idea because fiction has ‘beaten’ me? Is this just giving up in a blue mushroom disguise?

I hope not.

I only started writing about five years ago. I hadn’t written a word of fiction before that since intermediate school, so I pretty much dived in head first, and everything I’ve published has been in that five year window.

So how on earth could I have expected to know what I wanted from the start? I couldn’t. Of course there were going to be changes! I was writing stories that were personal and creative, playing with zines, testing collaborations – in a word, experimenting.

And what’s the whole point of an experiment? That you don’t know what the outcome will be. It might be to find out if something is true, or to discover something new. After five years of experimenting, I am closer to something that will work for me.

Of course, the experimenting isn’t going to stop. It’s a bit like editing. First, you check the story as a whole – does it make sense? Is it exciting and engaging? Then you get into finer and finer details. At the moment, I’m refining rather than all-out experimenting.

This isn’t me throwing in the towel. It’s evaluating the outcomes of my experiments to create a business that is fulfilling, rewarding, within my skill set (but still challenging), and revolves around something I am incredibly passionate about: the beauty and wonder of our natural world.

And it’s not to say I won’t ever publish fiction again. I have The Train To Nowhere still in the works, and I’m sure there’ll be some more chapter books in my future, too – you can’t get rid of me that easily!

I am not going to see myself as a failure because I am open to change. In the words of Walt Disney: “Progress is impossible without change.” I am a work in progress, and I am proud of my work.

Go forth & experiment.

Behind the Scenes, Children's Fiction, creativity, Depression & Anxiety, Thoughts & Ramblings

Long term thinking and believing in yourself

And following on from Monday’s little rant / big lesson… I was listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast the other day (which I haven’t been listening to as much as I used to), and it was an episode about author mindset. I think it was just after she’d released her book on that topic.

Anyway, she was being interviewed and she talked about one of the ‘problems’ that many indie authors have is not thinking long-term. When I finished The Caretaker of Imagination (TCOI), my intention was to keep publishing books in a loose series (which I have), at a rate of 3-4 per year (which I haven’t). She emphasised that if you stick with it, you’ll have a backlist in no time, and that’s the best thing you can do for your career.

Helen Wadsworth (whom I now work for) introducing my books at my first launch party.

Originally, my vision was that by my 31st birthday, in January 2020, I would have a backlist of about 20 books. This would be a solid platform for myself as an author.

So what went wrong? When writing TCOI, I was a bit nervous about my lack of writing experience, but confident that with constructive criticism, lots of editing, and my love of children’s literature I would be able to produce an acceptable book. I did, and then I wrote another one,Β Lucy’s Story: The End of the World, which I was actually really happy with (see video below).

And then I hit a snag. I received some very un-constructive criticism, and I started comparing my work unfavourably against others. I was told the way things were done, and they weren’t always what I was doing. I started taking any feedback that was given and using it to reinforce the belief that I sucked at writing. I started listening to the rules and becoming scared of breaking them. I wasn’t making a profit, and I took that as meaning I was a failure.

Because I’m stubborn, I dragged myself through a couple more books, but they took a long time, and I was dealing with the voice of self-doubt on a constant basis. I wasn’t as proud of them as I was of TCOI or of Lucy’s Story, because the criticism and rules of other people were always in the background, ready to speak up at the hint of any praise.

What comes to mind is that old adage – the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago; the next best time is today.Β If I’d stuck with my original schedule, I’d have about ten books in the series by now. I have four – not even halfway.

I don’t regret the non-fiction books I’ve published in the meantime, I love that I made time for painting, and for playing with zines. Both I Am A Writer and I Am An Artist were fun to write, helpful to other people (both children and adults, surprisingly), and it was a great opportunity to work with people whom I admire. But my day job is part time, and I only started studying this year. If it hadn’t let the criticism get to me, there’s no reason why I couldn’t have done both the fiction and non-fiction books.

Four of the artists from ‘I am an Artist’: Zee, Anna, Jane & Megan (photo credit: L. Simpson)

So this is me committing to myself. I know my books have value, and I know there are readers who love my weirdness. There are many, many more stories I want to tell, so I’m going to plant that tree today to grow my backlist, build aΒ career that I am proud of, and contribute my unique voice to the literary landscape.