Sunday, 24 March 2013

Remembering what counts - Liz Kessler


Have you ever noticed how much of this job, which we think is all about words, is in fact about numbers?

We preoccupy ourselves with questions that involve counting. How many words have you written today? How much was your last advance? How many books have you sold? How many people follow you on twitter, ‘like’ your new facebook author page, commented on your latest blog post? How many people came to your book signing? And how all of this is…

…well, meaningless.

Because one day, in the midst of all of these words and numbers, something happens out of the blue that changes the game. For example, something like your partner waking up one morning with a bad headache and memory loss, that leads to a chat with the on-call doctor, that leads to the GP sending them for tests, that leads to some scary discoveries, that leads to weeks of worrying, that leads to a day that suddenly feels very real when it smacks you in the face.

Then there are more numbers. First the hours of waiting while they are in surgery. All seven of them. And in each one, the fears grow bigger and bigger until you find yourself contemplating the worst thoughts you can imagine and you force them away because they will swallow you up if you let them in.

And then the waiting is over and your partner is OK. And together, you begin the slow, careful journey of recovery. Again with the numbers. Day one, day two, day three…better with each one.

So, just supposing this is what happens, and supposing during your hospital visits, you see and talk with people whose lives are very seriously in question, sit in waiting rooms with their families, all of you moving through these days as if in a parallel universe where you are still part of the world you know, but separated from it by an invisible line the width of a hair…

…then what? Do you really still care about those numbers? Does your ego still make the same demands? Or do you find yourself waking up to new truths, new realities, new priorities?

How can you care about the old things any more? And if you don’t care, how can you do your job?

A week later, there are numbers again. The twenty-three staples being removed from the back of your partner's head. The cards and flowers and messages from friends and family that are everywhere. Actually, you don’t count these, but the fact that you are surrounded by them is like having a blanket made out of love around you.

And that is when you find your answer. It is about love. Everything is about love, and if it isn’t then it no longer matters. Even work. As Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet (and thank you to Jen Alexander for reminding me of this)…

“Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”

And that was my problem. I realised that I had lost some of my love for my work. Over the last few years, I think I had become too concerned with trying to please other people (publishers, readers, bloggers, reviewers etc etc) and lost sight of what it meant to me and why I was doing it. I did care about the advances. I did check my Amazon rankings when a new book came out. I was obsessed with my daily word count. I had forgotten why I was driven to write in the first place. I was too busy thinking of it as a job that I wanted to be successful at, and had forgotten that it is a passion that comes from my heart. And the last few months have made me refocus on what really counts on every level.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my publisher and will always want to do my best for them. I adore all the bloggers and reviewers I've met and absolutely love it when they like my books. And my readers and the interaction I have with them are without question one of the best parts of my job.

But second-guessing what I might need to do to please all of these people mustn’t ever be the starting point of writing a book. If I am extremely lucky, it will be a by-product of what happens when I write, but the important thing to remember is that writing, for me, is not about asking my readers what they want to read, or asking my publisher what they think will sell, or a bookshop what they'd like to stock, or bloggers what they think is 'on trend'.

It’s about asking myself what do I care about, what do I have to say, what do I want to share with the world? What gets me up early in the mornings, excited and raring to go? What makes me finish work each evening looking forward to spending time with my characters again the next day?

And if people want to hear what I have to say, fantastic. But if they don’t, I can live with it. Because these questions will lead me back to working with love. And right now, I can’t help believing that love, in its many forms and expressions, is all that really matters.

lizkessler.co.uk

facebook.com/lizkesslerchildrensauthor

twitter.com/lizkesslerbooks

34 comments:

jancarr said...

Amen to that and thank you for some moving reflection.
I hope all continues to be well

Maxine Linnell said...

Such a moving story, and so important. I've been through something that reminds me of this - you get to know what's really important. Thank you.

Nicola Morgan said...

Very wise and beautiful post. For different reasons, i can relate to that, Liz. Take care and keep loving writing and keep reminding us of the important things. xxx

Joan Lennon said...

Thank you for sharing this with us, and stay en-couraged.

Liz said...

A very real reminder for us all. Hope love continues to surround you in your life and work.

liveotherwise said...

A beautiful post. Sending you love and strength from a reader who very much enjoys the end result of the process.

Catherine Butler said...

A beautiful and wise post.

Chris Smith said...

Thank you for sharing such a personal and intimate experience and for reminding us what really matters.

Linda Strachan said...

Lovely post, Liz, and very grounding, reminding us what really matters.
It is so easy to get caught up in the numbers, as you say, and forget that having love around us is what allows us to write with honesty and passion, and every moment spent with those we care about is more important than all the other things.

Stroppy Author said...

Thank you, Liz, for such an honest and moving post. I can empathise with this, for slightly different reasons. It's important to try to keep hold of the lesson, so fresh now, when life gets back to normal (or when normal adjusts to fit life). Things seen in vivid colour around a time of crisis easily slip into the shadows later.

Jen Alexander said...

Really beautiful and moving post, Liz. I'm glad for the synchronicity that made mine a reminder

Katherine Langrish said...

Lovely post Liz. For me, your writing has always been full of the joy of life - that's what you give, and that's what I wish for you both.

Pippa Goodhart said...

All very true. Love to you both.
Pippa

Rosie alexander said...

Thank you Liz. This is a beautiful, moving and thought-provoking post. Thinking of you both... xx

Tabitha Suzuma said...

"...second-guessing what I might need to do to please all of these people mustn’t ever be the starting point of writing a book...writing, for me, is not about asking my readers what they want to read, or asking my publisher what they think will sell...It’s about asking myself what do I care about, what do I have to say, what do I want to share with the world?"
Wow, Liz, it's as if you've taken my thoughts right out of my head! I couldn't agree more, I've always felt this way, and when people (mainly my mother!) frequently suggest that my next book be about something trending, something that will appeal to the broadest common denominator so that I might earn 'decent money', I always say I'd far rather go back to f/t teaching than do that, because 'writing commercially' for me is about as appealing as sweeping the streets! I couldn't possibly write a book that I wasn't head-over-heels in love with.

Kit Berry said...

Very moving, Liz - thank you for the reminder of what really matters in life. And maybe you'll be able to slow down a bit too! Smell the flowers xxx

Nicky Schmidt said...

such a profound and moving post, Liz. I hoPe things, all things, go well.

Emma Barnes said...

A very moving post, thank you for reminding us to write and not always to second-guess. And I believe it's often the things that writers write only for the love of it, that the readers love the most.

Vanessa Harbour said...

This is an incredibly powerful post and a perfect reminder of what is important. Thank you and sending love and strength to you and yours
Ness x

Liz Kessler said...

Thank you so much for these absolutely lovely comments. I wasn't sure whether or not to publish this post as it was so personal, but from the comments I've had here and elsewhere, it has confirmed for me that it was the right thing to do.

I'm so glad to have struck a chord with other people, and it was a really useful process for me to spend time thinking about all of this. No idea exactly what thoughts it will lead to right now, but I know that whatever it leads to will be something that feels meaningful and right.

Love and best wishes, Liz x

Caroline Green said...

Such a moving post. xxx

C.J.Busby said...

I've come a bit late to this, but very best wishes to you and your partner, Liz, so glad things turned out well. And thanks for a really moving and meaningful post - it's a salutary reminder of what's really important!

Jane Lovering said...

Thank you for a timely reminder about what is really important in life. I'm another who had a 'life changing event' and had to reconsider about what truly mattered, and your words are so true. Love matters. Everything else is just stuff.

Keren David said...

A post to print out and return to, very wise and very true. Sending love and hope for a speedy and full recovery.

kathryn evans said...

Beautiful Liz - I am so sorry you've been through such a hard time. Thank you for posting this x

Jane Stemp said...

Thank you for the post Liz. Love to you and yours.

adele said...

All the very best from now on! Must have been a dreadfully worrying time!

lily said...

so glad your partner has come through ok, Liz. And thank you for what you've written - it's all so true and important and so easy to forget.

caroljchristie said...

A beautiful and moving post. Hope all continues to go well with your partner's recovery. And you are absolutely right on what is and isn't important in life and in writing.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Liz I'm sorry you've had to go through this. From someone who has sat hours and hours and hours on the other side of an operating theatre door, I know where you're coming from in that rarified world that is just a hair's breath... as you put it... away from another life.
Be well and may your writing be hugely in tune with that place where you've been.Hope the days are slipping by fast now and you don't have to count anymore!

Moira Munro said...

Much love to you both.

Jennie Walters said...


Lovely and brave post, Liz. May you return to work even more in love with it than before...

Katherine Roberts said...

I hope the love returns for you, Liz.

Jane McLoughlin said...

Thanks for posting such an important, and moving, account of what makes life worth living and work worth doing. Wishing you both a happy, healthy and love-filled future.