Saturday 8 June 2024

Resilience for writers by Keren David

 For months now I have failed to keep my monthly appointment with this blog. The month turns and I think -  I must remember, I should write it now, and then the days go by and the 7th dawns and  -  I must write it, I must write it -  and then it's somehow magically mid-afternoon on the 8th of the month and I realise that once again I forgot. Dang! 

But it wasn't just that I forgot, if I am completely honest. There was also a feeling of having nothing much to say, and having to be very careful about what I did say. That  - as a Jewish writer who wants nothing more than peace in the Middle East, but wants that peace to include Israel, the world's only Jewish country  - my voice was somehow not one that people in the book world would want to hear. That the subjects close to my heart  -  say, the huge increase in antisemitic incidents in British schools -  would be judged as somehow unworthy, not important. So, month by month, I cancel myself.

 I am not alone in this feeling, it is discussed all the time by British Jewish writers (and in other countries too). That feeling has increased with the recent row over the funding of literary festivals. Is there a place for our voices in British publishing? We're not sure.  And I feel rather daunted about posting this, worrying about aggressive and offensive comments. 

This week, for my day job,  I went to a conference for Jewish professionals , and the theme was resilience. How do we build it in ourselves, our organisations, how do we nurture it in our colleagues? 

 It made me think about how important resilience -  the ability to cope with bad things as well as good times -  is for writers. So often things don't go to plan. That wonderful book, which you worked so hard to perfect, is rejected. Or it's published but fails to make a splash. Or a critic misunderstands it. Our editor leaves, our publisher goes out of business. We don't get short-listed, we make no money, we feel like failures.  We need strategies to deal with all of this. This is what I've learned.

1) Talk and listen. Find good listeners -  but also be a good listener in your turn. Try not to isolate yourself. You are not alone, even if you feel you are.  I have wonderful writer friends, who I can turn to with any kind of  question or concern. We support each other -  but also, just having these people in my life makes my writing career worthwhile, they are a reward in themselves.

2) Curate the noise  We are overloaded right now with information -  in publishing it tends to be about what sells, what doesn't, what wins prizes, what doesn't. A lot of this is just unhelpful. Limit your exposure to much of it. Just pick out, as best you can, things that are inspiring, illuminating, trustworthy. The sources may surprise you. 

3) Make cakes  One of the best things I did last year for my colleagues was set up a Bake Off competition, raising money for a good cause. We cooked, we ate, we donated, we felt good and we forgot our own worries for a while. We had an action plan. It doesn't have to be cakes, but any kind of volunteering or fund-raising is a great way to put your own troubles into perspective.  And making things -  cakes, crafts, art, gardening - is also stress busting and creativity boosting. 

4)  You're the boss of you  How many writers feel they have to please their agent, their publisher, their readers? And how many find that helpful? Yes, you're professional, you have a business relationship with publishing professionals, but you get to say what sort of writer you are. No one else decides that for you. 

5) Take notes Everything might seem terrible, but those events and feelings are what great books are made of. Just write it all down.  Hopefully you can make sense of it later.

5) Remember to laugh  The best aid to resilience is a sense of humour. And when it's incredibly hard to laugh, when everything seems dark and hopeless, that's when we need to remind ourselves that we can and must laugh at the absurdities of life. That's when we need to read funny books, watch comedies and smile at strangers. If I can do it now, so can you. 


Sue Purkiss said...

Such a difficult time you are having - I'm so sorry. Your suggestions are excellent - I particularly liked the point about being grateful for writer friends, which I hadn't really thought of in that way before, but which is absolutely true. Without writing, I would never have made the network of writing friends I have - and what a loss that would have been! Thanks for this post, and I look forward to future ones.

Penny Dolan said...

So pleased to see your post and hear your voice again.

So much is going on that settling the brain on one track before another legitimate anxiety sweeps in does feel hard and especially so for anyone closer to all the fears and troubles.

Thank you, Karen, for your helpful thoughts on resilience and about the blessing of one's network of writing friends.

Anonymous said...

I feel this too. Important to support each other, keep writing and keep doing other things together. Thank you Keren.

Nicola Morgan said...

Please staying talking, writing, communicating. We need to hear all voices. Xxx

Nick Garlick said...

I did like this post. And point number was especially wonderful. I keep saying this to myself over and over. When I do, the words appear. When I don't, they vanish in a cloud of doubt. So, thank you, Keren.