Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why I Can’t Write Fiction Anymore: A Reviewer’s Confession.


First of all, I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who read, commented on, and passed around my Kailin Gow piece. The support is greatly appreciated and I will keep you up to date on any new developments. I’m still waiting on a reply from See Global Entertainment regarding her MMO adaptation claims so I don’t think this is a story that will be going away any time soon.

It was actually my Gow post that inspired this one. I was checking out the traffic sources for the post, one of my more obsessive habits, when I came across an unfamiliar URL. I checked it out and found some rather interesting comments about myself, including one from someone I considered a friend lying about me and calling me an extreme whackjob. That’s a new one, I must confess. Another person commented on my previously stated desires to write a young adult novel myself, and how my reputation as a blogger meant I would never be published.

Well, I would like to break some good news to those people because fortunately for them I lost all desire to write fiction a while ago.

This post isn’t about my feelings on those comments. I don’t care what people say about me, I’d just rather they didn’t lie or pretend to be my friend until it wasn’t useful enough for them. This post is a confession that’s been a long time coming. I used to excitedly talk about my young adult novel to anyone who would listen. It was a fairytale re-imagining featuring a gay princess and her fairy godfather, the charming but obsessively driven rebel she fell for, and the desire to change the world. In my head, this book (which I intended to be the first part of a trilogy, featuring war, cross-dressing and nuns who turned into dragons) was going to be a shot in the arm for YA. It was going to be chock full of subverted tropes, dry humour, social awareness and fearlessness. I admit, I was somewhat cocky about the project. I wrote 26000 words of it on my old laptop, which I had a friend regularly beta whilst I wrote. Unfortunately, it had to take a back seat to my studies and personal life, and when I got a new laptop, I just forgot to upload the Word document onto it. By the time I realised this mistake, I’d lost all desire to write the rest of it. It just wasn’t good enough anymore.

I have about 10 Word documents on this laptop that contain the beginnings of a new story. Some are jam-packed with notes and ideas for stories that poured out of my head and I thought had brilliant potential. My parents still talk about the great novel I’m going to write one day, joking that they hope it isn’t about our family dysfunctions. My mum semi-seriously told me to pay for my upcoming Masters degree by writing a bad 50 Shades knock-off under a fake name. I don’t really have the heart to tell them that it isn’t going to happen. I can write about 5000 words of a story, leave it overnight, then come back to it and just give up. The drive’s suddenly gone, and I have no desire to continue because there’s no point. It’s just not good enough.

A lot had happened in the time between my great YA novel’s abandonment and now. I had a degree to finish, a dissertation to write, a job to go to, internships to complete, friends and family to spend time with. Fiction wasn’t a priority. I also started to take my blogging more seriously. I think my writing on YA has improved exponentially since I started the Sparkle Project in the summer of 2010. Overall, as a critic, I’m more detailed, informed, and a hell of a lot more opinionated. I’ve been accused of having impossible standards when it comes to YA, which I understand to an extent but also think is an unfair dismissal of many problems within the genre. I see no reason why I shouldn’t view teenage literature with a deeply analytical eye in the same way I looked at texts I studied in university. The genre isn’t lesser because it’s aimed at younger readers. I tend to be pretty critical of most entertainment, and as someone who’s also extremely political (left leaning member of the Labour Party), my opinions on socio-political issues play a part in my studies, although I stress that I try to look at everything in as objective a manner as possible.

However, I’ve found that this habit is very hard to turn off. I’m almost hyper-aware of questionable elements within the media, particularly relating to women. I’m constantly on the lookout for the little things that others may miss or dismiss but are part of a wider problematic culture. I did this with my own work too. I was constantly worrying that it wouldn’t meet the standards I set not just for myself but for the books I reviewed and had become infamous for tearing apart. The truth is sometimes I had no idea how to fix all the glaring issues with potentially problematic tropes in my own work. Originally, the heroine was going to be kidnapped by the rebel gang, led by the love interest, but the Stockholm Syndrome element of it all began to worry me, and I didn’t know how else to make the story work. I couldn’t make the snarky but charming love interest actually charming without seeming arrogant or disrespectful. I worried about diversity and feminism within my work. The setting always seemed underdeveloped, but if I added more descriptions it felt overdone. One of the secondary antagonists, intended to be a subversion of fairy-tale expectations, ended up being everything she wasn’t supposed to be. I have all this knowledge of YA, sexism, feminism, literature and the publishing industry, and I had no idea how to apply it all. I spent more time worrying about screwing up than just writing the story I really wanted to tell. Eventually, that desire to tell a story disappeared.

You take the criticism thrown at you when you’re a woman with an opinion on the internet, particularly when that opinion goes against the grain. You have to develop a thick skin, which I did. The only problem is I don’t have a thick enough skin against my criticisms of myself. I have a panic disorder, which I’ve spoken about on occasion on Twitter and in other articles. It really messed with my head and my studies and I didn’t get the help I needed. Fortunately for me, these days it’s pretty much under control. Unless you throw a Medieval Celtic languages exam in my face and tell me my future prospects depend on it, I’m probably not going to have a breakdown. However, I still live with the fear, and one of the things that accompanies it is this delightful feeling of self-disappointment. It’s a weird contrast of extremely lowered expectations of what I am able to accomplish coupled with standards I doubt I’ll ever be able to meet. I spend a lot of time reading books of varying quality and critiquing them in the manner I feel they deserve, but I can’t quite manage it for myself.

I can talk about my great ideas and ambitions until the cows come home, but I find it impossible to put them into practice nowadays because I have entirely lost my drive to do so. In my mind, it’ll never be good enough and it’ll never meet the standards you apply to the rest of the world so why bother? There’s a small part of my brain that knows I’m a better writer than some of the stuff that’s published, either traditionally or independently, and that I could even self-publish something short under a fake name, free of whatever baggage comes with my name and blogger reputation. Unfortunately, that part’s easily shouted down by the rest of my brain. My thick skin doesn’t cover up my lack of self-confidence in my own work, nor does it give me any motivation to write. I’ve just completely lost it. I regret never finishing that book. Maybe if I’d uploaded it into my new laptop the moment I bought the thing I would have been able to continue it. I can write a review with ease. The drive to do that comes naturally and I seldom feel like I’m letting myself down with my reviews and articles. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. The truth is I would love to share stories with the world, and I would love to give people the opportunity to tear them apart, but I just can’t do it anymore. Every urge I had to write fiction has disappeared. After all, what’s the point if you know it’ll never be good enough?