I’m celebrating an unusual anniversary today. On Tuesday the 1st of November 1988, the British Film Institute invited members of the public and selected folks within television to keep a day’s diary of their television viewing/activity. It was called One Day in the Life of Television.
This was just before the satellite and multi-channel revolution truly took hold, when only four channels were widely available (BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4). The BFI wanted to capture the nation’s viewing habits while they were still so neatly contained here in the UK, still so much easier to capture.
(Blimey, four channels. It seems so archaic, now.)
At the behest of Blue Peter (natch) I kept a diary* and posted (yes, posted) it to the BFI.
To my delight and surprise, several months later I received a letter and a parcel; my entry had been shortlisted for their competition and, while I hadn’t won, I had been awarded a large Collins dictionary (which I’m sure I still have but which I can’t lay my hand to *panics*) and a lockable five-year diary (still unused).
So in a funny kind of way, today’s my 30th anniversary of being a published writer (pages 215-216 in the anthology, people, don’t all ask for my autograph at once).
It feels oddly appropriate to have this moment for reflection. A couple of weeks ago I found myself in a room with a few hundred other aspiring authors, finding out how to publish my first book.
(Yes, I’m writing a book. Today also coincides with the annual start of NaNoWriMo so, frankly, who isn’t?)
Through the combined generosity of both Hay House and a friend, I was able to take up a sponsored place at their annual Writer’s Workshop, which is specifically (but not exclusively) for authors and writers in the personal growth and spiritual development field.
The main focus was on the how of publishing; the processes involved, the market’s landscape, how publishing houses choose which books to publish, etc. A key decider was revealed to be one’s “platform”; followers, clicks, your mailing list. Which, as a sensitive introvert, almost makes me break out in hives.
Yeah. I’ve been feeling torn about the experience (and, by extension, writing) ever since.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m deeply grateful. It was a hugely useful weekend, full of information and laughter, and a true privilege to attend. Everyone I met was lovely, and it was a dream come true to see the doyenne of creativity herself, Julia Cameron, in full flow.
I understand the nature of the modern book market; publishers rely on the author to sell their book, not the other way around. In such a crowded market, you’re gonna back the horse which can compete in the race, and now I have the information I need to get my first saddle (or something).
I’m also aware that marketing oneself can be less about self-promotion and more about reaching those who may be in need. It’s hard to be in service to others if they don’t know you exist, right?
But as the friend who supported me** noted, and as affirmed by Marianne Williamson in her Teaching the Teachers course (which I highly recommend), there’s an unavoidable conflict between being mindful (and focusing on the work) and being marketing-orientated (and focusing on clicks). Things get transactional and, lord knows, there’s enough of that in the world right now.
It’s never been easier to become a published writer (especially with the ability to self-publish books “on demand”, and the ubiquity of e-books) .. and it’s probably never been harder to get people to cast their eyes over your work.
For when there’s a hell of a lot of noise, it feels too overwhelming to search for a signal. As Marianne also notes, “Everyone’s asking “How do I get published?” and no-one’s asking, “How do I become a better writer?”. And after 30 years of practise, I’m still more drawn to the latter.
Not for its own sake (okay, mostly not for its own sake). But because I know what it’s like to read something illuminated by grace and to feel a sense of expansion, a sense of self reflected, a sense that I’m not alone.
To feel the hand of another reach out from between the lines, from between the pages, and rest gently on top of mine to say: yes, me too. Not transactional, but relational, sometimes even akin to a transmission of said grace.
And isn’t that what we all crave; a deep sense of being understood, of being known and accepted? Of being touched by grace?
That’s the kind of thing I want to be the vessel for if, of course, I ever get lucky enough to be in such a position.
The hand I see extended through social media sometimes feels like it’s held open to take, not to gently hold, reassure or lessen the weight of another. Sometimes it feels like it’s doing both simultaneously, depending on the angle you choose to look at it. Hence my ambivalence.
But hey. I’m officially old school. I’ve been in the “pushing words around a piece of paper” malarkey for so long, I should get time off for good behaviour.
All I know is the thought struck me the other day: What if I can serve God through my writing?
And that’s the kind of thought which might get me through the next 30 years.
* On a portable typewriter almost IDENTICAL to the one in the stock photo, bizarrely enough
** Literally, he pushed my wheelchair, bless him!