I have the creative process on my mind. So often I obsess about it, of how the alchemy of words takes place, as if by knowing what others do, the magic might be captured. This preoccupation applies when I have writer’s block, or feel a weight of guilt associated with not writing. Not writing is how I would characterise the last few months, until the plug was pulled and I accepted a commission with a publisher to work on a small project. Having a deadline, and an editor, and the prospect of payment suddenly made my muse show itself.
I heard the writer Olivia Sudjic interviewed on the ‘High Low‘ podcast, and so read her new essay book ‘Exposure‘, a short, snapshot memoir of her experience of anxiety following the publication of her debut novel. The essay is a stand-alone piece – a pocket-sized powerhouse of writing and social commentary – and anyone who is writing a book, or who wants to, should read it.
Sudjic, amongst other insights, offers a critique of modern publishing and of the actions required of authors, especially debut ones. At one point, she acknowledges the population of unpublished writers, as if to say: don’t be put off. I thought back to when I did my Masters, and to conversations we had about publishing, and how the industry seemed impenetrable and mysterious. ‘Exposure’ makes for a study of old and new, antiquated and progressive, of books and of the internet. Sudjic writes with searing accuracy about how the internet age has shaped our psychologies. Of how utterly watched we are. And how crazy this makes us feel. An Orwellian fog descends.
Yet, book publishing relies on deeply ingrained, old-school truths. Sudjic’s essay could be a guiding light for the unpublished writer and, had it been published at the time, could be have been a source text for my MA. Her dissection of the publishing industry, and the ratifying role it plays, makes for stark reading. Publishers remain the gatekeepers of what thou shalt read and of how books are created, promoted and consumed. To self publish (and therefore to control your own work) is to forsake the establishment. The stereotype goes that self publishing leads to poor book sales, on shitty paper, funnelled through the monolithic presence of Amazon.
Getting a book published is almost as bad, it seems, as not getting a book published.
Peninsula Press, who brought us Sudjic’s ‘Exposure’ is a kickstarter-funded publisher, and in them I wonder if there is a fresh industry model? To have published this essay in small book format strikes me as a subversion of the status quo, and one which will enable dissenting voices to be heard. Sudjic wrote her essay to give space to the anxiety she felt about writing her much-anticipated second novel. Those of us plugging away in the no man’s land of the unpublished long to be propelled forwards into the public domain. Sudjic alarmingly describes the panic of this propulsion and the stomach-churning sense that by signing with a publisher, a writer is signing a Faustian pact to participate in absolutely whatever comes. The stress-laden aftermath of debut publishing; a social media onslaught, public panels and readings, and the dissemination of your innermost thoughts for mass consumption is something of dreams and of nightmares. The need to promote one’s book is a necessary evil, but a pay-off with a hefty price. Writers are grateful for the chance to be published, but, it appears, we must swallow it down whole.
Sudjic dissects why women write, as she challenges the way women’s creative work is described as self-indulgent and inward-facing. The sentiment can be applied to almost any creative endeavour a woman might participate in. Why write this blog? Why write anything at all? She describes writers who are stunned into silence after they’ve been published, especially those who’ve shared too much. No one likes an over-sharer. Blogging is a form of self publishing but it poses no threat. I’ve heard blogging described as silly, insignificant fodder. It’s made so by the comparative enormity of the internet, and the fact that, let’s face it, hardly anyone reads this.
At the end of my Masters, I wanted to get back to my blog, to the kind of writing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. To be amongst the women who curated Instagram squares in cool, Scandi monochrome hues, and who wrote about fashion or lifestyle. After the pressure of academia, I wanted the dime store quality of a blog post that was neither fiction, nor essay, nor article. A stand alone set of thoughts sent out into the world. One which exists only as part of the internet, a beacon for those who want to seek it out. But there is also a wariness to the decision to write here, one which I often reference. I fear there being an old blueprint lurking, one which would, if I were to be published, be plundered as fair game. Everything I have ever written here a reflection of the ‘self’ which I might, through a book deal, agree was open for criticism to any reader.
As with all commentary of this type, I am left thinking, well, we must play the game. We might not have designed the game, but we must play it! What’s the alternative? To be silent? To not write? To not create? No, thank you.
*Lyric by Lorde, ‘Writer in the Dark’.