Success and the Smoke and Mirrors Effect

gold coloured human statue
Photo by Engin Akyurt on

I’ve always been quite transparent about my journey to being ‘a writer’ or rather the journey to being a ‘successful’ or ‘professional’ writer. But lately I’ve been questioning whether being so open is the best way to be. On the one hand I think that it is good and right that people from, in particular, working class backgrounds say something about the challenges they face in the industry and in academia. In fact it’s essential that they do, otherwise how else does representation of those under represented people occur? But there’s also a downside to it, it makes you look less like a thriving, surviving, successful writer.

The arts is a strange place to work. It exists in a grey area between creativity and industry. It pushes people into becoming personas of themselves and means that less people are honest about rejections, about failures, about lacking confidence, about opportunities being difficult to find etc. I call this the smoke and mirrors effect because the success being presented isn’t a true representation, only the good bits are given the light of day. The bad bits (rejections, failures, tears and low confidence) are all there too, but behind the scenes and not pinned to social media for everyone to see. I have always  wanted to be someone who ‘walks the walk’ and makes sure that if I have managed to get through a career door, I hold it open for other people, and that includes pointing out when the playing field is not level for people like me. But I can see that being so open about the confidence crushing nature of working in the arts might actually be doing my career harm.

I don’t know. Is there a half way point? This week I made the decision, again, to cut right back on my social media time and to get on with writing more. I’m happy to say I am nearing completion of the third chapter of the novel/la I’ve been working on and thinking about getting it out to agents while I continue to write it. I’m also starting to work on a new pamphlet of poems. I am back in the saddle as Dream Catcher magazine editor, wading through submissions that have waited far too long to be read. I’ve been asked to run a teaching day in York, which I’m happily planning. It is doubly exciting, as it is at the university at which I am applying for a PhD full scholarship. I’m running the online courses, which continue to be popular (look out for news of an entirely brand spanking new course for November). I am pleased with the completed collection When I Think of My Body as a Horse, and continue putting the final touches to it, though I’ve been putting off having the author photos taken as my confidence in myself isn’t great right now. I’m still reeling from the year of big knock backs, but all of the things above are brilliant and exactly how I imagined my life as a writer – teaching, mentoring and most importantly, writing. I realised recently, quite suddenly, that much of social media made me anxious. It’s not a completely new experience, I’ve had the same realisation repeatedly over the years and never quite moved away from social media. But I realised I  had fallen into a cycle in which when I was at my computer working and had received a rejection or felt at sea and lacking in confidence (this happens when I’m filling in applications mainly and is generally due to my working class shoulder chip. The chip has a voice and tends to either be quite cross about stuff or is busy telling me that the arts are not for the likes of me) I would click open Facebook or twitter and scroll through, almost desperately, picking up in particular on other people’s successes as if I was looking for confirmation that this world was not for me. I’m feeling quite rational and not quite as batshit crazy as I often do so I was able to recognise that, hey, perhaps this isn’t doing me any good at all. So to counteract this I’ve started limiting myself to fifteen minutes (timed) of social media four times a day and well, I still feel quite anxious when I go on social media but I find that I am prioritising the things I like to see, rather than looking for things that will make me doubt myself. Outside of those fifteen minute bursts I am in the moment with my writing, I am involved in my work and my life and back to doing extra yoga at home and back to getting on my zafu for some mediation and back to enjoying my work. I also gave myself a bit of a kick because I realised I have been filling in any non ‘bread and butter work’ (ie not my own creative writing) with doing stuff for free for other people then feeling bereft because I don’t have time to write. I should be filling in those gaps with writing time if I want to be a writer. This is my lack of confidence procrastinator side who, rather than having me get on and BE A WRITER is frightened of me making a fool of myself, of being rubbish with no one telling me. So finds other, non Wendy writing things, to fill the gaps with so that i can be schrödinger’s writer, simultaneously moaning about not having time to write whilst making sure i never have time to write. That’s the thing that holds me back the most, I think. The idea that people would be sniggering and thinking ‘what’s she doing here’ or ‘who does she think she is’ and sorry to bang on about it, that’s another working class thing, though obviously non WC folk feel like that too, it’s just that it’s so hard to break away from the paths of your forefathers.

I went back to getting to my desk at 6am, and filling my break times with writing rather than social media and yes, I have almost got the first three chapters of this novel/la done and is it any good? I hope so, but I shall send it out and see. Which is a sort of nerve wracking thing in itself, because poets don’t have agents unless they are mad famous performers, but of course I’d like to be represented as a poet as well as a writer.  And I will probably carry on being transparent and moaning about stuff online, but I am also going to try and remember that I am self employed and therefore what I present to the world is my personal as well as my professional front. I need to work on tweaking that.

Congratulations if you got to the end of this ramble.

By the way, it’s the first day of Baby Loss Awareness Week tomorrow and I shall be posting something every day, it might be short it might be long, might be a poem, who knows. If you have experienced baby loss at whatever stage and however long ago it was, please know that I am running this online, week long creative writing workshop open to anyone, even people who have never done any creative writing whatsoever, it would be great if people could share the page with details, which is….here . Creative writing can be used for so many things, but it is an excellent tool for dealing with the trauma of loss. Come and join me for a safe, relaxed, supportive, no pressure week of writing.






5 thoughts on “Success and the Smoke and Mirrors Effect

  1. Reading this nodding – think it is all about how you measure success as a writer – let’s face it even successful writers struggle in the current climate so where does that leave everyone else. I’m plodding on albeit slowly! Good luck with all your ventures!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rachelfitz

    I have been following your posts for some time and really enjoy them. I think you write wonderfully! You capture experiences so perfectly – almost crystalline in the word form you create around them.
    I read this post and, I hope you don’t mind, instantly thought of a book I have been reading and working through that I have found so insightful and confidence inspiring and I am a bit evangelical about it! I would love to recommend it to you – it’s called Playing Big by Tara Mohr and I have found it has given me such an interesting perspective on why I have always behaved the way I have in the working world and it gives such interesting insights into why women struggle so much to make progress – and helpfully gives exercises to help you identify where you can change your own way of looking at things, or your behaviour in manageable ways.
    I think you are a fabulous writer and although it’s easier said than done – focus on your inner voice which is telling you what you need to hear – you can do this! You are great at this! Deep down you know it. As Tara says in the book – feedback tells you about the person giving the feedback – not necessarily about your work. Keep up the good work and I would be really interested to hear your thoughts if you do read this book.
    I recently got my book club to read your book recommendation Lowborn and we are meeting to discuss on Friday. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention. I will be looking out for your next recommendation!

    Liked by 1 person

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