"We can choose to recognise all we have done... the mad paddling that goes on under water to create even the sleekest, smoothest glide on the surface."
Writer Laura Windley has always been good at going into battle. Using her anger, her strength and most importantly building up resilience has allowed her to keep on keeping on. In a piece for the 75th day of 100 voices for 100 years she gives us all a reminder that whatever we're doing, we have to go on doing it, for ourselves.
Laura Windley is a writer from London and definitely no stranger to ups and downs. Ups include being runner-up in the Bristol Short Story Prize, short and longlistings in competitions such as the Fish Short Story Prize and the London Short Story Prize and publication in The Lonely Crowd, among others. Downs include innumerable rejections (although, in fairness, some of them have been extremely nice). She is a top ranter, recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck and is currently putting together a collection of ghost stories, as well as working on her first novel.
It is true that we often get caught up in the needs of our own egos.
We don’t just want to write. We want to Be Writers. We want, understandably, to create work that we are proud of. We want recognition, accolades, careers. We want excellence, perfection, glory. We want reviewers to love us. We want to be the favoured, to have our achievements feted, to be able to glow with the certainty of our successes.
And there’s nothing wrong with ambition. But what do we do when it all goes awry? When our confidence deserts us? When blocks come or rejection piles build, when words won’t come right, when we screw things up, when we worry about performance? When life gets in the way, when stuff just happens that we could not possibly have predicted, when luck seems suddenly against us and boxes remain unticked? When the dead-cert doesn’t happen? When the reviewer hates and slates us, and shames us in front of the world?
We can first remember that we always have choices. We can choose to support and protect ourselves. We can decide that in the face of self-doubt, that whatever happens, we refuse to give this up. I know that whenever I have had my writing bad times – and I have had many ups and downs - I have always remained determined to continue and have always managed to find ways to do so.
It is worth remembering too that we can find those, even in the writing world, who do prefer to silence us for their own benefit, discomfited perhaps by something that we have. Perhaps ours are deemed the wrong stories, the wrong voices, the ones that do not fit the proper cultural mould. Perhaps our daring to speak at all shifts us from a fixed position that someone else has designated for us for their own comfort. Sometimes it can be hard to tell – is it us and the quality of our work, or could there perhaps be something else at work? Both, of course are real possibilities.
There are those who see another person’s value only in terms of what it can do for them. Who borrow approved-of emotions and views to create an acceptable public face. There are those we’ve seen willingly steal from others, and pass work off as their own. Those who set up division and rivalry, playing people off against one another, in order to give themselves power and the status of arbiters of value and importance in the world. There are those who speak down to us, their expectation clear that naturally, when push came to shove it is they who are in charge and we who don’t sufficiently “know our place”. There are those who consider themselves our natural superiors
But we do have choices and have the power to exercise them. We often cannot control the external but we can prevent it having undue hold over us and actively refuse to behave that way ourselves. We can stop emboldening such behavior and call it out when it occurs. We make sure we know ourselves well enough to be truthful, take ownership of our work, and ensure that we give others the space to do so. We can be gentle with ourselves and one other in bad times and choose to be less rigid and arrogant in our appraisals. We can support and champion different voices. We can find joy in supposedly purposeless creativity. We can both push ourselves and refuse to put ourselves above one another, and we can choose to develop our resourcefulness. We can set our own targets. The more questioning we become about very narrow measures of external approval, and the less we hanker after the rigidity of set paths, the more our natural voices and creativity can force their way through and we will tend to discover and create paths of our own. Joy can be found in small pleasures, small creative acts. We can make sure we keep on writing. Resilience is built through practice, through weathering lows as well as highs. We shouldn’t expect to be able to avoid the lows. That is part of the game, of building up a thicker skin.
In any case. I have always been good at going into battle. Anger, I find, can often be useful as fuel.
We can refuse to give up even if we sometimes feel like it or, as in some cases, feel pressured to do so. Refuse to believe those who try to tell you, whether directly or indirectly, that this is not for the likes of you. We can choose to recognise all we have done, the hidden work, the hundreds of thousands of words, the mad paddling that goes on under water to create even the sleekest, smoothest glide on the surface. We can recognise that in one another. It is all part of the process. We know that all the work matters even if it cannot yet be publicly seen. The work we have put in does not fail to exist if others cannot see it. Failure is a part of creative practice Despite it, we still maintain value.
We can try to become among those who share and give generously, knowing there is enough for all, that success for one should not mean there’s no room for success from others. We can share, support, champion, protect and not simply for the sake of our own glory and ego. We can empathise. We can offer help. We can share or own struggles. We can praise one others successes. We can refuse narrow arbitrary judgements and respect the differences between us. We can treat one another as equals and ensure that different voices all get heard. Integrity is important. We have the choice to tell the truth as we see and experience it. Building resilience is essential.
We owe it to ourselves to ensure we carry on.