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A number of writers in this Summer issue touch on fear, and how to overcome it. If this issue were a summer’s day, it would be underscored by thunder.
James McConnachie, Editor
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All authors live with fear. Well, I have met authors who appear immune but I suspect that they are merely masters and mistresses of the brave face. I’m not claiming here that our profession puts us on a par with bomb-disposal experts or double agents but there are aspects of our working lives that open us up to doubts, fears and, if we’re not careful, persistent anxiety.
Most obviously, we endure long periods of solitude punctuated by episodes of startling exposure. Like shy children obliged to sing in assembly, we are thrust forward for sudden public judgement – and it is not just our professional personalities that are up there on the podium but our innermost intellectual and emotional selves. Our everyday creative existence, meanwhile, is dependent on piercing self-criticism and inflated self-belief – not a stable combination. We feel professionally obliged to put our livelihoods in the hands of people we don’t particularly know and, too often, don’t entirely trust. Success can seem arbitrary. Rewards are rarely as anticipated. Our control of our professional futures, by and large, is scanty.
‘No one makes you do it!’, comes the retort. Yet for many writers that isn’t entirely true. Typically, writing is a vocation, affliction, obligation, obsession – a ‘condition’, John Wain called it, in an article that appeared in this journal in 1972.
A number of writers in this Summer issue touch on fear, and how to overcome it. If this issue were a summer’s day, it would be underscored by thunder. (And if you are wondering why I’m thinking in such seasonal terms, read Alexandra Harris’s irresistible article on writers and the summertime.) Louise Doughty warns of ‘the horrors of being published’ and Julia Forster describes the terrors that can descend at the very moment when non-professional writers might assume that all angst will be wiped away – after the book deal has been signed. John Saul considers how authors can feel cowed by the enormities of events such as wars, and how we might respond.
More immediate fears are tackled, and overcome, by Deborah Gearing, who survives a tax investigation, and Ann Morgan, who confronts public speaking and describes how and why the fabulously popular TED talks work. Nick Inman challenges his own doubts about promoting his books, and outlines a refreshing ‘mind-body-spirit’ approach. Artemis Cooper recalls the ‘tense panic or low-level funk’ that used to afflict her (I knew that even lauded authors suffered!) and how she defeated it by means of meditation.
I’m not much of a meditator, myself. Nor much of a mind-body-spirit man. For my medication, I prefer to turn to that best of physicians, Samuel Johnson. He is particularly good on fear. In the Rambler of June 1750, he wrote that
Fear is implanted in us as a preservative from evil; but its duty, like that of other passions, is not to overbear reason, but to assist it; nor should it be suffered to tyrannise in the imagination, to raise phantoms of horror, or beset life with supernumerary distresses.
I like the way he acknowledges the uses of fear while asserting the necessity of restraint. And I love his moderate, practical, warm spirit: ‘Evil is uncertain in the same degree as good,’ he wrote, in 1751, ‘and for the reason that we ought not to hope too securely, we ought not to fear with too much dejection.’
The other successful response to fear, of course, is to seek strength and solace in comradeship, or at least company. In this issue we announce Authors Everywhere, the SoA’s new programme of connecting the Society with its members beyond the capital and, it is hoped, better connecting our members with each other.
The Publishing Climate
The rise of the ebook - is it over? Philip Jones
Fine weather for writers Alexandra Harris
The Spiritual Temperature
Mystical book promotion Nick Inman
In the mood Artemis Cooper
Feel the Fear
An author’s vulnerability Julia Forster
An author’s moral responsibility John Saul
The horror of being published Louise Doughty
Writers at Work
Talking Ted Ann Morgan
A bit of business about tax credits Deborah Gearing
From page to screen, or not Erica Wagner
Out and About Daniel Blythe
Grub Street Andrew Taylor
To the Editor
My digital crush Naomi Alderman
About The Author
The Author is an invaluable source of information, news and opinion for authors as well as for publishers, literary agents and other professionals working in the book industry. It has a circulation of approximately 9,500. Members receive The Author free of charge.
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