First and foremost, let me make it clear, I love my profession and thank the universe every day, that I am lucky enough to do a job I adore. But is there the risk that it represents too much of my identity? To me that’s an easy question to answer. My CV is almost the length of a football pitch (okay, slight exaggeration)… In the past I have been a translator, tutor, doctor’s receptionist, hotel worker, envelope-stuffer, retail assistant… you name it, I’ve probably got the T-shirt. But never, ever, before being an author, has my feeling of self-worth been so closely linked to my career.
The good side of this? It drives me to succeed as it is my reputation and self-pride at stake. I think this applies to anyone who is self-employed. I work long hours. I strive to be my best. I do lots of promotional work and forever look to improve my writing. I write speedily to increase my output and become as prolific as possible.
But the bad side? Recently I realised that striving to my best – for me – means striving to be THE best and that is an unattainable and dangerous goal. If a book doesn’t sell as well as the previous one, a little voice hints that I’VE failed. If I get a bad review, it feels like a huge blow to the person, SAMANTHA TONGE. If I lose followers on Twitter, I wonder what I am doing wrong. Writing is so closely linked to an author’s ego. If I were merely tweeting on behalf of an employer such as a school or doctor’s practise, the ups and downs of that platform’s success would have little effect on me as a person.
In my opinion, the important thing, as a writer – or artist, actor… any of those professions where you give away a little piece of yourself during the process – is to distance yourself as much as you can from the business side. You won an award (like I did for Game of Scones)? Great. Recognize it as an appreciation of your work, not your soul. It might happen again. It may never. That doesn’t mean you, as a person, have succeeded or failed any more or any less. Just received a bad review? The reader isn’t saying YOU deserve to be the target of rotten tomatoes. They simply didn’t enjoy one of your pieces of work in the way that some people love sushi (yuk) and others don’t. Not gaining as high rankings as another author? No matter. That’s the nature of the business. There are lots of contributing factors and whilst you are the face on the tin, you aren’t responsible for everything like the packaging or final recipe – or amount of luck.
Plus social media – whilst highly enjoyable – can easily feed into a writer’s fragile ego. Are my photos appealing enough? Are my tweets and statuses funny? Why have my ‘likes’ gone down lately?
I strive to stand back and see being an author as just a job. And this isn’t as hard as it sounds, luckily for me, as I have a lovely family to enjoy time with. If I had come to writing as a younger person, without other responsibilities, the knocks might have hit harder. So my advice? To start with cut down on social media outside the 9 til 5 or during the day if your writing life starts in the evening. See your social platforms for what they are – tools to drive your career and not an indictment of the kind of man or woman you are. A little hint that you are connecting too closely with your job is what you talk about when you speak to a distant relative on the phone. How much of your news is about your work? Have you anything else to say about other aspects of your life like hobbies and trips out? Try to find an even balance.
So next time you get a bad review or your book doesn’t soar, still pat yourself vigorously on the back. Or as you launch a new book, like I will be doing soon with my summer novel Breakfast under a Cornish Sun. You are doing the hardest thing ever – putting actual parts of your soul out into the big wide world, to be scrutinised by Joe Public. That earns you the permanent judgement of being one hell of a gutsy person, who looks failure in the face – instead of creeping around it, too scared to ever dare step out of its shadow.