Can I keep the light on please - M Charlton, circa 2001
Last week, tutoring at Ty Newydd, our course began with secret fears. In the first workshop, each delegate wrote a list of the anxieties that restrict their writing. There was silence as the group pondered the question, then a frantic scribbling into notepads. We gathered the anonymous worries and transposed them onto a flip chart.
It was me who wrote, that, said one participant, referring to a concern they'd be misunderstood. I think the same, declared their neighbour, and also, that I haven't a good vocabulary. There were fears about style, about revealing oneself, of sounding pedestrian, of appearing selfish... As I scanned the list it occurred to me I shared them all - or had done at one time or other.
The course proved successful; we had thirteen hardworking and enthusiastic writers. There was a range of abilities and everyone made progress of sorts. We never returned to the list of fears - and it struck me that we hadn't needed to. For in the very act of declaring them (anonymous or otherwise) they had lost their power.
I suspect every artist lacks confidence - frankly, if it were all a breeze, there'd be scant satisfaction. Of course, experience helps, and I no longer worry when I begin with little more than a notion (as I type this post, I have no idea how it will end). I used to fret about my limited vocabulary too, until I realised it saves me from flowery prose.
It might seem strange, but despite writing this blog and publishing a deeply personal book, I find it difficult, embarrassing even, to put myself forward. The other week I went shopping with Jane and avoided the library and Waterstone's. Why not tell them about your book, she said. I made an excuse, for the truth was, I wanted to do it alone for fear of rejection. I went the next day, and guess what, the staff were generous and warm.
The truth is I'll always be reticent in some spheres. But sometimes there's a chance happening which helps us overcome. And last Friday I had a call from an agency, Hi there, I'm the publicist for Counting Steps, said the breezy voice of a seasoned PR professional. Evidently the Welsh Books Council gets behind a number of titles each year, and they've chosen mine to be one.
Have you read the book I asked her? It's beautiful, she replied, it makes me want to have children. That's a delightful endorsement, and as we talked of promotional opportunities I felt most (though not quite all) of my fears dissolving. A week later, I have three articles lined up, I've rejoined twitter and I might even appear on the radio!
Some business guru once told me that FEAR stands for False Expectations Appearing Real. I'm not sure that's true when a tiger's on the loose - but it's not a bad daily maxim. Tutoring the course last week showed me I had something to give; that I do what I do, and that it has value. Every endorsement helps build my confidence - the publicity is a reward not a trial.
We all harbour fears, but for that we ought to be glad - for in many ways, overcoming them is what makes the effort worthwhile.