Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Regaining confidence

Writers find it easy to lose confidence. I know I do.

Maybe because of a bad review, rejection of work by editors or agents, writer's block... there are 1000 reasons why this can happen.

How do you get it back?

It's been inspiring recently to witness the openness with which Matt Haig has talked about his crises of confidence and depression on his Facebook profile.

Matt was someone who had his first children's book published more or less at the same time as mine.

The Humans by Matt Haig book cover
Whereas I have subsequently not had a single other children's book published, despite having brilliant reviews for Hybrids, he has had a succession of books published and the latest one, The Humans, has been sold in numerous territories abroad, and he is to write the screenplay for a film adaptation.

He ought to feel on top of the world, but he doesn't always. I alternate between feeling on top of the world, and feeling, probably, well, average I guess. I occasionally have bad days. But not as bad as I used to.

As Matt says about The Humans: "It is personal. I put absolutely everything I had into it so if people don’t like it then they don’t like me".

I did the same with Hybrids. Perhaps that's why the first volume was such a success, but my subsequent two novels have not yet sold.

I didn't put so much of my vulnerability into them. Or maybe it's just because they aren't such earthshaking ideas. Maybe they will sell one day. Who knows? I think they're alright.

Hybrids by David Thorpe book cover
Anyway, people think Hybrids is a science fiction novel and I suppose it is. It's about teenagers merging with frequently used technology like computers and mobile phones.

But SF wasn't how I saw it while I was writing it. For me, it was about disability and feeling different from everyone else. It was a metaphor.

Because I have cerebral palsy. Okay, not a severe kind, but it still affects me and I was bullied when younger.

Since a few years ago, it has caused me to walk with a limp and drag my right foot.

I tell my leg to move and it doesn't obey me. Every step I have to concentrate on. I hate the fact that I wear out my right shoe every couple of months and have to buy a new pair. I hate the fact that I probably look stupid. People stare. I hate the fact that there's something that, no matter how much I concentrate and practice, I cannot improve about myself.

But most of the time I laugh at it. I compare myself to the Ministry of Silly Walks. It's just me and I'm okay.

There's a crucial scene in Hybrids, where Bruce Lee, who lives on in main character Johnny Online's head, encourages him to look at himself naked in front of the mirror in order to come to terms with his own body self-image.

After he's done that, he gets the confidence to carry on.

That passage, together with a dream sequence about a rhinoceros, are crucial parts of the book for me.

Writing the book was partly about trying to give other kids confidence about themselves, no matter how they feel about the way they look or how they behave.

There are two other books in the Hybrids trilogy all plotted out, waiting to be published. I want them to be published more than anything else. So do the many readers who have written to me.

But so far, nobody has published them.

Myself and colleagues are actively trying to get Hybrids turned into a TV series or film.

I believe in it, because I believe in talking about these emotions.

If you can't face up to it, if you can't be honest about your feelings, you can't be a writer and expect to succeed. Your characters will be hollow and uninteresting.

I want to thank Matt for sharing his vulnerabilities with us.

You know, you find that if you open up to people, they open up to you. Similarly, if you open up to emotions, writing comes.

That's how I regain confidence. I'm not saying it's easy, because it isn't. But who said it had to be?