On Books, On writing, Other Stuff

Can we say Virginia Woolf was vain?

I’ve just come out of a steaming hot shower. The glass doors in my bedroom are still steaming and misted over, so you know how keen I was to get to my laptop to get this one out. As I’m soaping and re- soaping, having gone down my right shin at least three times (do shins even get dirty?) the questions and contemplations multiply until the soap has reduced to half it’s size and I have unwittingly contributed to global warming and yes, I do feel bad about that. It’s not intentional. I’m sorry.

With no-one really to mull these thoughts over but preferring to write about them anyway, they land up in a blog. (Better than in the bog).

So, there. Now you know how most blogs get written sometimes: a scrubbed raw clean body and a throbbing head.

Here’s a shortened version of the answer /question session from my shower.

I treated myself to a writer’s workshop this weekend: fifteen women, a young man of 20 (brave and so self- assured) and two accomplished writers, our presenters, one of whom is also a publisher. Oh okay. Rahla Xenopoulos and Melinda Ferguson if you must know. Of course there were also other published authors and poets in the room but we were all there to write and explore our writing selves in some way or another, first timers or not.

With scented candles, sprigs of lavender, pens rushing over the paper like they’re running the Boston bloody marathon (they promised we’d get a ‘fuck-load’ of writing done) but always at the end of these things, the inevitable question….so nu? (that’s the Jewish way) how do we get it published ?

Damn it.

Here’s the TRUTH:

  • Traditional publishing: You write like hell and make it the best you can. With the help of friends, readers, editors, proof readers (typos still happen people!) you submit to the publishers.
  • They think it’s great, nice, has potential but not sure that it’ll sell, (they need to feed their families, pay for their cellphones) or, chances are, one of their ‘readers’ don’t think it’ll sell and that’s the end of that. A reader. Just like you or me.
  • That’s if you’re lucky and the publisher actually got it amongst the 300 other submissions that month , or even dealt with it in some way, ie- slush pile, reader, thanks but no thanks but please keep writing.

Well you know what?

That’s great. Lovely. Super. Kudos to you for letting people run your life and ruin your day and put pay to your dreams and bloody ‘Gladwell Hours’ ( you know , Malcolm Gladwell, and his magic number) and think you are not dejected, defeated and clueless as to what now? Disappointed doesn’t even come close.

But it not’s the only way.

Yes. You may not be eligible for literary awards or have a prestigious or recognizable logo on your spine and a whopping 10% loyalty in your pocket.

Just yet.

But you will have something else. You will have created your very own readers. Real ones who may even later say, ’I’m waiting for your next book!’ And, shall I tell you something else? Even if just ONE person asks you, you’ll feel like a million dollars.

Or even just a writer which is, quite frankly for me, precisely the same.

Now. I ask you, is that vain? Is it vain to hunch over your desk and your blank pages for hours and hours and days and months so that your back becomes bent and you develop a psychosis from all the self-doubt which creeps on you during every fifteen second interval when your fingers hover over the keyboard, mirroring the little cursor which flashes and beckons at the end of the line? And you wear the same clothes day in and day out because they are warm and comfy and the last time you looked in the mirror you could have sworn that your face was never that creased?

‘Vanity’ publishing is an archaic concept. It stinks. It should be obliterated from all sources for there is nothing vain about vanity publishing. ‘Independently’ published is good. Self- published’s okay but it’s not great. It’s too close to the word ‘selfie’ which similarly has an implication of being vain.

But you and I know that selfies aren’t vain? Are they? Only when they’re photo-shopped and you’ve been botoxing for months so that people think you’re less creased and more Barbie and of course it’s better to show the world that you’re more beautiful and youthful with a bit of help than not and who doesn’t always want to look their best?

That’s just simple self-pride.

So. I am not an expert on Virginia Woolf nor vaguely like her ( and hope that my hot showers will provide some respite against the madness of us all) though I imagine there must be some similarly comparative gene in all writers, for as Lyndall Gordon remarks (Virginia Woolf : A Writer’s Life) ‘Perhaps her greatest problem in becoming a writer was to overcome her modesty, the fear of public exposure (a fear for which the founding of her own Hogarth Press in 1917) was to provide only a partial solution.

And I hope, in some way, that someone, somewhere, perhaps in the next 100 years will also be writing books about this strange writer (me) as Julia Duckworth in 1865-6 wrote, of Virginia,

‘She alone spoke the truth…That was the source of her everlasting attraction’



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