Today I’m sharing a guest post from author Anne Goodwin. Anne’s post will talk about why it’s important to follow your dreams and not let fear hold you back – something I think we can all use a little help with sometimes.
Over to Anne:
You Don’t Know Until You Try by Anne Goodwin
Anticipating the publication of my second novel later this month, it’s hard to remember what a risk it felt when I cut down my hours at my day job to make time to write.
Although it entailed a reduction in income, the household balance sheet was such that the risk was more psychological than financial.
How could I justify indulging such an odd obsession?
What if, after a lifetime’s secret scribbling, I couldn’t produce anything worthy of publication?
Would it feel overly exposing to pour my personal passions onto the page?
It would be much safer to hide my ambition away, even from myself, to shrink it down to something I might do, one day, when the time was right. How scary to commit to it now.
Like many people who gravitate to the helping professions, I grew up more skilled in pleasing others than pleasing myself. Although I was no pushover, and wouldn’t have survived the pressures of the NHS if I had been, I channelled the bulk of my energy and ambition into the job.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t treat myself, but the purpose of any kind of pampering was to revitalise me for the hard grind. I don’t think I was particularly unusual in that respect.
Because my work gave me some satisfaction, and status, it was easy to forget I’d ever wanted to do anything else. And, in a way, I hadn’t, given that, where I come from, writer isn’t the kind of job people like me do.
I’d like to say I had a huge awakening, stamped my foot, insisting It’s my turn now! But my progression from clinical psychologist to full-time writer was more cautious, and as much a matter of bad luck turning good (a mental health crisis and later redundancy) as planning on my part.
I’d like to say the process has been easy, but I experienced multiple disappointments across more than a decade before I’d written a publishable novel.
I’d like to say my writing career has been enormously successful but, with a small publisher – albeit a lovely one – with not much clout in the marketplace, sales so far are in the hundreds rather than the thousands.
But I am an author, something I never dared hope to be. I do have readers who tell me, face-to-face or through reviews, that they’ve enjoyed my fiction. What’s more, I’m really enjoying it.
But even if I hadn’t achieved this modest success, I’d still deserve a pat on the back for having tried. Because – contrary to what those irritating “friends” all writers seem to have, who profess that they too could write a book if they could be bothered – none of us knows what we’re capable of until we put ourselves to the test.
Striving for what we really want can be more threatening than passively accepting what we’re given and resenting that life hasn’t thrown up more.
One of the great things about writing fiction is that any life experience, good, bad or indifferent, can feed the muse. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the theme of struggling with what you want crops up in mine.
Diana, the narrator of my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, is so scared she’ll be vilified if others should discover the life-changing decision she made at fifteen that she’s kept it secret her entire adult life. But when love comes knocking on the door, she has to decide whether she can risk letting down her guard.
After a lonely childhood, Steve, the protagonist of my forthcoming second novel, Underneath, has been more self-centred in his choices, living abroad for twenty years. But the time comes when he wants to settle down. When he meets a woman who, like him, is adamant she doesn’t want children, and persuades her to move in with him, everything seems to have slotted into place. But people change. As the daughter of a neglectful mother who was herself neglected as a child, Liesel has always assumed she lacks the emotional capacity to be a good enough mother herself. But now she’s determined to try and, if Steve doesn’t agree to start a family with her, she’ll leave. Unable to face the prospect of fatherhood, Steve tries to stop her going, which is when the cellar at the bottom of his house comes into its own.
I don’t mean to imply it’s okay to disregard what others want in pursuing our dreams. I wouldn’t even suggest anyone become a writer, or a parent, since such emotionally demanding jobs are best undertaken by those who feel the strongest pull.
But I would say that, if there is something you really want to do, somewhere you really want to go, someone you’d really like to be, and the only thing that’s holding you back is the fear of change or failure, you owe it to yourself to see if you can.
You’ll never know what you can achieve unless you try.
Like Steve, Anne Goodwin used to like to travel, but now she prefers to stay at home and do her travelling in her head. Like Liesel, she’s worked in mental health services, where her focus, as a clinical psychologist, was on helping people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size. Underneath is her second novel; her first, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. Anne lives in the East Midlands and is a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio.