Off season: Writing, self-doubt and doing enough

09 September 2021 Off

Paula Brackston reflects on the changing season and how writers can leave an impact – however small.

How was your summer?

Indeed, where was your summer?

This troubling swing from heatwaves to dreary dull days is not helpful, particularly now. Authors, like many others working from home, often find such balm and solace in gentle sunshine and the chance to be out of doors while working. This year’s extreme heat kept us inside just as effectively as any wild winter weather. We waited, impatiently, convincing ourselves there would be a helpful drop of a few degrees in temperature.

Instead we have been visited by greyness and the need for a cardigan as we sit staring forlornly out of rain-splashed windows. Shivering under some outdoor shelter is not really an option. I don’t know about you, but I find writing in an anorak is not conducive to either inspiration or productivity. I have the sense, madly of course, that we have been denied a proper summer. Deep within me there is a niggling suspicion that, this year, we don’t deserve one. We have not earned those mornings of sunlight glinting on dewy lawns, or afternoons of gardens bathed in a golden glow. We’ve somehow so upset the order of things that all our usual, simple, British summer privileges have been revoked. Even if we venture out to the coast in search of summer we will be disappointed, faced either with scorching sands we cannot set sandalled foot upon, or a sock grey sky hanging heavily over a sock grey sea.


"We do not need to earn those sunny days. We are not to blame. What we do
is valid, appreciated, important


I have always been astonished by the way there exists, within most writers, a fierce self-belief in their work and their ability to do it, side by side with crippling self-doubt. For me, this summer-not-summer has tipped the balance, so that I begin to fear I may not be good enough to do what is expected of me after all. No sunshine for you, writer of average ability. No bumble bees mumbling into hollyhocks as you sit in the warm shade making notes that will one day be a book. No swinging in that hammock, happy to have earned half an hour’s Important Thinking, fuelled by iced coffee. No time spent drowsily mulling synonyms for halcyon, or ways to describe the feel of sunshine on your skin, or how uplifting the scent of warm jasmine flowers in the evening can be. No. Not while the world burns or drowns or succumbs to plague or war. How dare you potter along with your writer’s life, distanced, observing, ineffectual? Get back indoors and contemplate your shortcomings.

I think many writers (and creatives across all mediums) regularly fight off the fear that they are not Doing Enough. There is a sense that our work should say something, should illuminate dark corners, should bring about change. It’s a lot to expect of a novel. Or a picture book. Or a short story. Or a radio play. Or any of the other creations we strive to produce, in whatever circumstances, against whatever obstacles. Well, perhaps what we have to give is not momentous. Perhaps we can’t change the world. Or save it. Surely we should not expect to.

I believe it is enough that we try, in some small way, to contribute to what is good and worthwhile. To offer something of beauty. To suggest a line of thinking. To put forward a vision of how things might be, whether it contain hope or a warning or both. It is often enough simply to entertain. It is no small thing to provide readers with respite from the stresses and strains of modern life. I am frequently contacted by my readers who tell me that they feel transported by my stories. They feel taken away to a place and time other than their own existences. Sometimes they feel they have, for a short time, lived as someone other than themselves. And in doing this they are able to return just a little bit rested, refreshed, reset. Similarly, when we write we enter that glorious meditative state that sets us free of our terrestrial troubles, if only for a briefly. We too, then, return a little stronger, a little more able to withstand whatever we must face. And in doing so it is worth remembering that to strive is enough. To endeavour is enough. To contribute is enough. To know that we do our best, is enough. That we are enough. We do not need to earn those sunny days. We are not to blame. What we do is valid, appreciated, important.

As authors, we can support each other through those damp, grey moments of self-doubt to the sunny meadows of self-belief. And there we can be more productive and successful. We are so fortunate to have a way, through the SoA, for our community to meet, engage, enjoy and support one another. There are lots of local group events coming up, so do please join in when and where you can. Anoraks optional.

Photo © icemanphotos / Adobe Stock

Originally published in the SoA Wales September newsletter

Paula Brackston lives in the historic city of Hereford on the Welsh border. An author of fifteen novels, she has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and has been a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success. These included working as a groom on a racing yard, a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, a script reader, and a goat herd. Everyone involved (particularly the goats) is very relieved that she has now found a job she is actually able to do properly. Her first novel, The Witch's Daughter, was a New York Times bestseller.

Paula is Chair of the Society of Authors in Wales.