Tuesday, 29 November 2011

B is for Baggage

We've all got it, even if we think we don't.  Baggage is the mind set we carry around with us, also known as hang-ups.  Sometimes it's good - an innate confidence for example that makes us persist in the face of rejection.  Sometimes it's not as beneficial - an innate confidence that makes us reject any feedback from others.  

I think writers benefit from acknowledging their baggage and learning when it's useful and when it's detrimental and how to maximise the former and minimise the latter.  

My baggage:  
I tend to stick with what I know and have to push myself out of my comfort zone.  When I'm writing I have to stop myself from trotting out the same situations/locations.  Now I often leave out those details on the first draft so I can spend some time thinking up different set ups from my first reactions.  When I'm teaching I often get the students to come up with words, or situations rather than coming with them pre-supplied.  I'm always surprised at the range of what they suggest.  

I was brought up with the idea that pushing yourself forward was bad.  I don't like self-promotion, either doing it myself or hearing it from others.  I vaguely hope that by being as good as you can be, somehow the magic universe will notice you.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still a believer in self deprecation and not shoving oneself to the front, but I've also learned that the magic universe doesn't automatically notice you.  You HAVE to get your work (and often, yourself) out there.  If this doesn't come naturally to you, you need to find ways to get round it.  I like chatting, so Twitter suits me, especially as overt self-promotion will lose followers.  I don't like parties and schmoozing so I avoid those situations even though networking is good for careers.

Confidence, lack of.  And the flip side of this is being overly impressed (and then depressed) by other people's achievements.  Letting what other people achieve affect you is daft, but it's an easy trap to fall into.  When I was doing my MA there was one person who became obsessed by other students' marks.  It visibly corroded her belief in herself and her writing as she grumbled and complained about X getting a higher mark for their writing than she had done.  I could suffer from this...instead I mentally stick my fingers in my ears and sing La La La when someone has just got some mega deal or sold shedloads in Tesco.  It's irrational - just because X has succeeded doesn't mean I won't, so there's no reason to skulk back to my laptop thinking 'what's the point in carrying on?'  

This post could go on and on and on, but I'd better stop for fear of boring you - which of course is yet another bit of my baggage...


9 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

Baggage comes in two flavours: loads and burdens, at least that’s how I think about it. I had a very religious upbringing and although I’ve left all of that behind it’s a part of my baggage. Sometimes the things that were drummed into me were good, sometimes not so much. One of the good ones was the difference between loads and burdens. The scriptures say that were all have to carry our own loads but we can help each other with our burdens. The difference is one of degree. Loads are the things that we have to learn to carry on our own but when a person becomes dragged down by his or her responsibilities then they have become burdens and unless something is done to take some of the pressure off those burdens will wear a person out. I know baggage in the context you’re using it is different but there are some similarities. Oftentimes it’s how we view sometimes that changes it from being a burden to a load and this is where the negative side of my upbringing kicks in because I’m burdened with guilt about things that most people shrug off.

Patsy said...

There will always be people who write better than me, sell more, win more competitions. I try to ignore all that, other than to take a look for ways I can learn from them.

Tania said...

I feel exactly the same way...

Derek said...

Thanks , Sarah - it's reassuring to know that, even when we've achieved publication, we're still ourselves! One of my characters told me recently that writers do not escape their baggage, they use it!

Sarah Duncan said...

Jim, you make me glad I didn't have a religious upbringing. The guilt thing is very common among all of us I think, but perhaps especially so among writers - is it something to do with the Protestant work ethic that says sitting down all day playing with words and making stuff up isn't work? Whatever, we have to learn to live with it, if that's part of our baggage.

Patsy and Tania, me too. But sometimes it's harder than others...

Derek, I love that quote. Joyce said that all fiction was autobiographical fantasy so using our baggage is what it's all about.

Diane Fordham said...

I agree with what Patsy said. I think too with self promotion; leaning towards a good balance without being up oneself (if I may say that) is what to aim for. I think many of us need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, sometimes easier said than done - for me anyway! Thanks for the post Sarah.

Philip C James said...

I sense a trend developing...

Philip C James said...

Sarah, I don't think it's always guilt at enjoying one's work.

Having been at times a 'salesman' (I was called a business development manager), I know the hardest thing to sell is yourself, and that's very one good reason for having an agent of course. Because they are selling a 'product' (you! OK, if you will, a proposition) they can take it far less personally and handle it more effectively.

Sarah Duncan said...

Diane, I"m going to write about self-promotion later, but agree with you about finding the balance.

Phil, yes, it's sooo much easier to have a middleman to do the pushing than it is to do it for yourself. And yes, there is a trend developing...