Inspiration and Dedication

It has been a long time since I have written a blog post. A very, very long time. There are a miriad of reasons for this but mostly it’s because I’m a busy working mum and I find it hard to find time to do all the stuff I have/want to do. This academic year, I’m going to try to be better and write blogs a bit more often.

Many amazing things have happened since Sammy gave me a chance with ‘Cruelty’. Not only do I have 2 novels waiting to go, but I’ve been given the opportunity to be an editor.

As I am an educator, as well as a PGCE mentor, the idea of helping someone make their work the best that it can be really appeals to me. I also think I can do it kindly. I work with teenagers. I am used to giving constructive criticism and to managing emotions. My friend, Kate, calls me a ‘people-wrangler.’

Sadly, this past week, things haven’t gone quite the way I had hoped with someone I think very highly of and whose work I utterly adore. Without going into that much detail, (because that’s not my story to tell) my friend decided to bin a story they had poured their heart and soul into. Many factors have played into their decision and though I don’t agree (I honestly loved the story), I respect that decision.

Sometimes, as an artist, when inspiration fails, or another criticism you weren’t expecting comes your way, you have to walk away from the project. I’ve done that, we’ve all done that.

I’m not going to lie: I’m a little disappointed. Normally, I can jolly anyone, no matter how big their self-doubt, into seeing the value of their work. I can only hope that my lovely, talented friend re-discovers their self-worth and remembers how good they are at this writing game, in spite of all the obstacles in their way.

The whole situation got me thinking: what do you do in this situation? How do you keep going?

On an early morning run (yes, I run. 5k, three times a week. PB is 33.56 but that’s a post for another day), I was listening to the radio and a lovely lady (whose name I don’t remember) was talking about her incredibly talented and creative granny. She had asked her ‘Granny, what do you do when the inspiration runs out?’

‘Darling,’ she replied. ‘That’s the best part because after inspiration comes dedication.’

This has stuck with me for a few weeks now. People, artists included, often think that art is all inspiration.

No.

No book is ever a first draft.

No painting is done straight onto canvas.

No sculpter goes straight to marble.

Every piece of art is planned, honed, added to, edited, often many times, until it becomes what it was meant to be. And that takes work, so much work. It can lead to tears, screaming, sleepless nights and often the desire to throw it out. It takes dedication.

But what do you do when dedication isn’t paying off either? When you can only see what’s wrong and you don’t understand what’s wrong, even when your editor has literally spent hours trying to help you polish it?

Put it away. Create distance. A month, 2 months, a year.

Neil Gaiman once famously said that when he thought he was done with something, he put it away for a while, until he was removed from it emotionally and could view it critically. It’s so easy to get upset when something you love, and have given your all to, isn’t quite what you hoped it would be. We’ve all been there. Leave the reality you’ve created, break the bond, do something else, and maybe one day, come back to it, with fresh eyes.

Most of all, keep on keeping on. We all face criticism, we all get knocked back and down. It doesn’t mean you’re bad; it just means that today wasn’t your day.

Until next time,

Love Ellen x

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