This bad mood of mine isn’t blowing over. It’s just getting worse.
I might have to do that rare thing and turn the computer off and disappear for the rest of the day and perhaps tomorrow as well. Everything is winding me up wrong today, not least Twitter which seems to consist mainly of people crowing about their wonderful successes in the world of publishing, cartooning, and pretty much everything I’ve ever turned my hand to. I then noticed somebody talking about “defunding the arts” because of the monstrosity that now sits on top of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Every one of these I’ve despised. I understand the reasoning for these temporary installations. They’re saving the space for a statue of the Queen. I just don’t understand why they need to make “art” the object of everybody’s derision… But, deep breath. This is one thread I’m not going to pull on today.
None of this is helped by a PC that struggles to even do the simple things quickly. I’m probably repeating myself but right clicking on a spelling mistake in Word takes fifteen seconds before the correct word presents itself. It’s easier to fix it by hand but my muscle memory has too long become accustomed to reaching for the right click, which then locks the PC for as long as it takes for the dialog box to appear. Saving anything is the same: a thirty second wait for a dialog box to open…
I’ve also been trying to edit the new podcast but Audacity hates the files. Because of mic issues, one of the tracks was in the dreaded M4A format, which is a swine to use. First, it’s non-native to Windows. I had to convert it to MP3 first but now there’s a problem with the sync so it means constant hand edits, which my PC likes even less than I enjoy making them. It has resulted in two blue screens of death, requiring full reboots.
Yes, I’m frustrated. This is supposed to be fun. It’s something I do out of the goodness of my heart and because I enjoy the creative process. But it’s meant to be quick and most weeks it takes just three or four hours, with audio that syncs perfectly, which I can line up at the beginning and just tweak as I go through it. Editing every exchange is proper work. To coin a phrase: fuck that.
Part of me wants to press on, knowing that thousands of people will enjoy to the podcast. The other part of me thinks it’s not worth the grief. Yet I feel that way about the blog, about the cartoons, about nearly everything at the moment. So much of what I do feels like a cry in the dark or, most likely, a cry for help. An example of how things rub me wrong… Somebody has kindly put together a film of all the entries to the latest cartoon competition run by Martin Rowson. The video runs eight minutes and eighteen seconds and each cartoon gets three seconds… Yep, that means there’s over 160 cartoons, which speaks to the number of people in this racket and the chances of success.
I suppose that’s a bad way of viewing anything but the notion that everything is a competition is one that has taken over the world. Everything is reduced to the Darwinian level: only the best survive, the worst fail. Or that’s the logic. I’m not sure that’s every really true. See the current Fourth Plinth installation for proof of that…
To continue this unexpected turn towards cheap self-psychoanalysis, I don’t think my mood has been right since I accidentally watched a video on Youtube yesterday. It was Stephen Fry discussing the Dunning-Kruger Effect (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rW9R6jgE7SQ). I already knew what the Effect was – I’ve suffered this many times before – but the video explained it such a simple way I found it arresting. I suddenly saw myself as “the least proficient student who dramatically overestimated their own ability”. That, I guess, is what I’m suffering right now. Huge nasty pangs of self-doubt. My confidence is shot. My ability to say one thing undercut by the nagging feeling I should say something else.
It’s especially debilitating today given I’ve just self-published three books via Amazon. This is a problem with self-publishing that nobody warns you about. Once you get a publisher, you get somebody who will gush over your work. They say “aye” or “nay” and generally do everything to keep you happy. I’ve never needed much editorial help in my books because I’m so used to doing everything myself. When my first novel was accepted by a publisher, their proof-reader sent a note back to me to say she’d never seen such a “finished” manuscript. I liked that, though it was largely down to my having worked as a proof-reader and copyeditor, putting together a few academic books and journals. Since I had that experience, I’ve always tried to pride myself on being a low maintenance writer. When the publisher of my Stan book couldn’t get a cover they liked, I jumped on my bike, cycled to the nearest postbox, took a photo and turned it into a cover. Ditto the Monks book which I drew myself. Yet as much as I like doing things myself, I always appreciated that the publisher was there. They give you confidence and it really can’t be overstated how important that is, because without a publisher, without an agent, without the team of people helping you to put the book together, there’s just you and that’s never enough.
I also find it a little scary because so many people have sent me their self-published work over the years. That mainly happened when I wrote the Richard Madeley parody blog. It attracted dozens of writers who thought emailing “me” via “my” blog was the quickest way to get into the Richard & Judy book club. It was the worst part of that blog, explaining to people as gently as I could that I wasn’t Richard and, even if I had been, going from complete unknown to bestselling author was going to be trickier than sending him a free ebook. There was something charming about their naivety, especially emails that went:
“Hi Richard, just thought I’d send you my new novel, which came out last week. I know you and Judy will love it and I’d be more than happy to pop along and chat to you on the show. Sincerely. Annette Newbee, author of The Spatula Murders”.
How can you be hard of people as optimistic as that? What was even worse, their books tended to be terrible, but it wasn’t my place to tell them. Instead, like I mug I was (and still am), I’d try to help them. I’d teach them about English, sentence structure, tense, and the rest… I even helped one poor kid do their English homework, and, naturally, they didn’t understand, no matter how many times I explained, that I wasn’t Richard. No, Richard got the credit…
Sadder still was the occasional book that showed real promise. Those people I couldn’t help beyond telling them how good it was, wishing them luck, and underscoring that I wasn’t Richard.
I suppose that’s the darkest thought of all. I listen to seriously underrated songwriters (Mathias Kom of The Burning Hell, immediately springs to mind) who can’t break into the bigtime, yet the world gushes over utterly banal nonsense. What makes certain cultural objects “fit to succeed” isn’t necessarily their inherent quality but something else entirely. I guess this is why scientists reckon that cockroaches are most likely to inherit the world after the mammals have blown their chance… David Walliams is far from the best children’s author but good luck finding many others stocking the shelves in your local Tesco. He really is the cockroach of children’s fiction…
But I digress and I can sense my heading into even more self-indulgent twaddle. I meant to just write a piece to say I’m disappearing for the rest of the day and I might take tomorrow off.
Deep down, I’m deeply gratified that though I don’t have many people reading my blog, I know I’ve succeeded (at least until now) of maintaining the interest of people who are themselves interesting and engaged with the world. So to anybody reaching this bit of this long dull post: thank you. Much of what I’m feeling is the exhaustion I typically feel after weeks of constant work. This mood is normal given I’ve effectively just finished a book containing 165 cartoons. I had this after Monks. Had it after The Snoot. The sense of anticlimax is awful. I think I probably wanted a party and some cake to celebrate.
Since I mentioned the man, here’s a cartoon I never really finished, knew how to finish, or particularly cared to finish. This seems like a suitable place to leave it…