A confession: I’ve always felt a fraud. Calling myself a musician, calling myself a harpist – how dare I? I’m a little reluctant to put this on my website but I guess anyone wanting to book me for their wedding will be too busy to read blogs anyway. So here goes. I didn’t take up the harp when I was six years old and my parents didn’t buy me my first harp when I was eight and I didn’t study under an inspiring teacher and I didn’t perform regularly in school and college concerts and I didn’t work my way up through graded exams, building my technique and confidence the way you are supposed to. No, I took up the harp as an adult and I did it my way. Without teachers, without exams and without reading music. Well, I did have a few lessons over the years but not many and not (to be honest) tremendously useful. It was mostly guesswork, experimentation and lots of practice.
I am proud that I forged my own path. But also I’m plagued with doubts that my own path isn’t valid, isn’t good enough.
‘The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt’. That’s what Sylvia Plath said. But, alas, self-doubt is as common as trees are in a forest. Judging by my writing friends and all the comments I see on Twitter, self-doubt is stamped into the soul of every writer. It’s pretty safe to say that most musicians suffer from it too. What’s the remedy?
I’ve got a recommendation. It worked for me. This: keep a written record of anything positive anybody ever says about your art/music/writing or whatever. In their exact words. I’ve got all my positive comments from years stored in a document entitled ‘Lots of encouragement’. Whenever I stop believing in myself or my creative ability I make time to read it. It really, really helps.
Now, thanks to the positive comments of countless listeners – and they’re the ones who matter, right? – I’m finally realising that my harp-playing absolutely IS valid. It IS good enough. More than good enough, even.
As for my writing, I owe everything to my encouragers. Sally B in Australia was my first and most avid reader, wading through a load of shamefully bad beginner's efforts. Then Simon Hall, Angie Sage and Nia Williams read the first three chapters of my novel and gave me tonnes of lovely, positive feedback. Without it I’d never have had the faith to carry on. Rebecca’s support has also been just fabulous. And my Swanwick friends (too many to name) have provided so much of that go-on-you-can-do-it stuff that writers need. After a hugely disappointing, hopes-dashing experience with my first agent, I was taken on by Darley Anderson and team – and those wonderful people put me right back on my feet again. But STILL I felt a fraud, felt that soon I’d be found out, I’d be exposed as a person who couldn’t really write at all but had somehow just got lucky.
In spite of all the doubts I now have the best validation of all. I have (and there's a lot of self-pinching going on here) a two-book deal with a top publisher! No! But yes! So I’m finally saying goodbye to the metaphorical fraud squad. And I’m saying a massive, heartfelt thank-you to all you encouragers.
Encouragement is a balm, a tonic, a ray of sunshine, an oasis in the desert, a rope when you’re falling… and a whole load of other cheesy analogies. And, as we’re having a cheese feast, let’s finish off with a cliché - but one I wholeheartedly believe: encouragement makes the creative world go round.