"…writing (at its best) does give you that exhilaration, that rush of sheer happiness, that not much else can match. There’s nothing like looking down at the end of the day at that small pile of created words that you’ve managed to assemble since the morning. Sentences, scenes, characters that didn’t exist a few short hours before! It’s a magical process, and I’m very lucky to be able to do it.”
"The last thing you are is trapped - so just take your time and feel your way through the pressures currently upon you. They’ll fall away soon enough, and new challenges will take their place. But the secret is that each set of new challenges will steer you closer and closer to working out who you want to be - or: who you already are."
These are quotes from, and a photo of the signature on, a letter I received from Jonathan Stroud, the writer of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, my favourite series of books. I’ve put them here in the hopes of inspiring fellow writers and readers, but I’ve got a lot more to say about the story behind this letter, so if you’d like to, please read on.
If you already follow my blog you’ll know, but if you’re coming across this through tags - I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This is a new diagnosis but it’s far from a new problem. I have always felt strung out and stressed over the stupidest things and have always - though more and more lately - been prone to panic attacks, complete lack of confidence in what I’m doing to the point where I intentionally undo progress I’ve made to spite myself, paranoia, crippling despair and minor personal breakdowns.
Last year, during exam period, I had one of these breakdowns. The way I resolved it was doing something I still do now - pick up one of my favourite worlds, and disappear, just for an hour or two. Sure, it’s time out of my day, but it helps me come back down to earth and so far it’s the only thing that does work. In this instance, I turned to The Bartimaeus Trilogy - specifically, a cheap paperback copy of Ptolemy’s Gate my brother got me for my birthday after he appropriated my original. I remember the feelings of hopelessness and self-hatred and worthlessness very clearly, especially because I end up feeling them magnified every few days right now. During this particular breakdown, I did something I’ve rarely found myself capable of doing, and that was to Take Positive Action.
My form of positive action was something I dismissed as really a little cheesy, a little immature - I wrote a fan letter to Jonathan Stroud. I literally poured my heart out to this man I’d never met and told him how much his books meant to me, how I was trapped in a course I didn’t want to be in, following a path into a life I didn’t want to lead. I felt very embarrassed doing it but for some reason I forced myself to keep going, because I kept telling myself, even if you don’t send this, it’s important to say it, it’s important to get these feelings out and to articulate things and -
And before I knew it, I had sent it.
Yes, I still felt silly. I was a nineteen year old Law student writing an over emotional Agony Aunt letter to the author of young adult fantasy books - what on earth was wrong with me? But I’d sent it and it was done and the exams were over. It helped me through. I got past it. There have been many more breakdowns over the past year, and I cannot help but feel there will be more ahead, but for a few days, I had beaten it.
On his website, Jonathan Stroud states that he replies to every single letter he receives. He says that it might take time, but that he always will. I cannot speak for every single letter writer, but I can speak for myself: I got a reply. I got a reply the day before I headed back to York for my second year of university. For the record, I have never felt more despairing about my immediate future than I did in that week. I felt like I had absolutely nothing waiting for me at uni. I had barely any friends, certainly very few I was on good terms with at the time, I despised my course and most of the people on it, I was certain I had no career prospects, the house we were renting was horrible and mouldy and a forty minute walk from anything, and one of my housemates was - and is - the worst person I have ever met in my life. And in the middle of this, I got a letter from my favourite author.
Remember that the letter I sent Mr Stroud was an over-emotional outpouring from the middle of a personal breakdown. Remember that I blabbered, that I meandered, that I over-effused and generally made a fool of myself. What I got in reply was the most thoughtful, inspiring and considerate letter I have ever read. I do not want to post the whole thing here, or anywhere, for numerous reasons, but I wanted to post these two quotes for anyone who has felt even slightly like I did.
During this exam period, I had another personal emotional breakdown. Once again, I managed to pull out some Positive Action - and once again, it was something a little insane. This time, though, I started a creative writing society at York University, of which I am now the president. We are going into our first year this October and it is down to me to be the impetus that gets the wheels spinning. As I said, I’ve recently got the diagnosis of GAD and between appointments with the doctor I am mainly staying inside panicking about the future. The worry that I am going to completely ruin everything for the people interested in the creative writing society is heavy over me. But I reread the letter from Mr Stroud today, and I reread his comments about writing and being a writer, and I think, I hope, it has given me a measure of faith I need to get things together - at least in this one, small sphere of my life.
I understand how strange and perhaps pathetic this all might sound. But I would say this much: to anyone who loves books, who loves stories, who feels the living and vibrant nature of the written word every time you crack open an old favourite, to anyone who holds the level of respect and wonderment I do for those people who have managed to craft the most incredible, the most heartbreaking, the most sensational stories you have ever come across - I think you will understand what I mean by all this. To anyone who loves to write, who feels deep in their bones like that is the only thing they can do, even if they keep butting their heads up against brick walls trying to do it - I think you will know how I have felt and may have felt the same.
The Bartimaeus Trilogy are an incredible series of books written by a man who took the time out of his day to reply to an over-emotional fan having a personal breakdown. I would encourage anyone who loves stories or fantasy in any measure to give them a go. And I hope that the quotes I have provided here may touch you in the same way they’ve touched me.
Massive lame geekout/lovefest over now. Evening, all.