By Olivia Levez
So my school’s due an Ofsted.
So my school’s due an Ofsted.
Any minute now, any day, any unit, the door of my classroom will creak slowly open, and there’ll be that drymouthheartbeatfeelsick moment when An Inspector Calls.
A middle-aged man, or possibly a woman, will nod once, then sit in the chair which I will have made available to them, right behind the boy or girl who is most likely to be on task and hopefully has the neatest book.
And The Inspector will scrutinise every aspect of my lesson, every flaw, every missed learning opportunity, every doodled penis on every dictionary spine, every moment of mediocrity in between the crammed garbled quest for outstandingness.
So, um, Ofsted’s pretty scary.
It’s got me thinking about the fears in being a writer.
When I first made the decision to actually do something about becoming an author, I definitely had my Yellow Thinking Hat on. For any non teachers out there, this means that I was using the part of my brain that thinks in terms of optimism and positivity and hopefulness. Except thinking hats are a bit old hat now.
I took a sabbatical from school and made the decision that, after fifteen years of teaching, I was going to be:
a) A writer
b) An artist
Either would do. I wanted to swap my desk of marking for a lovely battered table filled with pots of paintbrushes and found objects and mood boards. I wanted to leave the busy, shovey, clamour-and-din of school corridors for a Room of One’s Own.
I imagined floating around, looking nicely arty, and a tiny bit scatty, clutching my iMac Air and wandering off to my Roald Dahlesque writing shed, complete with dog blanket on my knees and a giant rubber band ball for when I needed to Find My Muse.
I’d dash off a novel, send in a couple of chapters, get a book deal, and then live off my earnings, happily pottering/writing.
Never again would I have to Feel the Fear.
Never again would I have that feeling of someone looking over your shoulder and judging you.
I was to learn, of course, that being rejected and feeling a failure is an important part of being a writer. Strengthening. Character-building. Growth mindset encouraging. And that critique groups are a gentle way to show you how much you still don’t know.
But nothing comes close to Being On Submission and waiting for your agent’s email. Thinking that maybe it could be a phone call, because probably that means A Six Figure Deal and then…*drifts into reverie of taking The Call at school, maybe in a staff meeting, and having to say “oh, so sorry, my agent, yah, just discussing the ahm deal, please excuse me for one moment…”*
Soon, I worked out that an email with an exclamation mark often meant Exciting News! whereas a straightforward, common-or-garden email came with a thoughtfully edited rejection or two.
So I took to approaching my inbox like a bomb disposal engineer.
And now there are new fears:
NotSellingAnyBooksGettingBadReviewsNoOneAttendingtheLaunchNotKnowingAboutTaxNobodyLikingtheBookNotBeingAbletoWriteAnotherBookNotHaving a latformNobodyComingtoMyBookSigningTwoHundredPairsofTeenageEyes
Borrowing a quote from the brilliant We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, in which the main characters write quotes on their hands, I’ve put one of them up in my classroom:
“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
So, realising that being a writer has equal terrors to being a teacher, I decided to force myself to do hideously scary things in preparation.
Fearful things I’ve made myself do:
Give assemblies about Write For Real, sharing my experiences of trying and failing to get published.
Speak at TeachMeets – horrifically terrifying events where you give micro or nano speeches, watching your name teeter on the fruit machine ‘fun’ random-name-picker.
Make myself go alone to the intriguingly named SCBWI conference that I kept hearing so much about.
Set up a writing critique group, attended by the assistant headteacher and a book group friend who I didn’t know too well.
Give a teacher training session at the Pedigoo for local teachers.
Talk, many times in Staff Briefing – literally hundreds of teachers on a Monday morning, all needing to get their lessons set up – sharing Word of the Week.
Go to my first SCBWI Friday critique session, clutching five amazing scripts that I knew I didn’t have a hope in hell of being as good as.
Skyping Melvin Burgess after my friend won him in a SCBWI raffle and agreed to swap. It was a little awkward when we were setting up, and I could see him but he couldn’t see me and, oh, eek, oh.
Weirdly, having two scary jobs rather than just the one has put them both into perspective. Now, when An Inspector Calls, I shall serenely teach on, and think, why, this is nothing.
Not compared to an email with no exclamation mark.