Like all bad things in life, it started with a tiktok. Two, in fact, because one was not enough to capture the extent of my ineptitude as a writer. I watched the first 15 seconds, and decided I didn’t need to see the rest. My first bad review hit me hard. Not because I can’t take criticism about my writing, but because it implied I was unprofessional, which, to a person with three planets in Capricorn, is the ultimate insult. I never wanted to be a self-published author. A nine-year-long chain of events lead me to where I am now, and I was so entangled in what had come before that I couldn’t see a way out. Until a month ago, when a woman on tiktok was unnecessarily bitchy in her critique of my life’s work. Every glowing review has been a fleeting glimmer of happiness, but that one bad review? It cut me to my core. Beneath the shame of failure, I was deeply relieved; I finally had an out.
I’m not going to tell the story of how my book came to be. I’ve written it many times, it’s somewhere deep in the archives of past blog posts. The short version is: I wrote a novel called Consequence when I was 14, and published that whole trilogy over the next couple of years. At 17, I realised it didn’t live up to its potential, and spent 4 years rewriting it. At 21, I published the new version, The Purest Form of Chaos. Publishing was anticlimactic. I struggled with self-promotion, struggled to get readers. More than that, I struggled to be taken seriously. Every time someone said “oh, you *self*-published a book”, I died a little inside. Because no one takes you seriously as an artist unless you’re backed by an institution. If your work isn’t made legitimate by the opinions of others, you will forever be seen as an amateur, a failure, someone who isn’t ambitious enough to even try. For a long time, I fought a losing battle to be taken seriously, and I never stopped to ask myself who I was writing for, or where my feeling of failure actually came from.
In a last-ditch effort to gain recognition, I created a tiktok account at the start of 2021, and began reading an “audiobook” of The Purest Form of Chaos in 60-second segments. Maybe it helped a little, who knows. And it was through tiktok that I got my first bad review, and finally set myself free. The need to annihilate the book I had spent 9 years creating was present before this, but my fate seemed inescapable. I knew my book would never reach a wide audience if it remained self-published. The only reason I self-published The Purest Form of Chaos to begin with was because an earlier version of it existed in the world, I didn’t think an agent or publisher would take a book that wasn’t brand new. But a quick google search told me otherwise, and I began to see light at the end of the tunnel. I was already planning to remove my book from the world when I saw the review. But it carved its way into me, crawling between the layers of my skin like rapidly multiplying beetles. It wasn’t the criticism of my writing, or world-building, or characters (all the things every other review had praised). It was the implication that I am unprofessional for self-publishing. It was the weight of hearing my deepest insecurities come from another person’s mouth.
As I watched the knife twist into my deepest wound, I saw myself clearly for the first time. I did not want to be a publisher, I wanted to be a writer, and every choice I had made in the past 9 years had pushed me further from achieving that dream.
For the first time in my life, I asked myself who I was writing for. I wasn’t writing for the sake of putting my book out into the world, I wasn’t writing so my immediate friends and family could read my work – the people who know you personally are never going to be your biggest supporters, they will always see the artist before the art. I want to write so I can touch lives I would never otherwise encounter. I want to write to capture the range and intensity of human experience. I want to write because that is how I understand the world. But most of all, I want to write for myself. I fell out of love with novel writing a long time ago. I stopped viewing my writing as art, and started viewing it as obligation, writing an obligatory sequel to a doomed novel that no one wanted to read. It was masochism, in its purest form. Finally, I stopped, took stock of where I was at, and who I wanted to be. If I must choose between having my self-published novel out in the world, and writing for the love of it, I must choose love, choose writing. There is a certain irony to the fact I stopped feeling like a writer as soon as I put my novel into the world. All that build-up, and then…nothing. It might as well not exist. It is hard to take myself seriously when all I see are failed endeavours, missed chances, wrong choices.
Being a writer has been my identity for as long as I can remember. For so long, I didn’t know who I was without that. It is all I’ve ever wanted to be, and now every time someone calls me a writer, I want to scream “you’re wrong! I’m a fake! I’m a fraud! None of this is real!”. On the rare occasions that someone calls me a published author, I feel my stomach flip, because all it does is remind me of the ways I failed.
I’ve spent so long trying to make The Purest Form of Chaos work, unleashing the full nightmare of my perfectionism on it, and for what? Where has that got me? All I’ve done is fall out of love with writing. In my teens, writing was all I had. I was alone, an outsider and oddball. I didn’t live in a world where there was a place for my eccentricity. When I wrote, I was myself. If you read The Purest Form of Chaos, you will see everything I am, everything I have ever strived to be. The irony is, upon closer inspection, that bad review was bullshit. It’s clear the person had a particular bone to pick with my book; I can almost laugh about it now, even if it does still stab me in the guts. Plus, I’ve never been one to take criticism from people I don’t want to be like. If you are better than me, if you have something to teach me, I am more than open to constructive criticism. But I’ve dealt with enough bullies in my life to differentiate between valid criticism and people who are mean as a projection of their own insecurities. I’m not unpublishing my book because of one bad review, the review was a catalyst, it made me look inwards and see that I had been disappointing myself for years. Maybe it’s not the world that views me as a failure, maybe that label always came from within.
I grew up a lot this year, and my sense of self is the most solid it’s ever been. When you spend a year alone in your room, self-reflection isn’t a choice, but a necessity. I know who I am now, and in the freedom of not being perceived, I learned what my own values are. I do not want to be a self-published author. It works for some people, with different skills and needs than I have, but I would rather claw my own eyes out than continue self-publishing my books. I despise self-promotion, I despise the way I have to sell myself in order to sell my books, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to promote my social media instead of doing what I actually love. I have spent my whole life on the outside. It doesn’t mean I’m not worthy or valuable, it just means that I have too often found myself in situations where I don’t fit, where I’m the odd one out and I am not valued because of that. I want nothing more than to be unique and special and leave a mark on the world, but I am tired of going it alone. I do not have to do everything by myself. I shouldn’t do everything myself. Maybe people look at my novel and think it’s a joke, think it’s some amateur project that is embarrassing and cringey and shouldn’t exist. I don’t doubt that some people do think that. But it is not other people who tell me that everything I have done is illegitimate and unworthy. I tell myself that. I will not be satisfied as a writer unless I write for myself, in private, or am published by a traditional publisher. I need the legitimacy of being backed by an institution. It is not the only way, but it is the way that’s right for me.
What stood in the way for so long were the nine years I spent on The Purest Form of Chaos. How could I give up when this book was all of my teens and the first three years of my 20s? It was my everything, my greatest achievement, a museum to every thought and passion and fixation that passed through my mind. But I stopped being proud of it as soon as the seeds of doubt were sown. A week or so ago, I had a debate with my boyfriend about aliens. If aliens came to earth, I would take them for coffee and ask them their travel stories, whereas he would assume they were hostile and probably try to kill them. I had this image in my mind, perhaps of myself a lot later in life, an eccentric old lady in a purple cardigan, sitting across a café table from an alien in a business suit. An image, a spark, a character. It wasn’t enough for a new novel, but it was enough to make me want one. The Purest Form of Chaos was my coming of age. But I have come of age. I moved out of my parents’ house 5 years ago, I’m half way through my second university degree, I am in a relationship that is more than I ever hoped to dream of. I am not a child; I am not a teenager or a ‘young adult’. I grew up. The Purest Form of Chaos will always be my first and deepest love, but I want to see what I’m made of now. What kind of writer am I as a grown woman, rather than a perfectionist editing and improving the work of my teenage self? I’m not a failure, and it’s not giving up to let The Purest Form of Chaos rest for a while. I can write new books, explore new narratives. Maybe I will try to get them published, or maybe I will spend my life writing in private, writing for the love of it rather than out of masochistic obligation to a non-existent audience. I will always be a writer, even when I stop being an author.
When you show signs of talent at a young age, there is a lot of pressure to do something with it, to be brilliant right away, rather than nurturing your talent in private. I wrote seven novels in three years, and I haven’t completed one since I was fifteen. When I stopped writing, I started editing, working on my craft and striving for perfection. Let me tell you this: talent is not the most important part. It is a catalyst; it is the hand that opens the door. That door cannot stand without a frame. Being a writer is 1 percent talent. The important part is dedication, perseverance, love for your craft. When you stop loving what you do, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. Talent is a fire, and all fires burnt out. I myself am entirely built from earth and air. I am solid and stable, stubborn and persistent, with a mind that moves a thousand miles an hour, a head permanently soaring through the clouds. None of that is talent, it is all love and willpower.
There is a culture, particularly for young women, of needing to be constantly active. “Girlboss” culture, “hustle” culture. What is a hobby worth if you can’t monetise it, right? Creativity is not a commodity, but we treat it like one. I created a product that does not sell, a product I did not know how to market, a product that was worthless. I spent years beating a dead horse, and for what? My life will not change when I unpublish my book, and that tells you all you need to know. To me, The Purest Form of Chaos is not a commodity, it is not a product to be marketed. It is a landscape; I see it sprawling out before me in my mind. Phoenix and Persephone and Haden and Drew and Kai and Dr Skryabin are all people to me, they don’t just inhabit the book, they also live in my head. They have been real to me since I was 14 years old; they are my oldest friends, and I will always love them. I will always fight for them. I am gracefully admitting defeat, conceding this battle, but that does not mean I won’t win this war.
I have spent my life waiting. I waited 19 years for real friendships. I waited 23 years for my first relationship. I have been late for every normal event of my life, and I spent a long time resenting myself for that. I am impatient and easily frustrated, and when I know what I want, I want it immediately. But I spent the past year waiting, without a clear goal or end in sight. I was waiting for the world to start spinning again, waiting to live out the most basic parts of my life. I am grateful to walk through a bookshop, to drink cider in a beer garden, hug someone I love. Everything I once took for granted holds immense value to me now, because I have seen what life is like without it. There is nothing like prolonged absence to truly teach you gratitude. I’ve spent the past five years getting all sorts of complicated feelings for men who treated me like garbage. The bar was so low it was in hell, and they couldn’t even meet that. I have spent all of my adult life believing I was unlovable, that there was some inherent lack within me that made men see me as less than human, less than worthy of dignity and decency. I gave up, I stopped looking, and found the impossible in one of my bestest friends. After 23 years of men treating me like an afterthought, I found someone who treats me like a priority, who respects me and is kind to me, who supports my writing, and dances in the kitchen to Taylor Swift songs with me. If there is one thing I have learned lately, it’s that the right things come to you when you’re ready for them. I am not ready to be an author. I don’t know when I will be. It could be a few months down the line, or many years. All I know is that I write best in secret. Privacy is an underrated form of freedom.
It is time to say goodbye to The Purest Form of Chaos. I never believed I would be ready to let it go. I thought I would fight for it above all else. I’m tired of fighting, I’m tired of drama and chaos and failed endeavours. I will always be a writer. Ink flows through my veins, words and letters and sentences are tattooed upon my soul. This will always be a part of me. I am a writer, but it is not all that I am. I am young, even if I feel ancient. I am 23 years old; I have barely lived. I need to prioritise living over narrating. I will always have a lot to say, but right now I need to live my life instead of writing about it. I must set out in search of new stories, embark on adventures and pilgrimages, forever in search of the pinnacle of human experience. There is so much I have yet to learn, and time is on my side. I believe in divine timing, I believe in fate, I believe that there is some kind of map for our lives, even if we ourselves are the mapmakers. I am not doing what is expected of me, I am not committing to a path that has consistently crushed me. I know myself well enough to know what’s best for me, and I am setting myself free.
This is uncharted territory for me, but I have explored a lot of that lately, and I am finding happiness in new worlds. I am setting sail across a calm sea in the dead of night, watching the shore fade into the distant horizon, lit by the light of the full moon. There is beauty in letting go. I am saying farewell to chaos, particularly the purest form of it. Goodbye to the old Eliza, I have discarded parts of her all year like clothes strewn across a bedroom floor. I have stripped myself bare, and found value in my rawness. I know who I am and what I want, and the thing I want most right now is to stop trying to prove myself to the world. I don’t need external validation anymore, I know my own worth, and it does not come from an audience. I trust myself, and I trust that one day I will learn to love writing again, without every word feeling like fighting a losing battle. My writing will always belong to me before it belongs to the world, and I owe it enough respect to nurture it in private, let it flourish and grow in the dark womb of my mind.
One day I will write a novel that will shake the world and leave its mark, a novel that will be memorable and go down in history. I don’t doubt that I am destined to be someone important. But I know it will not be my 23-year-old self who does that, and I know that novel will not be The Purest Form of Chaos. To you, dear reader, I may look like I am quitting, but all I see is an immense level of faith in my work. I have spent a decade thinking The Purest Form of Chaos was the be all and end all of my writing ability, but now I know it is just the beginning. This novel has been the deepest love of my life, and it ripped me wide open. But I will love again. I will write again. After all, this is who I am.