Here’s something you would never know from looking at my CV. I don’t enjoy trying new things. I don’t like learning new skills. Making new friends makes me nervous.
Those aren’t very employable – or even very exciting – things to say, but they are true. They haven’t even been true for that long. But a year of lockdown has turned myself and others like me into introverts, and I felt like I lost a key part of my identity. Things I used to love now made me indifferent at best, and anxious at worst.
When our projects started on the MSc Publishing Course, however, I was excited. The Edinburgh Literary Salon were publishing their first ever anthology – with us. For the first time in a long time, I was actually excited to try new things, learn new skills, make new friends. Imposter syndrome had convinced me I didn’t deserve a place on this course, but I was going to take this project seriously. For that I had to take myself seriously too.
I started by throwing myself into every team I could. I have always loved words, so I knew Editorial was for me. I was keen to join a subgroup setting up the House Style as well. But the biggest surprise for me came when each group was asked to design a potential cover for our project.
Now, I went to school with a lot of people that are very artistically gifted, but I was not one of them. I have always wanted to translate the things I can see in my mind to paper, but my hands let me down. Or maybe my eyes? I don’t even know what goes into good drawing. I am a writer, and some recent failed attempts at watercolours encouraged me to stay in my lane. Pictures were not my strong suit.
But something about designing a book cover felt different. Most of my favourite book covers are simplistic – The Knife Of Never Letting Go for example, or American Psycho. To me, art is done with your hands, but book covers are designed in the mystical realms of a computer! And if that was the case. . . maybe I could do it too.
From the very first cover discussed with my group, we had a strong vision of the Edinburgh skyline seen through a window. We wanted it to look clean and simple, yet evocative of the City of Literature and its storied history. We knew what we wanted, and we used Adobe Illustrator to get there.
The first cover looks a little rough now but at the time we made it I could not contain my excitement. The fact the programme allowed me to make shapes, trace over photographs, layer images. . . the longer I spent on Illustrator, the more I learned about it. The more I enjoyed learning about it.
As you can see, the name of our anthology changed a good few times over the weeks and they weren’t the only thing. Market research moved us to a more muted colour palette and some more sophisticated light work. By this time I was working with someone who is actually good at real art, the hand kind AND the computer kind. I was learning a lot.
And it felt good, too. Alongside my editorial work and some volunteering with Arkbound UK, I was keeping pretty busy. Using Illustrator was changing the way I worked as well; some features on InDesign suddenly made a lot more sense, and I spent my daily walks around the city suddenly craning my neck to look at windows and buildings, wondering how I would recreate them digitally. It felt like my confidence was coming back with the spring.
Finally, we had a title, and a pretty good subtitle too. After splitting the cover work up and tackling it separately, our cover suddenly came together. I was proud of the cover we had made. I was showing a thousand and one versions of it to my mum, oblivious to the fact that no one was seeing the minute improvements but me and Elise. There was a definite moment along the way when I went from thinking about the cover as good enough, to simply good.
Battling Imposter syndrome doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t necessarily happen by telling yourself you deserve something (even if you do). For me, it meant growing into a new role and enjoying the fact I was bad at it, because it meant I had nothing to fail at. It meant I only got better.
Because that’s the beauty of Illustrator, or editing, or anything in the publishing world. We weren’t born with a red pen in our hands; we picked it up. And the moment we did, we made a choice to keep getting better. To be the best.
So maybe lockdown has turned me into someone different, but maybe that is okay. Maybe I am even a little bit more artistic than I thought. Knowing we aren’t just looking out that window anymore, but outside of it again feels good. I can be an extrovert again, it is just going to take time. A bit of patience, a lot of kindness and just a bit of inspiration is all we are going to need.