The Yin and Yang of Writing
This year, October brings with it not just the usual mists and mellow fruitfulness but the tantalising dangling carrot of prize-winning as I wait to hear whether I have made it from the shortlist of Wells Literary Festival’s Book for Children to the winners’ podium. Did I mention that my children’s book has been shortlisted? Of course I did! It’s all I’ve been able to think about since I got the phone call from Shepton Mallet* a month ago with the good news. I’m telling everyone…
The Art of Writing
These are the moments that writers live for. These are the glimmers of hope that keep us tapping away at our keyboards, pulling words from our heads like Dumbledore teasing silvery threads of memory from his mind with which to fill his pensieve. Our memory-bowl equivalent is that new Microsoft word document in the desktop folder marked ‘works in progress’ or similar. Painfully slowly, you watch as it fills with a swirling jumble of sentences and half-formed ideas, many of which you know must be junked long before you can start to fine-tune the words that remain. Only then, as the form finally settles and clears, can you hope to turn what’s left into something that might one day, just maybe, with the wind in the right direction, fingers crossed and a lot of luck, bring you the recognition/fame/fortune/critical acclaim you so desperately crave.
When the Odds are Stacked Against You
Ah, it’s a hard life being a writer! We all dream of becoming the next JK Rowling but let’s face it, the odds are like winning the lottery. Recently, scouting for a new agent, I read on one literary agency’s website that they receive over 2,000 submissions a year yet take on fewer than 10 clients in that same period. Who knew that there were so many would-be-JK’s out there to compete with?
Is it Worth it?
So why do we even bother? Well, quite simply, because we have no choice…
I’m guessing it’s the same for every budding actor or yet-to-be-discovered singer, for any creative in whatever their chosen field of creativity happens to be. You do it because you are driven to do it and have no more chance of giving it up than you do of giving up eating. It sustains you. It nourishes you. It gets you out of bed in the morning. And when things are going badly, it mocks you and does its best to sabotage your efforts with its harsh inner critic. You’ll never make it. There are loads of others out there who are way better than you. You can’t make a living out of this. Yet even with all that negative self-doubt chipping away at your soul, it’s still there somewhere…the Olympic flame of writing-desire. It’s your twin, your demon, your reflection, your air. You need to write.
Don’t Listen to the Negative Voices
Some days are definitely harder than others: when that negative voice inside you ramps up its volume; when you fixate so hard on becoming the next JK Rowling that you forget how to be you. On days like that, your latest Microsoft word document glares blankly back at you as you stare equally blankly into its empty white eye, realising that the words just aren’t there today: you’ve fallen out of love with being a writer! It’s easy to become disconnected from the simple joy of writing when you endlessly torture yourself with worries about never making it, questioning the state of future readers and markets, second-guessing yourself before the first draft is even allowed to cool.
When this happens, do yourself a favour and reconnect with the present. If you are writing, then that is enough to make you are a writer. As Annie Proulx said: “You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page.” Let that be your driving force, not the fear of future failure. Henry Miller told us, “Writing is its own reward.” so hurrah, you’ve already won! And once you fall back in love with writing, chances are, someone out there is going to fall in love with reading it. It’s a win-win. And that’s the exact point at which you finally produce something worthy of those other, more tangible wins – the longshots and the shortlists – because you’ve finally stopped trying to be the next JK Rowling and you’re back to just doing what you love: writing.
Now, did I mention that I’ve been shortlisted….?
*Shepton Mallet: a town in Somerset not some maverick, beaten-up private eye…though maybe he could still give Cormoran Strike a run for his money…
“Shepton surveyed the small, cluttered office with his trademark Columbo-squint. It really was time to deal with these piles of mess. But then the phone rang and he picked it up with his one remaining arm.
“Mallet,” he barked, wedging the receiver between shoulder and ear so that he could reach blindly into the nearest stack of papers for his notepad….
Yup, move over JK, me and Shepton are coming for you….