‘Writing’ and ‘being a writer’ aren’t the same thing, by a long shot. ‘Writing’, that wonderful thing, is something I could do all day, fancifully kneading verbs and adverbs together while mixing a few adjectives in for good measure, trilling with ladylike laughter as I sprinkle the whole with punctuation; writing, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing. I love it.
Being a writer, though – and I’m the first to admit that I’m not even on the first rung of the very long ladder that’s labelled ‘A Writing Career’ – is, at times, obscenely difficult. Getting rejections is hard (I’m going through a spate of that at the moment); writing to deadline is hard; juggling deadlines is harder still. I’m still not completely ‘on top’ of the various deadlines I’m aiming for this summer, and several have just whooshed by. I’m telling myself that sometimes, you’ve just got to admit you can’t do everything, and give up worrying, but the problem with good self-advice is you don’t generally listen to it.
There’s still nothing else I’d rather be doing, however.
Today the things that are on my mind include: wondering how I’m going to get on this Saturday (I’m recording one of my stories for a podcast, of which more next week); worrying about all the stories I have out on sub at the moment and hoping some of them – even one – will make the cut; thinking about the stories in piles on my workdesk or in pieces on my computer and hoping that I can save them in time to get them ready for some of my aforementioned deadlines; the constant low-level worry about whether I’ve done the right thing with my life, and – the biggie – my novels, and my plans for those. And, as the title of today’s post suggests, I’m pretty much telling myself to buck up, take a deep breath and just get on with it.
Seriously. Just get on with it. I wonder, sometimes, why the niggling ‘am I doing the right thing?’ is constantly gnawing at the edges of my mind – I know I am. I’ve never been more sure. But when rejection emails are pouring in and nothing I write seems to be hitting the spot, perhaps worry is the only logical psychological response. It’s a bad cycle to allow myself to get into, though, because the rot of ‘well, nothing I’m submitting is any good,’ will eventually turn into ‘nothing I write is any good.’ Once that happens, I’ll only be one step away from giving up. And that can’t happen. I don’t want it to.
I know I want to write for the rest of my life because none of the challenges that I’ve so far faced have put me off the idea, and none of the warnings from other writers – ‘It’s a long, hard slog!’ ‘You’ll never earn a penny!’ ‘You’re in competition with far too many others!’ ‘You need to be exceptional to succeed!’ – have given me a second’s pause. I don’t know if it’s unhinged optimism, or simply self-delusion, but I still want to write, even knowing all this may be true. There is a lot of competition out there, and you’ll never be a millionaire. You could work for the rest of your life doing this, and still you may never succeed.
But I never wanted to be a millionaire anyway, and there’s a lot of competition in every walk of life. There’ll always be a better bookseller/teacher/lawyer/rocket scientist than you, but should that put you off wanting to be one? No way. Isn’t every job, and every career, a long hard slog? Yes. So why should writing be any different?
I know I want to be a writer because I’m willing to accept penury, long hours, hard work, brain-ache, rejection, disappointment and isolation to get there. In fact, it goes further than being willing to accept all these things: you have to be willing to inflict them upon yourself. That takes a special kind of masochism, and probably explains a lot about writers and their tendencies towards alcohol and oddness. (Hopefully I’ll avoid those bits.)
But I know I’ll succeed as a writer because I already have succeeded as a writer – I’m doing it. What more success could I ask for? Anything more than what I already have is gravy, as the saying goes. I’d love to see my name on the spine of a shelf-full of novels, and I’d love to see my stories appearing in some of the high-profile publications I’ve recently submitted to, and I’d love to think that I could bring the same joy into a young reader’s life that my favourite authors brought into mine – but if it never happens, I’m still a writer. I’m giving it my very best shot, and for that if nothing else I should be happy with what I’ve achieved.
I’ll try to remember all this the next time I get a rejection! Oh, how easy it is to write all this self-encouragement in a blog post and forget it completely when the dark cloud of doubt decides to settle over your head once more…
If you write, you’re a writer. End of story. Get on with it!