Sometimes it can be hard to remember that life’s about the journey, not just the destination.
Trying to forge a career in writing can be exhausting. It’s certainly long-haul, and trying to perfect your craft sucks down the hours of your life so fast that you don’t even notice them whizzing by. It can be hard to keep going sometimes when it feels like all you’re doing is (as my mother would say) ‘throwing biscuits to a bear’ – no matter what you do, nothing seems to change. You keep submitting, you keep writing, you keep trying, and nothing comes back in return.
But we keep going anyway. Why? Because we love the act of writing, of creating a piece of work from nothing, of watching an idea that previously existed only in skeletal form somewhere inside our minds taking shape on a page and turning into a full-blooded Story. Or, at least, we should.
Writing in order to become rich in a speedy manner is simply foolish, yet – from what I hear – many people still believe that writing a book is a fast-track, one way ticket to wealth and fame. I follow a lot of blogs and Twitter feeds where I pick up advice not only on the art of writing, but also on the art of creating a career as a writer, and something I read last week which has stuck with me is the following (highly redacted, and heavily summarised) story:
Once, there was a writer. They lived in an ordinary house, with two or three cute but ultimately ordinary dogs. They may have had up to four (beautiful and dearly loved) children. They got to a certain age and thought: ‘Hey. Instead of just reading all these books, why don’t I write some? There’s got to be a buck or two to be made in that game. Right?’ So, they bought one of these:
They sat down at their brand-new writin’ machine, and they started to bash out a story. Night after night they laboured, until at some point up to a month later they had a story, approximately 178,000 words long, which they thought was wonderful. Their hairdresser read the first chapter and wept (with amazement? Envy? Who knows); their friends all told the writer how brilliant they were to have done something as fabulous as write a book. ‘It was so easy!’ the writer said. ‘You should all do it!’
So, the writer bundled up their manuscript, penned a floral and extravagant introductory letter describing their book as ‘Barbara Cartland meets Catherine Cookson meets Stephenie Meyer,’ and ‘a work of genius,’ doused it in perfume, and sent copies to every major publisher and agent in their country – whether or not they accepted unsolicited submissions, and whether or not they represented the sort of work this undaunted writer had produced.
Then, our writer friend sat back and waited for the big bucks to roll in.
They may also have thought, rather smugly, ‘Not everyone would be intelligent enough to take the easy way out, like me. Suckers.’
But, sadly, the writer never heard back from the majority of the places to which they’d submitted their laboriously created novel. From others, they heard stock rejections. From yet others, they received letters thanking them for their effort, and making suggestions as to how they could improve and resubmit.
The writer took this as a blind and idiotic refusal to accept the towering magnitude of their genius, and wrote excoriating letters to each and every publisher and agent to whom they’d previously submitted, lambasting them for not spotting said genius. ‘You’ll be sorry when I’m a multi-millionaire,’ they wrote, in red pen. ‘Just watch!’
And so, they self-published their magnum opus.
And nobody – besides their friends, their mother and the lady who worked behind the counter at their local cake shop – bought it. Nobody read the whole thing. The writer didn’t even have the joy of discussing their work with anyone else, because the book was unreadable.
This writer didn’t write for love of words. They weren’t interested in crafting a story until it’s as good as it can be. They didn’t want to hear constructive criticism, and they didn’t want to be told that there were ways in which to improve. Their first draft was the only draft, in their eyes. Why tamper with perfection?
This person is not a writer, in my opinion. They are what we term in Ireland ‘a chancer,’ out to chase a quick payday without having put in any effort.
But their biggest mistake?
Not listening to the agents who wrote back with constructive feedback and tips on how to make their book work.
Agents are busy people. They don’t typically take time out to help writers if they don’t see something – even something tiny – which is worth nourishing. They’re also interested in a writer’s career, not just helping them bring forth one blockbusting, moneymaking book which will see them both retiring to the Bahamas. Agents do their job because they love finding the right book for the right publishing deal, and because they love discovering something new. If our writer had managed to see beyond their own ego and had listened to the agents’ advice, things could have been very different.
The point of all this is: I have received another ‘rejection’ from an agent, but I use the word ‘rejection’ lightly, as the agent is interested in helping me to live up to my own potential.
An agent thinks I have potential.
I haven’t reached my destination yet, but it’s good enough, for now.
I just wanted to say a quick ‘thank you’ to everyone who took the time to sympathise with me after yesterday’s post. I had many messages, most of them on Facebook, expressing sorrow for the loss of my friend, and I am profoundly grateful for each one. Please keep his parents, his brothers and his fiancée in your thoughts, particularly on February 23rd which is the date his memorial service will be held. Thank you all for your kindness.
I have never known someone to work as hard as you do with/on/at their writing. You’re acing this. You’re awesome. Keep writing. 🙂
Thanks, Kate. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life – or, so the saying goes. 😉
Have a great day. Looking forward to your Wednesday Write-In piece tomorrow… 😉 Mine will be late, as I am going to a funeral in the morning. If you’re thinking of taking part, I am behind you all the way. x