Monday 17 February 2014

Lessons from the Writing Journey: Chill Out

After three months working on a novel, with 75,000 words already written, the agent phones up to say she doesn't like it. 

I'm on reception, temping at an osteopathic clinic. It seems inappropriate to sob in front of the waiting patients so I schedule a breakdown for any time after 5.30pm. As breakdowns go it's a quiet one. Just a couple of beers and a bath filled with my own tears.             

On the scale of things, three months isn't all that long to spend on a novel. That I contemplated giving up writing altogether probably sounds like an overreaction. But of course I wasn't focusing on the last three month, was I? I was looking back at 19 years of wanting to make it as a novelist. I was thinking of the three other novels stored on my computer which had never seen the light of day. The mind is very good at turning a slight obstacle into a mountain of epic proportions.
Despite my inner turmoil, I couldn't help thinking that I'd invested too much effort and energy to just give it up. I was also worried that if I did I'd always feel like I'd failed. What I needed to do was dig into my reserve of stamina and charge ahead. If other writers had managed to get published and make half a living out of doing what they loved then so could I.
By the following day I'd given up the idea of giving up and was focused on trying to come up with a new idea. But I was so anxious about not having an idea that I couldn't possibly think of one. I felt sick to my stomach. Having stamina is a fat lot of good if you've got no decent ideas.
When I met the assistant agent for a coffee and a debrief, I had nothing concrete to tell her. 
"Apart from writing, how have you been?" she said brightly.
That drew a blank. Apart from writing... what had I done?
It was a bit of a wake up call. What was I supposed to write about if all I did was write? I had to enjoy myself a bit more. I had to go out and see things.
As soon as I relaxed, two things happened.
First, I got a new idea.
Second, I got sick.
Our bodies are very clever, aren't they? I think mine just wanted to make sure I stayed away from the computer so the idea could germinate a little longer. I'm excited about it now, but to save me some grief I'm going to wait until I hear my agent's thoughts. 

In the mean time, I won't be stressing. As soon as the next triangle of sunshine falls across the living room carpet, I'm going to stretch out across it and pretend I'm on holiday. 



Anonymous said...

It's the nature of the beast, now is a good time to hold onto your faith in yourself and keep going -- after the sunbathe (and another beer?). I speak as someone with a complete novel in the bottom drawer, if that helps any. Hang on in there.

Jacqueline Pye said...

That's a hurdle, but not an impossible one. If you wrote that much in that amount of time, you can surely do it again. Hope the agent gave useful feedback - and at least you're in touch with an agent! When you've written your first successful novel, you could go back to this one and maybe bash it into shape. Very best of luck; phase 2 starts here!

Emily Benet said...

Thanks for the support and encouragement! I will shelve it for now and perhaps come back to it later. Yes, one more beer (or 3)and then I'll be off again! :)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Emily, and a great lesson for faving up to any challenge that the universe puts in our way. It's karma, man.

Creaky door writer said...

Sorry you've had this drawback, Emily. I recognise that 'picking yourself up and carrying on' impulse that all successful writers must have, but also the bathful of tears you had to get through first. Keep going!