Wow! It’s been sixteen days since my last blog and I have travelled the length of the country twice. A new government has been appointed and my garden is in bloom. I’ve also written the first three chapters of a new book. I’m very excited!
As anyone who knows me is aware, I have been writing a series of novels which explore real life scenarios in women’s lives in terms of dialectics. I guess I have a slightly different agenda to other novelists, but the aim is the same: to get published. In these terms, I have submitted my novels and had varying degrees of communications with agents with varying degrees of success.
I am now one novel shy of my goal. When I started my first novel I was excited and raring to go. The story practically spilled from my fingers like lightening onto the page, my characters so alive. As the novels have progressed, I have found it increasingly difficult to write fiction. This has been because of the submission process, which I find pretty demoralising.
Whilst I don’t have the requisite MSc in creative writing, I do hold a PhD in narrative psychology. So, as well as being able to construct (and deconstruct)a narrative and recognise the value and resonance of authentic storytelling, I am also able to read the overarching narrative of the industry. To massively oversimplify this narrative, it reads ‘we’ve all got a book in us, we’re all subbing them, agents are running a business that means they can’t represent everyone, hence those who are not writing in a commercial or whose writing is, in the agents eyes, not good enough, will be rejected.’ This is entirely understandable, after all, it is the publishing industry, the clue is in the name! The aim is to make money.
The problem is, many authors take rejection very personally. No one is forcing anyone to write, every author is a ‘debut author’ at some point and most authors have received rejections. So, what makes us set ourselves up to be a rejection target?
Speaking for myself, I understand that a rejection means that my novel is not good enough and/or not commercial enough. It can also mean that the agent already has a full list and that other authors who are more qualified, write better and write to a genre and market will be accepted before I will. As I have the skin of a rhinoceros, I take this rejection fairly well and just plod on with my next idea. Having a well-paid day job helps too, I do not aspire to staying at home writing.
I do take it personally though. I regularly fume at how slow the industry is. I send of my polished article, kissing it as i post it, sure that this is ‘the one’ and that in a few days my mobile will be ringing off the hook with offers of representation. As someone with very high self-esteem (or as someone once said – I am deeply in love with myself!) rejection is merely a niggle to me and I carry on writing. No so for others. Rejection deters them, stopping them in their tracks and stemming the creative flow. Eventually they start again, with a slightly heavier heart, longing for the adrenaline-laden flush of success whilst sitting in the dark mire of rejection.
We write because we have to. I have hesitated at writing novel number five. I will begin later this year. Yet I woke up one morning with an idea for a non-fiction book. Someone had told me to write what I know and this seemed to trigger something in my mind that now pushes me on harder than fiction writing. What if it’s rejected? I am confident I have enough ideas to write for the rest of my life. Even if I end up publishing my work online, or producing an ebook myself, I will continue to write. Because I have to. Apart from the publishing industry and agents and editors, I will write; the creative process fills a part of me that no Amazon listing (although it would be great and I will submit my work) or Waterstone’s shelf can satiate.
I’m not just whinging about ‘art for art’s sake, dahling’. My reasoning has been tried and tested with the rejection process; had writing not been in my soul I would have given up by now. That spark of an idea, the pulling together of a plot, the character who walks through your imagination and whispers into your ear. The subject matter of non-fiction that you cannot wait to organise and effect is a way others can share. Of course I want to sell it, but I just love the process!
The question I must inevitably ask myself is this: if you insist on writing the unsympathetic characters of real life and the plots that are – in the words of an agent – a little bit weird (quite proud of that, I am!) will my fiction ever be published? Or should I write novel number five to suit the market and hope that my writing is good enough (another agent wrote in a report that I was clearly a talented writer)? It’s a bit like asking the question of journalists, does writing for The Daily Mail steal a little bit of your soul?
For the time being, I’ll write my non-fiction book and complete this project and submit it. I’ll imagine novel five and I’ll shape it and mould it into something acceptable for me. I’ll write some magazine articles. I’ll enjoy getting the words onto the page and the joy the writing process brings until I can no longer resist writing the words ‘Chapter One’.