Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Looking for signs ...

A writing life is a strange thing. A common myth surrounding such a life is that once you have been published, you have 'cracked the code' as it were, have your 'foot in the door,' and whatever you write henceforth will undoubtedly be made into a book. I am here to tell you that that myth should die an ugly death in a ditch because it is just a fever dream that does no one any good.

After publication:

1) not everything you write will be accepted

2) not everything you write will be good

3) writing does not necessarily come easier

4) ideas are not necessarily lining up to follow you home

I don't mention this to freak you out or depress you if you are currently at the pre-published phase of your writing journey (and I am only talking about traditional publication which is the road I've mostly taken, although I think some of my experience and observations will still be relevant to you if you are following a self publishing route). Of course you may be an exception to all this and that is jolly fortunate, but I do think there are a couple of important messages in all of this. Because this writing life is the most epic roller coaster you will ever step foot on and being prepared for the troughs will keep you on the track. 

Not everything you write will be good. Even though you wrote 'good' in the past this is no guarantee of permanent goodness. This is NOT bad, abnormal or a reason to give up . Sometimes what we are striving for eludes us - that idea, or that way of wrangling or presenting a theme or issue is just out of reach. Sometimes your skills have to catch up to your ambition. Maybe the well is empty. Or other parts of our life are intruding, especially if they are stressful. If nothing is coming out like you want it to or you are struggling to write at all but you still want to continue being a writer, don't despair. Sometimes the writing will be rubbish, but not writing at all will not yield you any better results. Keep going. Maybe writing all the rubbish will get it out of your system to free you up for some future good writing.

Most likely not everything you write that IS good will find a home. The industry can be hesitant, fickle, or just moving in a different direction. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes we get it wrong. Publishing is a business and will be operating on a different model to the one that underpins your own endeavours. That is not strange or wrong. It just is. Sometimes the good thing you wrote will get its moment at some point down the track. Or maybe it is a step you needed to take to get to the thing that will fit with the publisher's aims. Whatever you do, don't throw it out. And keep going.

Our tastes and opinions change, as we grow older and perhaps even wiser. And so our writing changes along with us. We continue to read and learn from other texts, other writers, and we are motivated and inspired by new things. While we might become more adept at constructing sentences and avoiding classic writing pitfalls, sometimes we also follow more experimental types of writing or veer away from the zeitgeist. Maybe we're stuck down a blind alley and sometimes the only way out is to write yourself back on to the right path.

Failure is not so much a sign you shouldn't be doing this, but just a common part of the writer's life. It is built in to the model and isn't a cause for panic if you experience it. We might threaten to give up in the hope that the universe will give us a sign that the reading world can't do without us and we should keep going. But I'm afraid to say the universe is indifferent. And your internal plea for a sign is the sign that you are looking for - you are not done with the writing life yet. As James Baldwin said, 'If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you're not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you.'