Tuesday, November 15, 2011
How I Got a Thicker Skin
Those qualities less appreciated of a writer are his discipline, courage and his endurance.
As a writer, you need discipline to say a definite no whenever life's frivolities (Facebook, Twitter!) present themselves and you've promised to stick to your plan and complete the hardest chapters. You need discipline during editing to read and re-read the book that you'll often love and at other times fucking hate because you know every damn thing about it and can't-for-the-life-of-you-read-it-another-time-please. At 170000 words my first novel has drawn from me all the discipline I ever mastered as a self-starving anorexic teen and which I thought I'd lost.
You need courage to ignore the self-negating voices in your head, the negating voices of others who scream loud about some vampire crap they've read and that has sold millions and that you know you'll never write not because of lack of talent but because that topic bores you to tears, courage to write your mind despite what's popular out there, courage to subvert conventions. Most of all, you need courage to ignore those who would bring you down to their comfortable life, you know, life at the simple rat race level...Been there, bought that and it wasn't for me, sorry. Yep, you need courage to forge ahead with your dogmatic writer paradigm. Every chosen lifestyle presents, after all, its own paradigm but the artist's life is less traveled and least understood.
I know this because after all those years, I still have so much to learn from my boyfriend who has been writing for decades. He is the single most courageous man I know.
Endurance. It is not all about writing volumes of words. It's about sticking to your plan for months, years, decades. Writing, editing, pitching, marketing, querying, and hopefully in the future, promoting. That's the marathon you're signing into. If you're a screenwriter like my partner then be ready to battle out writing credits with ruthless producers, perhaps face arbitration and watch the popular Imdb website carefully as it's often not accurate in marketing the true story behind a film's writing journey.
The constant ego adjustment and intrinsic self-motivation that take place in your average week as a writer is akin to running a marathon. You're out of breath sometimes and only you can pick yourself up. And wake up honey. If you're not published yet, then there's no crowd out there cheering you on. You, with the help of maybe a few friends who understand your journey, are responsible for getting up and continuing to run.
I had a stint with falling off the track recently. It lasted a month. I received a letter that disheartened me...
It started out with me sending a query letter to a reputable Australian agent before I went on a holiday.
While I was in Greece, I received an expression of interest which pleased me greatly:
Laura, sorry not to get back to you earlier, it is always so busy. Please do mail the first the chapters, a synopsis and some writing bio. Please let me know if any material is going to other agents or publishers.
Upon my return from Greece, I sent sample chapters, synopsis and bio and after only a couple of days, I received the following reply:
Thank you for this Laura.
I’ve had a very quick look and I’m sorry but I will pass. My experiences with publishers here at the moment in this very difficult publishing environment is that it could be difficult to place.
I wish you well elsewhere,
I was disappointed. I immediately lost myself in an undesired exercise of conjectures as to what the agent could possibly mean with the terms "it could be difficult to place".
I re-read my first chapters, determined to iron out those parts that could possibly "be difficult to place". Hell it took me one month but I went through the entire novel yet again, with the thought that I'd lose sleep over it, I'd rip off time that was better spent on my second novel but at least I'd have removed those bits that "could be difficult to place".
I had little desire to work on my second novel during this period. To be honest I had a nagging feeling that I could not be fucked since anything I invented or bred would likely be met with the same "I will pass".
Aaah, yes...I brooded over the "I will pass" statement too.
To me, it evoked a haughty queen to whom one might present a silver tray of petits fours in the hope that she might like one or two. She takes a disdainful sniff at the said sweets, turns her head away in disgust before pronouncing a resounding, "I will pass".
This brooding went on for a month. Every week during that month, I secretly felt crushed. I felt emotionally depleted, guilty for not writing and horrified that I was a lie and that everything I did had been in vain since after all, no one would ever read anything that "was difficult to place". Because it was never the idea of rejection that worried me (self-publishing would solve that problem in one day and might even be the path I take), no, it was the thought of not being read.
Then somehow...I finished editing the entire book again and picked myself up. I took a deep breath.
I read the letter again, this time with an objective mind. I realised that...if anything, I am difficult to place! So anything written by me will be difficult to place. And would anyone really expect anything other than a literary work that is "difficult to place" from someone born and raised in West Africa with a Eurasian mother and Arabic father, someone who is both multi-lingual and has had unique life and cultural experiences and prides herself on being different.
I don't think so.
Any rejection letter will be ambiguous. You read what you want into it.
So I've transformed the letter for myself in any positive way I can and now I'm running again. I've got another round of querying to do, a long way to go but I've so much enthusiasm for it that I'm smiling as I run.
And I know the deep ditch in the road is well behind me.
Thank you for reading.