“So. How’s The Book Going?”

Secret

Or Those Five Dreaded Words
Five words that make my mouth go dry and my armpits wet as I know there is no way out of the shame of confessing it is nowhere near being published.  It hasn’t even been picked up by an agent.

I was out last week with a group of friends I used to work with.  We don’t catch up that often, in fact it had probably been almost a year since we last got together.  Over wine and food we did the usual rounds of asking how everyone was, what we had been up to, how are the children, husbands, parents.  As we skittered round the table I grew quieter, hoping that no would would notice that I hadn’t pitched in with an update but knowing that I couldn’t avoid that question I was dreading.
It was framed in the spirit of friendship, of kindness, of genuine interest.  But I was embarrassed. When I took my time off to write Thicker Than Water I didn’t make a big thing of it.  I knew the chances of it being published were small so I didn’t tell too many people that this was my plan.  Once it was written I was proud of it and asked a few people if they wouldn’t mind reading it to give me some feedback.  And so word spread that this is what I had done.  I was surprised at how impressed everyone was that I had actually completed a whole book.  77,000 words for heavens sake.  It turns out plenty of my friends have thought about writing a book, might have scribbled down a few notes and a plan but never taken it any further.  But despite them being genuinely amazed by my awesomeness, I didn’t feel that myself.  I was ashamed that I had taken time off work, used up some of my finite financial resources, written a book and no one wanted to publish it.  Publication would mean my gamble had been a success.  The manuscript gathering pixel dust on my laptop meant it had failed.
But these people are my friends.  They were indignant on my behalf.  Those who had read it reiterated how great it was.  Those who hadn’t read it, asked to.  All of them urged me to self publish.  Get it out there.  Sod the agents and publishers and book shops.  They know nothing.
They also wanted to know what was next.  Did I have another book in me?  I confessed that I did.  That I had already begun planning and drafting. They were excited and wanted to know what it was about.  I spluttered out a couple of sentences but was desperate to change the subject.  Move the conversation on to someone else.
No one at work knows I write.  No one knows about this blog.  About my Twitter feed in my maiden name plugged into other writers and writing groups.  When anyone asks what I did before I joined the company, I talk about my previous job and don’t mention the four months I had at home writing furiously with everything crossed.
I always say that I would rather have failed having given it a good go rather than not having tried.  But it turns out I am only happy to have done that as long as no one knows.
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And the Winner is ….. Not Me Again

A Young Woman Passed Out Drunk on a Bar Counter

Image by © Patrick Strattner/fstop/Corbis

Or How Writing Competitions Make Me a Bad Mother

Can you come and get us please? Mummy is shouting at me while I try and choose my lunch
This is the text that my eldest daughter sent to her dad on Saturday and was her interpretation of me getting impatient with them as they selected the most expensive things from the cabinet when I had asked them to grab a sandwich for lunch.  Shouting?  In the middle of a supermarket?  This was Waitrose in Surrey not Lidl in the middle of a sink estate for heavens sake.
But while she might have been exaggerating for dramatic effect (not sure where she gets that from) I was certainly more ratty and cross on Saturday than I usually am when trying to feed my children nourishing food whilst restricting the money I hand over at the till.  And why was that?
As the party poppers explode and the champagne flutes chink, I look on enviously when the winners of writing competitions are announced. I am inspired by the tales of humble beginnings, self doubt,  triumph against the odds and success bestowed just as the fledging writer was about to give up hope of it ever happening.  If they can do it so can I.  This must be the secret key, the way in.  All I need to do is craft the perfect 5,000 words and one page synopsis and glory shall be mine.  Easy.
There are so many competitions to enter.  Each week I seem to stumble across another one being heralded on Twitter promising fame and untold riches for the winner and I feel sure this one has my name on it.  Why wouldn’t it?
This weekend I was gearing up to enter the Bath novel award.  I have my completed manuscript and have begun work on my new novel.  I checked the rules and I could enter twice, excellent.  Of course there is an entry fee, there is always a fee.  So by Sunday night I would be £44 lighter but my chances of success would be doubled. And then on Friday I received the email telling me I hadn’t been shortlisted for another competition, the Lucy Cavendish prize.  Depressing.  Another failure.  One more to add to the list.  Whilst I am usually quite resilient, rejection being a major part of a writers life (all of it so far in my case) I found myself in a trench of despair for most of Saturday.  So bad was it that I my teenage was prompted to send THAT TEXT. The shame.
I enjoy browsing writing blogs and finding that there are other people out there like me.  And as I slumped on the settee with a large gin and tonic on Saturday night reflecting on my failure both as a writer and a mother I remembered a blog I had read about rejection.  Of course it stated the obvious that any writers need to have a thick skin, but it identified competitions as particular hotbeds of dashed dreams. If you enter a lot of competitions then you have to be prepared to get a lot of rejections.  I found myself wondering if it was worth it.  Paying money and entering competitions.  Being one of a thousand submissions which have to be skimmed through swiftly by the readers to find that golden nugget before the deadline of the short list announcement.  The odds of an agent picking your book are slim, but competition conditions must surely reduce your chances of standing out significantly.  So why do I do it?
When I see the word competition, my brain tells me these people are looking for me.  They want what I have to offer.  But when I followed this thought thread through, I understood that agents run competitions every day.  All day every day they are asking writers to send them submissions so they can pick a winner.  And the best thing is, they are not just searching for one winner a year.  They can choose unlimited winners if the quality and the writing is good enough.
Before my second gin I realised need to spend less time crafting competition entries and more time working on my manuscript and my agent submissions.  I will still be rejected I am sure, but the odds are a little more in my favour I think.
So yesterday, with the £44 I had planned to spend on my competition entries I took my daughters out for the day with lunch out and afternoon tea.  A way to spend my money which guaranteed a happy ending.