Remembering why I write

How did this all start? (image source: www.hipstercrite.com)

How did this all start? (image source: http://www.hipstercrite.com)

Anyone who has gone through a low period will know that part of the problem stems from the feeling of helplessness, how events take over, leaving you bereft of direction and purpose. Sometimes this is caused by a single event that knocks your world out of kilter, but often it’s a combination of smaller things that on their own are handleable but combined seem insurmountable. Then there is a third way, where the incremental events go unnoticed, leaving you to believe that everything is OK when it is anything but. I’ve realised this has recently been the case for me.

When I started my novel, I did so as a challenge to myself. It was my own George Mallory moment; I did it both because I had the opportunity and because it was there. Each day was a revelation. My first goal was to write a page, but not only was I able to write a page, I was able to write multiple pages. At first some of my writing was terrible, some not, but occasionally I surprised myself with what I had created. I also found the writing process therapeutic, it allowed me to explore ideas that had been reverberating around my brain for a while and at the same time rekindled a love of storytelling that I’d forgotten I’d had.

About halfway through writing my first draft I realised that this would be a great way to make a living. What isn’t there to like about making something up, writing it down and selling it? I didn’t change my approach to writing, I had always taken that seriously as I believe that if you are going to commit to do something, you should do it properly or not at all, but my goal changed. I was no longer satisfied with conquering Everest, now I needed to make a living from it. It seemed a natural extension at the time but through this change of goal I lost something. It wasn’t just that the goal had become larger, but I had lost control.

I continued to work on the book, finishing the first draft and then honing my story and prose through the editing process. And during the months editing – and it was many months – I gained confidence in my writing and my goals hardened. I was no longer satisfied with earning money from my book, I needed recognition. I had become convinced that only through gaining representation and eventually a publishing deal would I validate my choice to write a book. Because many of us who create – whether it is the written word, music, art, film or design – crave recognition, and what greater recognition is there than by those within the industry, the dream-makers, the arbiters of taste. With this final step the metamorphosis of my goal was complete. The problem was, not only was it infinitely more difficult to achieve than my original goal, more importantly it was completely out of my control.

Towards the end of last year I sent submissions to a number of agents. And waited. And waited. And the longer I waited the more this enormous goal started to eat away at me. Eventually some of them kindly wrote back to inform me that my book was not for them, the rest remained silent. And despite knowing that agents receive thousands of submissions each year and take on one, maybe two new writers; and despite knowing that of those manuscripts taken on very few will be first-time novels (don’t be fooled by debut novel on a book sleeve – it doesn’t mean first book the author has written, it means the first published), my self-confidence took a hit and I started to wonder whether I had wasted my time.

And it was all my fault.

Because I’d lost sight of why I had started writing in the first place. My goal had changed from something difficult but achievable to something incredibly difficult and out of my control. Worse, I had allowed this goal to become a validation of who I was as a person. It was as if I’d decided to buy a lottery ticket and if when my numbers didn’t come up judged myself a failure as a human being. It was a ridiculous thing to think but I had allowed it to happen.

So I’m taking back control.

I’ve decided to self-publish my novel, not as a means to make a living (though it would be nice), not to achieve another form of self-validation through whether people buy it or like it; but for myself, to show that I conquered my Everest. I plan to make it available as an eBook initially, hopefully in the next week or so depending on book covers etc., but at some point I will make it available as a physical book, if only so that I can put it on my bookshelf as proof of what I’ve achieved. Does this mean that I’ve given up on my dream? No, not at all, it’s just that I am not going to allow my dream to define who I am. And do you know what? I feel great. And I’m writing again. And I’m enjoying it. And that is why I started in the first place.