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.

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16 thoughts on “Remembering why I write

  1. Oh Dylan, this writing journey can be so tough. I wish I could impart some great writing wisdom to you but I can’t because I haven’t got any! All I will say is that reading through this, and I read it twice, I am so relieved that by the end I see that the Dylan I know of old (well, several months anyway!) is back and I’m so relieved. That feeling of being back in control is very empowering and, more importantly, you are enjoying writing again. Yay!! I have to keep telling myself this all the time – enjoy the journey (but it isn’t always that simple, I know). You made it and you conquered your Everest – of that, you can be so very proud.

    • You read it twice? Was it written so badly??? 😉
      Thank you, Sherri. I know a number of people may see my decision symptomatic of a lack of perseverance, but that was never my intended goal. That’s not to say I wouldn’t grab the opportunity with open arms if it came along, it’s just that for the moment I’m back to enjoying the ride.

      • No, written excellently actually! It’s good that you are exploring other avenues but you don’t need me to tell you don’t give up. Just make sure you keep that dream alive. It will pay off, I”m sure of it 🙂

  2. Well, that’s a really good piece of self-analysis and actually a very good piece of advice for the rest of us. I was with a colleague last night who has sent her manuscript to several agents, just like you, and is feeling in the depths of despair because nothing has come of it. I’m going to print off your post and give it to her tomorrow. It gives us all hope, Dylan – and good on you for being able to put it into words and make sense of it all. But then you would, wouldn’t you – because you most definitely are a writer. Go get ’em! Looking forward to seeing the book on Amazon.

    • Thanks, Jenny. please, print away, although if her dream is to be represented and traditionally published I wouldn’t want her to read this and start to think that her dream was unachievable. The reason self-publishing works for me is because being represented and traditionally published wasn’t my original goal. If it is, she should keep persevering. Remember, Jack London was rejected over 600 times (though Jack London didn’t have Kindle Direct Publishing as an option).

  3. I admire your honest self-appraisal and how you’ve redefined your sense of what constitutes fulfillment for you as a writer. Perhaps because I expected rejection, perhaps because I spent years in sales enduring repeated hits, I’m sanguine about those ‘thanks but no thanks emails’ and so far at least, they’re not denting my confidence. But that’s just today. I wish you huge success with your decision to self-publish and even though it’s about delivering the book more than selling it, I shall be one of the first to buy, whatever the format. And I’m looking forward to reading it, because you have a lovely, warm style to your writing and I’m intrigued and engaged before it’s even out there. I’ll also be really interested in your self-publishing experience. I hope you’ll blog through it for benefit of those of us who might not be far behind you. Oh, and by the way, I may feel the same nervousness about certain excerpts of my own book when the time comes – I fear there may be people who won’t look at me in quite the same way after they read! I’ll be interested in your experience of that too! Good luck, my new writerly amigo.

    • You were the person I was most worried about when writing this post, because we had agreed to see this through together. I didn’t think that you would change your path, but I didn’t want to dent your commitment. The funny thing is, it wasn’t the rejection that bothered me, it was the fact that my future was in somebody else’s hands. I needed to take back control. As soon as I did, everything made sense again (if there are any psychologists out there, I do not want to know what that indicates as far as my personality type is concerned.)
      I will of course keep you up to date with how things progress with fingers crossed that you never need to go the same way, plus I’d be delighted if you purchase my book. I would warn you though that my blog and my book are two very different things. The book contains some very adult themes of which I make no apology, but I felt incredibly uncomfortable when my wife read it through a couple of months back. Also, as I can’t sense my own writerly voice, I’d be interested to know whether you feel my voice is consistent or different within the two forms (the tone is definitely different!)
      Good luck to you too, mis amiga!

      • Wow, I’m touched that I was even a blip on your thought process! The agent submission thing could go on for months, and I don’t know today, how far down that road I shall go. I hope, ‘all the way’ but if or when I tire of the process, or how it makes me feel, there will be no discomfort in drawing a line and trying the alternative options. I’m in a hiatus at the moment, as some work-work has come along. My intention was to do 1-2 submissions per week and always have a few on the go, but when the only person breathing down your neck is yourself (tricky, that), it’s easy to lapse. My mother just put me on to a book which may help you. Called something like ‘how to market books’, it’s by Alison Baverstock. Might be worth checking out.

        I’m just as apprehensive as you about subject matter, as my own is decidedly gritty. I expect more than a few friends and family will be choking on their Rich Teas when the time comes. Ho hum.

  4. Wow, Dylan. What a soul-baring, honest post, and quite a departure from your typical humorous style. Having a goal or a dream is a wonderful thing, until it takes over your life and defines who you are, as you wrote so eloquently above. We all write for different reasons, have varying goals and ideas of what defines “success.” It sounds as if, through a steep learning curve, you’ve found yours.

    • Thank you Gwen. Yes, it was a steep learning curve although I didn’t realise it at the time, and in a way it was a rediscovery (or more like a ‘stop being such an idiot and remember why you started this’).
      Don’t worry, the humour will be back soon.

  5. Pingback: Regrets? I’ve had a few… My 5 biggest self-publishing mistakes | Suffolk Scribblings

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