Being Published Part 2: Editing
All the Posts on Getting Published that I Mentioned @ClaphamBookFest...

You love writing: should you, could you, commit to it?

So the writing's going well. You've realised you're happier writing than doing anything else; you've re-found the confidence you had in your childhood and teenage years; you're a nicer and better person in the rest of your life for having those hours on your own with your words. Perhaps you've had successes in getting short things published or placed in competitions, or a self-publishing venture is doing much better than the average sold-it-to-my-family numbers. Maybe, even, an agent or three have said they can't sell this book, but they'd love to see the next one.

Writing is no longer just an amusing hobby, then: this seems to matter to you, and there's a place you want to go with it - not necessarily a book contract, but certainly a greater focus, a larger purpose, a body of work of some sort. But to do that would take more time and energy than your present arrangements allow: could you - should you - commit more of yourself and your life to your writing? Dare you go for it? 

There can be no blanket answer, of course. So, just as with my questions to ask your novel, your description, or your voice(s), this post is about pointers to thinking, not about answers. 

For a start, what does "go for it" mean to you? Doing a course that costs significant time and money? Cutting down on your working hours? Withdrawing the parent-taxi service? Taking over the box room and installing your desk and a "Gone Writing" sign? Insisting that your elderly parents get Meals on Wheels? Getting up at 5am and writing till your partner gets back from her night shift and you can go to work? Choosing not to get a new puppy when aged Fido finally breathes his last? Or just putting the iron and ironing board on eBay? 

How much do you already go for it? There's a strong argument that the thing you should be doing is the thing you already keep finding yourself doing. Do you already look at your diary for the week and pencil in writing time, or do you just hope it will show up somewhere and then mostly it doesn't? You may only have ten minutes a day or an hour a month to write in - but do you defend that hour like a tiger? If there's nothing planned this weekend, do you start clearing the garage or WhatsApping friends, or do you switch off your phone and get on with the writing? When life has made writing impossible for a time, is writing the first thing you go back to when the rest eases off? 

What have you already given up in order to write more? Money, time in the gym, time with the children or partner, socialising, sleep, serious cooking or house-enhancing, other creative arts? It's not that you must already be ruthless in these things, but it's one pointer that your first reaction to wonderful invitations, exciting domestic improvements, or the Bake-off urge to make more and better cakes is, "No, I need to revise that story." If you can't resist setting the novel aside for those other things, then how likely are you to resist setting it aside in favour of fun, when it's claimed even more of your time?

Do you keep going back to writing? Even if your life is full of genuine, unavoidable responsibilities and emergencies, does the current project go on nagging at you, so that you do grab time to write when you can? Do you act in some way - a course, a book, a forum - that will help to develop your writing, and then see that through, rather than just being a course junkie? Is your work focused on actually completing (however slowly) a project worth completing, that teaches you something worth learning. Do you grit your teeth and workshop it a second time, make notes about what didn't work ready for the next project, submit it somewhere - and then somewhere else?

What is supporting your belief that it would be worth going for? Everyone has the absolute right, of course, to choose to take their writing seriously. And we all hope for someone in life whose validation is unconditional: the friend who says "Just send it. I love everything you write"; the partner who supports your passion for writing Fantasy though the only book she ever reads is a Haynes Manual. But if you're seeking any kind of audience for your writing, either from sheer desire or to justify the costs of committing to it, then the fact that writing matters to you, that you're happier writing than doing anything else, that you feel grumpy and scratchy when you can't write, is not enough data to make that decision. In other words, what kind of conditional validation have you had? Who, beyond your mother and your lovely supportive friends, has told you, reasonably clearly, that your writing speaks to them, that they like reading it, that it has power? Has anyone with whom you don't have a direct relationship suggested that although getting things published will still be hard, your writing is of a publishable standard? What competitions have long-listed you, what have you had published in something which exercises some editorial sifting and control? 

Are you making progress already? Wobbles of confidence aside, is this year's writing quite often a bit better than last year's? Is one thing that makes you choose a new writing project the fact that you don't know how to tackle it, or whether it'll be any good, but you'll have a bloody good try? Did you come out of a course a better writer (after perhaps an ugly duckling phase) than you were before? To gain anything from a bigger commitment you'll need the capacity to learn.

How resilient is your writerly confidence? The more of your life you commit to the goal of writing seriously, the more you have at stake. There isn't a writer on the planet who isn't sometimes convinced that they're hopeless (Neil Gaiman's is my favourite version of this), and of course it's unsurprising that rejections may make any of us doubt what we do - but so can having your work out on submission, and even a success can trigger a bout of imposter syndrome. All psychologists and physiotherapists know health isn't about never getting ill, it's about how you recover from illness. So how well do you climb back out of the slough of despond? How do you recover from the cringing conviction that you were (and looked!) a fool to even try that magazine or that agent. How quickly and successfully do you manage to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get going again?

Will you have support for your new determination? That might be financial - your partner picking up the shortfall in the drop in household income - or practical: the children accepting that the box room is not their playroom any more. But it's also psychological. Friends and family who resent your absence, or feel their own failures more acutely when they see you actually doing something about your ambitions, might not dream of overtly sabotaging you. But when they try to talk you down to the pub, or consistently have crises shortly after you've closed your writing door, that's what they're doing, just as the friend is who pushes you to have a glass of wine when you're doing Dry January. Even the generous friend who offers their spare-room or shed for your study may also be longing for a chat; are you willing and able to keep your boundaries solid, and shut the door? 

Are you plagued by procrastination? Many, many writers find that when they finally manage to clear the acres of time for writing that they'd always longed to have, they write no more than they did when it was squeezed into non-existent gaps of time. Giving things up to write raises the stakes placed on your writing, and many writers find that pressure messes with their writerly compass or wakes their inner rebellious teenager. But procrastination has many causes, and correspondingly many, at least partial, solutions.

Are you realistic about what you might (eventually) earn, in return for this investment in your time and your self? Dreams are lovely - necessary, even, to keep us going - but hopes need to take account of the real world to have a chance of being fulfilled.

Do you have a fallback position or a Plan B? You might find you can't make the money you need, or write well what you want to write, or get what you can write well actually published. You might get feedback that makes you realise you need to learn far, far more about writing than you'd thought. Or you might find simply that the writing life really doesn't suit you. If so - what would you do instead, both practically and psychologically, to find a new path?

What do you value about the act and nature of the writing process? As will become clear in my series on Being Published, any kind of serious work to find an audience, and validation for what you write, changes your relationship to your writing. Thousands of writers have had two books published (or the equivalent in other forms) and no more; for each who spends the rest of their life bitter and frustrated than they've never been offered another contract, there is a writer who (perhaps after a certain wailing and gnashing of teeth) realises they are profoundly glad, because now they're free to recapture the unconditional joy that was why they loved writing in the first place.

I hope all of those questions are helping you to think these things out. But please, please do remember something which it's very difficult to hang on to in our Western, success-worshipping age, where we are supposed to give "one hundred and ten percent", and the sort of obssessive-compulsive behaviour that it takes to be a great sports or film star is an ideal, not a regrettable necessity.

That last question is a clue: there's no shame - there should be honour - in deciding that you love doing something, and you will do it as part of your existing life, setting it aside sometimes, and taking it up again at others. Remember that "amateur" means "lover", and "dilettante" means "one who delights in something". I take photographs and writing poems on that basis; I know what it would take to develop them to a professional level - I did do the equivalent with writing, after all - and I choose, instead, to stay with love and delight. Taking anything worth doing more seriously - committing to it - means giving up other things that you might be doing or having, and those are good things too.

Finally - the more carefully you have thought about it all, the easier it is to commit wholeheartedly to whichever road you take. And not only are you then more likely to travel further and take more pleasure in the journey, you're less likely to regret whichever choice you made, back there, in the yellow wood.

Comments