There comes a time when a writer has to ask themselves, ‘Why am i writing?’ Like root canal work, there’s no good time for this. If it’s for fun, as a distraction or a challenge, then all is good, but if you always aimed to get published, you have to ask yourself when to give in. Recent research shows that 1 in 10 people have never read a novel, which obviously means that 1 in 10 people are fuckwits, but that doesn’t change the fact that writing novel sometimes feels like perfecting the steam engine at the advent of the combustion engine.
Of course, the question, ‘Why do I write?’ is the kind of soul exploring that writers are scribbling away to avoid. It might have been easier to answer when I started at 16. Let’s face it, if you were unlikely to be chosen for football sides, why not write about it? If you’re never going to get laid by scoring a goal, perhaps you might by developing your sensitive side. Thus, the decision to write a novel can be traced back to an age when I lacked legal responsibility to drive a car or vote, and chose it to define myself. I’ve been staked to the same mast for 20 odd years. I guess living according to the whims of an adolescent means I should be grateful that I’ve not spent my adulthood wrapping hot hatchbacks around trees, and completing Street Fighter 2 using nothing but Edmond Honda’s hundred-hand slap.
These days, when I say ‘I’m working on my novel,’ it sounds alarmingly like ‘I’m ducking out of real life, wearing pyjamas while eating flapjacks in bed until lunchtime, and surfing Wikipedia like it’s going to get me somewhere.’ I try and rephrase it, but it’s too late to edit what I’ve said; the moment has gone.
The only vindication of the last 20 years spent writing will be to get published. Published writers obviously wake up with their agent giving them a foot massage, before recent sales figures preempts a liquid lunch and taxi rides to exciting clubs. Hell, I can see why people self-publish, it’s the fast track to being considered a writer.
Anyway, the biggest decision isn’t actually about writing a novel, but whether to mention it to anyone, and whether you can face being asked if you’ve finished it for the next ten years. I’ve lost so many agents that it looks deliberately careless, and during more drafts than I would have believed possible I’ve deleted more words than I’ve written.
It’s not in keeping with the positive affirmations of creative writing on the Twittersphere, but failing to get published results in ongoing consideration of whether it’s time to give up. It might mean abandoning the fantasies and ambitions of 20 years, but it can also mean growing up. I’ve used the fantasy of becoming a published writer to help deal with crap jobs, crazy girlfriends and wet holidays, yet perhaps its healthier to live with what you are, not what you want to be. Following your dreams is all well and good, but last night I dreamt I was a human hotdog, which isn’t going to get me anywhere, unless my local fast food joint needs a new mascot.
When I’ve mentioned that I might stop writing, well-intending people have told me ‘you can’t do that’, like they havesome investment in me deluding myself. It has also resulted in the over-enthusiastic use of platitudes.
Apart from Lollypop ladies, and Iron Man, there are few things with their heart in a better place than a well-chosen platitude. And nothing alerts you to how bad things have got than someone slinging a phrase so stripped of meaning that you both have to check that something was actually said. It’s like waking up to find your partner has left you, and being told there’s plenty more fish in the sea, when in fact there’s now so few fish left in the sea that seagulls prefer chips, or preferring to attack small dogs inland than go fishing.
Sadly platitudes don’t help when you’ve spent half an hour losing faith in your ability to write because you can’t spell entanglement. It isn’t just follow your dreams, it’s stuff like ‘be the person you want to meet, which would entail permanently carrying invites to a deck party on a 200ft Sun seeker yacht in Cannes while dressed as the man from Delmonte.
However, good things come to those who wait, which anyone who has waited 50 minutes without a book to read for the P4 to Brixton will know this is actually true. It’s not rocket science probably isn’t even applicable to rocket science itself these days, while Only the good die young surely means that anyone over 42 (that’s young right?) is a complete wanker. And frankly, unless the proof in the pudding is a large advance cheque, then I’m sending it back to the kitchen. As to Everything will be ok, well, unless you ignore the fact we’re all going to die, this works perfectly.
They also say it’s the trying that counts, but this isn’t rugby, there needs to be some vindication for the effort, or perhaps it would be better directed elsewhere. After all, doing one thing means you’re not doing something else, whether it be child rearing, break dancing or studying, so I have to ask myself, when is it time to give up my childhood dreams.
So, to end on a platitude of sorts: “If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Since I wrote this blog my debut novel The Life Assistance Agency has been chosen as part of WHSmith Fresh Talent and is a thrilling and farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’
it can be bought here: myBook.to/lifeassistance