After much soul searching, I’ve realised that I am indeed envious of the folk who do NaNoWriMo. Not on account of the quantity produced, but the confidence and self-assurance with which it appears to be done. Those enthusiastic facebook postings of word counts, lives happily rearranged to fit it in. Perhaps I had that once, but it was a very long time ago.
Writing for yourself is a safe kind of pleasure. The only person who has to enjoy it, is you, and that can work well. However, until you attempt to put your work in the public domain, you have no real measure of how good you are. It takes a lot of belief in your work and your qualities as an author to start putting yourself in front of agents and publishing houses. Many big houses won’t take you without an agent, and many agents aren’t interested in unpublished authors. There are exceptions, but the odds of you being one of them are pretty slim. How many rejection letters, or telling silences can you take before your faith in your own work starts to waver?
There are of course plenty of smaller houses who may well let you in, and there is self-publishing. They can say no. The editing stage is a shock for anyone who believed their work was pretty much perfect. Been there, back at the start. I’ve also seen it lots of times as an editor, with a lot of authors over the years who could not handle editing as an emotional experience. It was awful for them, and I felt for them, but if a paragraph doesn’t make sense, or a scene is full of continuity errors, there’s work to do.
The work goes out, and you get reviews from readers, and maybe from professionals. Some of them will be awful. All well known and successful authors get bad reviews now and then, no one is universally loved and respected. For less prominent authors, the bad reviews can be pretty damning and demoralising. One bad review can rip your guts out, even if the other ten were excellent. Worse still is the absence of reviews, because no one was interested. That happens. Putting a book out does not guarantee that anyone at all will buy and read it. The reality of tiny and non-existent sales causes a lot of aspiring authors to quit, or to give up on what they cared about and make the professional decision to write something more obviously lucrative. I’ve done that one, too. Even if you self publish your work and give it away for free, this can all still happen. As soon as you share, you are exposed and if you care about your work, it’s going to hurt sometimes.
Some people are only in it for the money and a vision of fame, and don’t seem to care who hates their stories. Some people are so confident in their work that they won’t hear criticism. The first set do produce successful authors now and then, the second set hardly ever, if at all. There’s a really hard balance to strike here. You need enough faith in yourself and your work to keep going in face of all the inevitable setbacks. You need to be able to hear the feedback and criticism so that you can grow and learn. It is not easy, and seldom comfortable.
So yes, those distant memories of a time when I did it just for love and without fear, leave me envious of NaNo folk. The time before reviewers, before editors, before people who hate my blog, before putting myself out here in front of all the people who are at liberty to knock me down any way they like. The days before I lost my nerve, lost my faith in my ideas, my skill and the point of what I was trying to do. The days before I hadn’t come to hate my work, and when I hadn’t been subjected to the judgment of those around me. Most people don’t care whether you make good art, they care whether you make good money, and there’s only so long you can spend writing books before you’ll start to hear about what an irresponsible waste of time your hobby is. I’ve done it all, got up and tried again.
And yet, the project I have that’s been most commercially successful is the one I made purely for love. The man who inspires me most, believes enough in my writing to keep encouraging me to do it. I can’t imagine feeling any pride in simply having written two thousand words, or fifty thousand words, or a hundred novels, come to that. I am envious of the people who do. I probably sound very bitter and cynical to anyone who has not walked this path. It’s easy to stand in a place of inexperience and know you’re the special one, the super gifted talent who will break through with an instant best seller just as soon as you put yourself forwards. Being able to imagine that is not the measure of you as an author. Whether you make or break, eventually, is probably going to depend on whether you can keep dreaming even when every dream you ever had has already been trampled on.
And in spite of it all, I am still here.