Do you sometimes wish you could do things again? I know I do.
But first you need to find out what works and that’s not always easy. You need someone to give you an honest appraisal, to make some positive suggestions that you can work with. As a writer, which can be a solitary profession, you don’t always have people on hand.
You can’t rely on publishers and agents either. They’re busy people, flooded with manuscripts from everyone who thinks they are the next JK Rowling. If you send your work to publishers and agents, you’re guaranteed a long wait for a response, if you get one at all.
You think I’d be used to this after years of rejection and lack of interest. And once the frustration and disappointment subside, you remind yourself that each rejection is a learning experience.
You learn not to expect anything from publishers and agents, especially a reply. You learn to keep your expectations so low they could limbo dance under a closed door.
But I never learned when to stop and call it a day. That was the trouble. Despite all the rejections and disappointments, I never learned to quit or stop dreaming.
Until I had no choice.
Time to quit
If you’ve ever quit smoking, you’ll know it can be hell as addiction grips like a vice. When I quit in 2006, it put an end to my writing. Without cigarettes, I couldn’t concentrate or write. The bad devil on my shoulder urged me to start smoking again so I could fill the blank screen with words.
But I refused to give in.
I quit writing instead.
‘You learn to keep your expectations so low they could limbo dance under a closed door.’
Have you ever experienced that wave of relief when the pressure lifts from your shoulders?
I wasn’t expecting that. Writing was a habit and a joy, despite the rejections. It was in my blood, like nicotine, yet I didn’t crave it when it was flushed from my system. Days turned into weeks and then months. Still I didn’t miss writing.
But with my health improving, I felt rejuvenated. Within a year, I knew I’d made the best decision ever.
I’d proved I could succeed.
That’s when the tingle started.
You know that feeling. It’s anticipation, expectation, the thought of what might be. You play it down, keep it under control, reminding yourself that things didn’t go too well last time. Start small and manageable. Build slowly. Tell yourself it’s not that important.
Not that I knew what to write, of course. My mind remained stubbornly blank until I read a blog from a plumber, who spent hours searching a village for the house he had to visit. Finally, when he popped into the pub, he discovered that two villages shared the same name.
It wasn’t particularly well-written, but the plumber had a distinctive voice and style that made me chuckle. A few weeks later, I was still laughing when I wrote my first blog about a radio interview I did. Ironically, it concerned the ban on smoking in public places.
To protect the guilty and my identity, I named the blog Fisher’s Fables after the protagonist in my last, unwanted novel. Kent Fisher became my mouthpiece and became a rounded, complex character, based on me, but more daring and driven. The dysfunctional team around him developed a life of its own, adding to the humour of the blog, which ran for seven years.
Along the way, I discovered my voice and style.
Filled with confidence, I rewrote the previous novel, changed the title to No Accident, and fired off three chapters and a synopsis to a new publisher. Within a few days, a response arrived in my Inbox.
Publishers don’t respond that quickly unless they’re not interested. For a moment, I was back where I started, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.
Then I realised I wasn’t that person anymore and opened the email.
‘Hello Robert. I am interested in reading the entire manuscript if you can send it in. First chapter was fun.’
Sometimes you have to quit to succeed.
Maybe you need to break a habit or routine. Maybe you need to create distance so you can reflect and make changes. Or maybe you just need a rest.
What do you think?
Over to you.
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