I’m a writer. It’s my career, my calling, an unavoidable compulsion, call it what you will, it is what I am and what I do.
It is a hazardous career that involves many hours staring at a blank screen, followed by either furious typing or staccato bursts of finger tapping, frequently followed by depressing the backspace button and erasing most of what I’ve written.
The prequel to this is endless discussions as to how best to set about writing your masterpiece: do you plot your storyline first or do you fly by the seat of your pants and let the story evolve, let your characters dictate the plot? Should you plan each chapter? How long should a paragraph be? Or, my bête noir, the debate about the everchanging use of commas, colons, semi or otherwise!
Hanging over all this is your word count. How many words do you produce each day? What is the optimum number? How else do you define a good day at the office, which is a corner of your home? Which leads people to think you don’t work, because sitting staring into space cannot reasonably be construed as a job, so it is fine to interrupt you and expect you to be available at the drop of a hat to perform whatever chore no one else wants. And which you leap to execute, because any excuse not to look at that screen will suffice.
When, finally, you come to the place where you can type THE END, the elation is short lived, as you now have to begin the dreaded re-writes. The combing of each sentence to ensure it says what it should, that you have used the right word, the right tense. The Thesaurus is at hand, something to chew on that hopefully isn’t too detrimental to your health, coffee on the go to prevent the eyes glazing over.
Whilst the re-write is happening, you have to start working on another horror, your pitch. This is your sales talk, your carefully crafted plea to the publishing world to stop for two minutes and agree to read your manuscript. Two hundred of the most important words you can come up with. This is the beginning of marketing yourself, of finding a way to get others to believe you are relevant, the story you have told cannot be kept private, why it should go out into the world and entertain thousands, eventually finding itself listed on one or other coveted list.
Everyone has read about rejections letters. How many this author or that received before they were published and found untold fame and fortune. For those who have never received one of those polite, we regret missives, believe me when I tell you there is no pleasure in them. My son, an actor, also a recipient of many rejection notices, says: “Grow a skin, Mum!” before telling me how a friend of his has used his rejection letters to wallpaper his study. Heaven forbid that I should have to look at them each day!
They hurt. Whichever way you look at them they are a condemnation of the essence of you, your craft, your ideas, your hours of relentless labour. A writer never has time off. Story lines and sentences and words are constantly claiming your attention – there is no escape. Whether they make it onto the page each day or not doesn’t count. They pester you.
I follow a good number of authors and writers. We are a band united by the vagaries and uncertainties of our craft, that only those of us who battle them each day really understand. Which is why, when one of our number has a lucky break and broadcasts it on twitter or wherever, the rest of us are able to rejoice with them, because we know what they went through to get there, and in their success our hope is kindled anew.
The plaudits are few and far between in this job, and I celebrate joyously even the smallest that come my way. Any encouragement, any verification that you have touched someone, that you are on the right track is worthy of mention. It is what builds us up and enables us to carry on.
I had a post shared this week. It was well received by a number of people way beyond my usual sphere. I was euphoric and couldn’t wait to share my news. My ardour was dampened when the allegation came that I sounded big headed. I have no doubt that I did. But only to those friends who are not writers, who do not understand the loneliness and insecurity of this journey, this career, the oft-times crippling need for endorsement.
I don’t begrudge you your opinion. You haven’t a clue of what I and fellow wordsmiths go through, and it is enough that they, my fellow writers and poets, stand in the wings and clap, and I thank them with all my heart.