White Lies

ou are lovely

I read a great thread the other day on Twitter by author Leigh Bardugo about how, as authors, we tend to perpetuate the myth of glamour and success that surrounds the magical business of getting published. Take it away Leigh!

She goes on to talk about how we ‘big up’ the successful moments, but downplay (or conceal) the less attractive aspects, like having to make your own merchandise to bribe people with! But don’t we all do this in our everyday lives? Pretending that everything is rosy in the garden, whether it be your marriage, your job, or your house that looks lovely but is actually developing some scary cracks and is possibly built on an ancient burial site?? But that’s enough about me. Telling little white lies about your job is just an extension of that very human need to be seen as ‘successful’ or ‘having your shit together’. We pretend we’re earning more than we are or have a bigger office.

But there is something about the truth that liberates all of us. In recent times, more and more authors are opening up about the reality of publishing and what it really looks like, behind the headlines. Irish author Donal Ryan ruffled many’s the feather by revealing that his books earned him a mere 40c per book and that he was returning to full-time employing in order to pay his mortgage. (I wrote about it for the Irish Times here).

I think there is a certain amount of embarrassment – because all we tend to hear about are the big authors who get eye-watering book deals, then sell the movie rights and next thing you know, they’re featured in some home style magazine showing off their new castle. That’s what people expect will happen when you get a publishing deal, but it is the exception. Most authors just want to earn a wage, even a really tiny one, that means they can write full time. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s rarely the case.

But we don’t want to let the side down, or reveal to our friends and families that actually, not all book shops will stock your book, that some people still won’t read your book even though you’ve given them a copy for free, that you have to work just as hard promoting your book as you did writing it and at the end of the day, most Irish authors earn somewhere between €500 and €5,000 per year (eek!).

Yet it seems a bit strange that authors are the ones left to gloss over these facts – as though we somehow have to protect the reputation of the publishing industry as well as our own! Well, not on my watch. Self-publishing is a great leveler and dispels you of any ‘notions’ (as we call them here) pretty early on. I’ve had to do everything myself, so signing with a publisher was a real privilege. But it’s not the end of the rainbow – there were still disappointments as well as unexpected gains. What didn’t change is the amount of effort I had to put into making sure people knew about my book.  There are so many jobs you have to do as an author that you can never invoice anyone for and I’m not sure any amount of wild success will change that.

I remember reading an article a while back (but for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name or find the link) in which a bestselling author spoke about a reading he was due to give at a local library for his new book. About eight people showed up; one was his wife and the rest were from a local retirement home. That was shocking to me – again because I just didn’t know that most really, really successful authors aren’t celebrities. Even New York Times bestselling authors. The truth is, nobody really cares! Apart from you, your publisher and probably your bank.

So yeah, I don’t think there’s any harm in telling the odd white lie to save face, but the constant pressure to present a false picture of your life or your career – which has only increased with the dawn of social media – is just really exhausting and serves nobody. And sometimes the most inspiring stories are the ones where you didn’t make it – like, how often do we find our own inner resilience perk up when reading about authors who were rejected zillions of times? Of course, the catch is, you have to then make it big-time for your sob story to resonate, but still. Knowing that nobody really knows what their doing can be the most comforting truth of all.

How Long Does It Take To Write A Bestseller?

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Some of us have dreamed about writing a bestseller for a long time. A part of me was terrified when I published my first book. Would I be able to handle the fame that came with it? I mean, of course, I anticipated the critical acclaim and the validation it would bring, but the success might prove to be overwhelming. Hah! How innocent I was. How naive. But then again, they were the stories I saw on my TV, in the magazines. That was how it was supposed to happen. Authors, who were shot to stratospheric success with their first novel. Bidding wars. Movie deals. Reese Witherspoon gushing over the originality of the storyline.

But are these writers really representative of the majority of authors who make a living out of writing? Or are they just the one percent we hear about because it’s more exciting than reading a headline ’52 year old woman hits the NYT Bestseller List on her 6th novel’. Yeah, it doesn’t really have the same ring to it. We don’t hear about the writers who spend the best part of a decade slogging away before finally hitting the sweet-spot with their third or fourth or fifth novel.

That’s why I was so pleased to read the following on Twitter last week, the real life stories of successful writers who found longevity in their careers, rather than overnight success.

Traction is a very important concept here. As well as luck, timing and perseverance. I’m always talking about the changing landscape of publishing and how digital downloads have altered the way in which we find new authors. While books and their authors might not reach the masses right away (for whatever reason) if they keep producing good work that people are responding to, a momentum can build. Take Kristin Hannah for example, and her novel The Nightingale (which is, of course, being made into a movie!). I was astonished to find out that she has written over 20 novels! I had never heard of her and assumed that book was her debut, but no; she has been honing her craft for decades and is now reaping the critical and one assumes, financial rewards. Which is why publishers really need to support their writers and stand by them, while they build their readership.

UK author Joanne Harris often speaks about her first two novels, before Chocolat, and how they didn’t sell particularly well. I see other writers like Rowan Coleman, with a slew of books under her belt, who has found great traction with her recent bestseller, The Summer Of Impossible Things. It’s impossible to predict what will make a bestseller. If there was a foolproof recipe, we’d all be downloading it. But one thing is clear – if you give up, you’ll never know.

Then there’s age. We can sometimes see age as a barrier, but it can also be liberating. If the following tweet is anything to go by, age can give you the freedom to be yourself – to follow your heart and write what you want to write.

 

It is so encouraging to receive this message – there is no time limit on art, on creative passion, on reaching your full potential. I’m thinking of Richard E. Grant and the unbridled joy he exudes at finally receiving all of the accolades the acting world can shower upon him, at the age of 61. It doesn’t mean he’s any better now than he was ten or twenty years ago, but the right role came at the right time and he is now getting the recognition he always deserved.

If you don’t make the New York Times Bestseller List with your first book (or your second or third!) it doesn’t mean your not good enough, it just means that the stars haven’t aligned. Yet. There are so many variables that are outside of our control and all we can do is keep writing, keep believing in the power of telling stories.

***Evie Gaughan is an Irish novelist of historical and contemporary fiction with a touch of magic. Click on the links below for a preview ⬇️

Spread The Words

Who needs chocolates and flowers when you can spend an arbitrary date in February curled up with a beautiful book?! So for all you sleepy-heads who missed reading The Story Collector the first time around, you have one week to download it for just 99p!

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‘Told with all the warmth and charm of a fairytale’

The Irish Times

‘This is the kind of book to lose yourself in’

Nudge Books Literary Magazine

But what’s it all about? Who is the story collector and why is this butterfly-adorned book breaking hearts? Well, I’ve always believed that word of mouth is the best way to spread the love for a book, so I’ve decided to use the words of my wonderful readers to make a story collector word cloud!
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If you can find a few words in there that speak to you, then click on the portal below for your chance to escape into a world of wild beauty, dark creatures and true love.

Value Your Writing

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I was watching a documentary about Christie’s Auction House the other day (more unexpected research!) when they took delivery of a beautiful Constable painting. Three specialists inspected the piece, oohing and aahing over the quick brush strokes and immensity of the sky. Then came the real deliberations… how much was it worth? As they debated over how many tens of millions it might fetch, the documentary maker asked them how they arrived at such a price (£20 million). The specialists said that the price was based on how much previous Constable paintings sold for and how much buyers would be prepared to pay. It was staggering to me – it wasn’t so much to do with the actual artwork itself, but how the art world chose to value it. The artist is long gone and even if he were alive today, could not profit from these kinds of sales. Banksy highlighted this issue when he shredded one of his paintings that was resold at auction.

The way society values things can often seem completely unrelated to an item’s true worth. It seems to be more about ownership and the prestige that it brings, rather than investing in an item because it means something to you. The documentary went on to boast about Christie’s new operations in China, where they were basically teaching the Chinese the value of Western art (i.e. teaching them how to spend their millions lusting after the same limited number of artworks deemed worthy). It all seemed so fake and contrived to keep money flowing within the same circles. As my mother would say, money for old rope! These auction houses aren’t actually creating anything or adding value – they are making their money off the backs of artists who died hundreds of years ago, many of them penniless. I often think of Van Gogh and how he struggled throughout his life. Ostracised by the art world at the time, his paintings speak to so many of us now because of their individuality and unique style.

Anyway, what has all this got to do with anything? Well, I’ve been stressing over book sales recently – wondering if I could be doing more and getting frustrated with myself because OBVIOUSLY I’m not doing enough. Which has ultimately led to me viewing my work purely in terms of rankings, sales and reviews. Which is awful – nobody should view their work in those terms, yet it is a reality you face when you’re trying to make a living out of writing.

The problem is, it’s an extremely narrow view of how much your book is worth. I lost touch with how much value I gained from writing my stories in the first place – how much writing helped me through the ups and downs of life. My books have been an escape and a sanctuary. A source of limitless frustration, yes, but also a source of pride. Becoming a writer has been a dream come true. It has given my life a whole new meaning and purpose. Not to mention the joy of being read! One of my favourite reviews (which I should really stick on my fridge in moments of doubt) was from a reader who thanked me for following my passion and living my purpose. Now, what could be worth more than that? You can’t put a price on that kind of connection.

We are all creators, communicating our unique experience of life. Value arbitrarily placed on something by the outside world doesn’t always necessarily mean ‘better’. It might just mean they can find a buyer for it, or that it will sell with minimal fuss. The same applies if you submit a manuscript to a publisher – if they don’t think your book is commercial enough, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t any good. Market forces are driven by very different motives. Was J.K. Rowling’s writing any less impressive when she was writing in a cafe, unemployed and unable to get published? Were Van Gogh’s paintings any less vibrant and expressive when the art world had turned their back on him? The work is it’s own reward, its value is inherent, regardless of stats or awards. Your writing has value, whether you are published or not, whether your last book was a hit or not. So never skimp on the quality of your work – make it the best it can be, for yourself. Don’t follow the markets or compromise your ideas. Never stop dreaming. The process of creation, fulfilling your artistic potential, telling your story – all of these things are beyond price tags.

We all want to be successful, but I’m not sure that allowing the world to tell you how much you’re worth is the meaning of success. An artist’s career will always have peaks and troughs, but that does not reflect your worth or predict your potential. We should value our talent and keep writing (and stop checking the sales reports!)

#WriterProblems ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Well, I didn’t win the Costa Book Award, which is the first of today’s problems, but at least one of my favourite novels of last year – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – did, so that’s some consolation.

Now before I delve into the dark and murky waters of #WriterProblems, I have to preface it with a caveat, of sorts. A prologue, if you will. A prolo-blem. And it is this: nobody gives a shit if you have writer problems. You’re the one who kept banging on about writing a book and now you’re published, you should be full of the joys of spring and stop moaning to everyone about how hard it is. Right? *whispers* So when we talk about writer problems amongst ourselves, we need to do it in the softest voice that only bees can hear, lest we come across as ungreatful whingers.

There is nothing like finding yourself waist-deep in the tundra of a first draft to start questioning all the rose-tinted crap you once spouted about the charmed life of being a writer. That’s the stuff you say after the book is written and published and safely out of your hands. But writing is like a game of snakes and ladders – when it’s time to start writing your new book you are unceremoniously shoved down a snake and sent back to square one, having learned (apparently) nothing. In fact it’s even worse the second time around because you know you did this before, but you have no recollection of how you did it. Was it this hard? Was I this ill-prepared? It’s like like people telling you that you climbed Everest as a toddler, yet now, as a grown-up, you’re suddenly terrified of heights.

So what are the main problems we writers face on a daily basis? What are the shared agonies that can make us feel, if nothing else, less alone? Well, strap yourself in, literally, for number 1.

Problem Number One:

How to stay in the chair –

This might sound basic, but Jesus Herbert Christ, it is probably the most challenging part of writing a book. Your house suddenly becomes a wonderland of endless activities – everything from doing housework to making tea to ‘getting some air in the garden’ are all colluding against you finishing your novel. With the help of some fellow authors on Twitter, I’m currently working on a prototype for a writer’s chair™ featuring a seatbelt, tea-making facilities and a timelock. Kind of like an electric chair, only with cushions and a shelf for your biscuits.

Problem Number Two:

Nobody takes your job seriously

If you manage to avoid the distractions of giving your oven a deep clean or attacking the grout with a toothbrush, people drop by because you’re ‘not doing anything’. It’s hard to convince people that staring into space wearing your pyjamas is work, but IT IS! ‘Sure you can do that later,’ is the battle-cry of well-meaning muggles who have NO CLUE that ‘later’ you’ll be putting together a soundtrack for the film adaptation of your book, so no, that’s not convenient either. When you have a book out, people actually start to take you seriously – they see your book on the shelves and think ‘Wow, you really are a writer.’ But no sooner have the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price’ stickers faded than you resume your lowly position as a work-shy chancer, dealing in ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ rather than real work.

Problem Number Three:

Other writers –

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Yay! Look at us and our brilliant award for being brilliant!! Damn them and their  daily wordcount updates, their new contracts, their constant doing stuff! It puts you forever on the back foot, feeling you’re not doing enough. You think, great, I’ve written a page that wasn’t totally awful today and then you see somebody is doing a writing retreat to kickstart the 10 book deal they’ve just signed and all before breakfast All of a sudden, your accomplishment pales in comparison – but it’s a trap. Don’t let other peoples’ success diminish yours. We’re all moving forward, we’re just at different points along the way and as Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Bloody joy thieves!!

Problem Number Four:

Quality Control

This is a two-part problem – not knowing if what you’re writing is any good, but also having to persevere with your ‘not any good’ writing because that’s what a first draft is. I almost have to write with my eyes closed! And the perspective keeps changing, like those mirrors at the fun-fair – one minute you think what you’ve written looks great – then it looks like one of Frankenstein’s nightmares. What seemed pithy and clever yesterday is tired a cliched today. But you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day (badum-tish!) and you just have to fake it until you make it. (I’ll stop now.)

Problem Number Five:

Having/Not having a contract.

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This is where those 10-book-deal-joy-thieves are smiling on the other side of their faces!! While the security of having a book deal is nice, being creative on purpose is a lot of pressure. In one sense I feel lucky because I’ve never really had to write to a deadline. Ideas have come organically and I’ve had the space to let them germinate into something approaching a plot. But the flip side of that is the sense of futility that creeps in. ‘Is anyone ever going to read this? Will it ever get published?’ It takes a lot of grit and determination to keep going when you don’t know the answers to those questions. And I think most authors, regardless of what stage they are at in their careers are very aware of the shifting sands in publishing, so nothing is certain. The best solution is to write for yourself and worry about the rest later.

Problem Number Six:

Refusing to give up

Well-meaning Muggles: So if it’s that tough, maybe you should pack it in?

Me: I’m sorry, what now? What gave you the impression that I don’t want to do this? I’ll be a writer if I wanna be, dammit!!

So you see, despite all of the problems with writing, it’s still the one thing you get a kick out of doing, even if it insists on kicking you back. We all have romantic notions of what it is to own a bookshop or be a musician or a circus performer. But all of these exotic-sounding jobs have very mundane daily rituals. The gloss is just the tip of the iceberg that everyone sees and many envy, but the hulk that lies in solitary darkness is the part you have to make friends with if you want to get to the end of the story. And I will get to the end of this story, just as soon as I finish this cup of tea….

Be More You

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“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

Dolly Parton.

I saw this quote on Twitter the other day from the movie Dumplin’ and simply had to ‘borrow’ it immediately! We don’t get this message enough – Be More You! This time of year is always associated with being a better you – a better version of yourself. Gyms have made a fortune out of our annual guilt and the rush to become someone else. But where did all of this start?

New Year’s resolutions have been around for quite a long time (according to Wikipedia!). The Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. So for all you book lenders, now’s the time to turn the screws on all those friends/neighbours/relations who haven’t returned them yet. The Romans made promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. And in the Medieval era, the knights took the ‘peacock vow’ at the end of Christmas to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.

However, the whole idea of self-sacrifice or self-improvement has really jarred with me over the last few years. I’ve hopped on a bandwagon that’s headed in the other direction, the one that asks – ‘What can I do more of this year? What do I love doing? What will make me happier?’ In a world where we are constantly being told to be our best beautiful, or whatever, we are seldom (if ever) taught to value who we really are. Or how to cultivate a life that honours our true self.

One good thing about getting older is that we get a better sense of ourselves and are a little less influenced by others and their opinions of us. Just as in my writing, I’m aiming for the kind of authenticity that comes when you stop trying to be something you’re not and begin to embrace who you are. As David Bowie once said:

Aging is an extraordinary process ... ~ David Bowie                                                                                                                                                     More

I think the knights had it right – New Year is a wonderful opportunity to re-affirm your commitment to be yourself. You don’t need to change, or improve (not unless it’s what you want) and besides, as Arnold Beisser once said in his paradoxical theory of change:

Why Affirmations Don't Work | Gestalt psychotherapy proposes the “Paradoxical Theory of Change.” According to the theory, “change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not.“

So my wish for you all and for myself in the New Year, is to be more of who we really are. It’s our diversity that makes us interesting, our fallibility that makes us endearing and human. There is enough conformity in the world – so break out and be you with bells on! As Dr. Seuss said, there is no-one alive who is youer than you 🙂

Happy New Year!

 

What’s In A Name?

 

Copyright Tom Gauld

What’s in a name? Well, that’s easy for Shakespeare to say with a name like that, but when you’re trying to think up new character names for your book, it’s not always that easy. Unless you’re Man Booker winner Anna Burns, in which case you can dispense with names altogether. But for most of us, we like to pick names that somehow embody the character. The right name can bring your character to life and set the tone, but the wrong name can take a reader out of the story, which is a cardinal sin!

One of the most striking names in literature is Heathcliff. It speaks to location and character – perfectly capturing the haunted, wild, untameable, unforgiving landscape, echoing Heathcliff’s volatile persona. I mean, would he really have had the same impact were his name John? Or Pat (considering he was probably Irish – where Emily’s father was born with the less impressive surname of Brunty). There is a power in names – and a history, like lettered breadcrumbs, which lead to the source.

My surname can be traced back to the 10th century, in the Annals of the Four Masters. In Old Gaelic, my name is Ua Gáibhtheacháin (try saying that ten times!), descendant from a fierce warrior. Apparently we were famed for our expeditious and industrious nature – swiftly dispatching enemies, which is basically just another day for me. And if it weren’t for Cromwell, I’d probably be talking to you from the family stronghold in Kilkenny, and I wouldn’t be on the Atlantic coast, constantly moaning about the rain. Damn you Cromwell!!

My maternal grandmother is also from a great clan in Mayo, the O’Malleys. So I am also connected to another chieftain, or the pirate queen as she is known, Grace O’Malley. In Gaelic she is known as Grainuaile, or bald Grainne, which refers to the legend that her father wouldn’t let her go raiding on the ships when she was a girl, in case her long hair got caught in the sails and rigging. So she took a knife to her locks and cut them off, earning her place on the ship. Which is just like the time I bravely cut my hair into a long bob (a ‘lob’). People still speak of that hairdo, to this day.

So, I hate to disagree with the ardent Juliet, but names do have significance and we also assign them with meaning. In The Story Collector, I chose the name Anna for my protagonist because I wanted a name that was traditional, unfussy and strong. I also chose the name Harold, which instantly speaks of someone who is distinctive and hints of a well-to-do background. When writing historical fiction in particular, it’s important that your names fit the era you’re writing in. No Beyonce’s here, I’m afraid.

But how do you decide on a name? Sometimes the name comes first; others, you have a fully outlined character who remains nameless through several drafts. Or worse, their name changes mid-draft – or their gender! It’s almost impossible to get their original name out of your head and this requires extensive proof-reading afterwards. There aren’t any rules to picking names as such, but there are certain guidelines that are worth taking into consideration. Like it’s okay (preferable even) to pick common names, rather than searching for something unusual, as it makes the story more authentic.  I recently put down a book after two chapters because I found the character names better suited to a pair of kittens than leads characters. They were so contrived and pretentious, it just put me off the entire thing.

And apparently, us readers are as lazy as they come, because after a few goes at reading the character’s name, when we see it again, we only read the first letter. Hang on, maybe that’s not lazy, maybe it’s highly efficient! So it’s better not to choose names that begin with the same first letter or sound too similar, as it can confuse things unnecessarily, like Marie and Mary.

I remember an old tip that suggested picking names from the phone book, but sadly, the phone book no longer exists, so I find myself googling baby names (which may cause a shock to my nearest and dearest!) or trying my luck ‘Vegas style’ with online name generators. But mostly, I just sit and stare out the window until the right-sounding name comes to me. In my new WIP I have quite a large cast of characters and thankfully, most of them have come with – at least their first names – already intact. I had to search for popular Russian Jewish names (hello Mikhail!) and I’m still trying out names for one of my main characters whose personality I’m really only getting to know with each new chapter, but what is she called? I need something unique but not too unusual. A strong name, but also with a sense of vulnerability. Something lyrical, but not too sweet.

I’m tempted to run a poll, but I have a terrible habit of ignoring other peoples’ advice, so the chances are I will still go with the name I want, even if the overwhelming majority pick something else! It’s a bit like book titles – sometimes you’re completely married to one idea and others it won’t come until the last, desperate minute. Naming things is such a big responsibility. That is the title they will bear for the rest of their lives, so you want to get it right. But for now, maybe A and B will have to do!

 

Special Offer

If you have managed to miss the exciting news that The Story Collector was reviewed in The Irish Times last weekend, then well done to you because I have been telling everyone I know and many people I don’t! To celebrate, The Story Collector is available to download for 99p all weekend on Amazon and if you fancy bagging yourself a signed copy, check out my Twitter page for a chance to win.

What’s that? You’d like to see the review? Well, I mean if you really think it’s necessary, I suppose I could see if I have a copy somewhere…

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Honestly, this is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. I remember years ago, my sister saying “oh you should be writing for the Irish Times”. She may as well have said, you should write your novels from space. It seemed so far-fetched. Even now it feels surreal. I keep wondering, how did this happen? I think a lot of writers tend to overlook the years of hard slog when something amazing suddenly happens, as if it has nothing to do with us. Also it feels a bit indulgent and most of us have been taught not to indulge in our own success. Irish people are renowned for being utterly crap at taking compliments and we are brought sharply back down to earth if we even show signs of having ‘notions’. But when your peers tell you that your achievements are ‘well deserved’, maybe it’s okay to take a moment and say, ‘I did it!’ So sod it, my book is in the Irish bleedin’ Times and I’m flippin’ delighted!!

Shooting Stars

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You might think you need a degree in symbology or semantics to understand what the hell your book reviews reveal about your novels, but fear not lads and ladies, I’ve put a good half hour of research into some of my own books’ critical reviews and come up with practically no all the answers.
For starters, the star rating means different things to different people on different days. Do not attempt to find any correlation between high ratings and postive reviews (or vice versa). Sometimes the most critical reviews lie in ambush under a five star rating and likewise, a three star rating can often be accompanied by the most glowing review. Do not try to make sense of this – that way madness lies!
However, by using some examples from my own Amazon customer reviews (which I usually read with one eye through a tiny gap in my fingers) I’ve put together a highly scientific system of categorization to make things a little easier. Strap yourselves in!

 

1. The Back-handed Compliment Review
“If you are looking for literture for the ages, this isnt it. However, if you are looking to settle back in your favorite reading chair with a cup of hot tea and some lemon cookies for a delightful afternoon of light reading, this book is your ticket. I thoroughly enjoyed it!”
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I love you really

 

2. The Passive-Aggressive Review
“The story is readable. A good ‘waiting time’ read.”
“Easy & light summer read.”
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Ooh, did I say something wrong?

 

3. The Least Said, Soonest Mended Review
“Too slow”
“Boring”
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OUCH!

 

4. The Insult
“Fair warning.  I have better things to do with my time!”
“The cover art was the best part of this book in my opinion.”
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How dare you write this book!

 

5. The Have-They-Even-Read-The-Book Review
“Once you get past the fowl language and depravity”
(Fowl language? I don’t remember any poultry featuring in that book…)
Whaaat?

 

6. The Angry Review
“THIS ITEM HAS NOT ARRIVED ON MY KINDLE, ALTHOUGH THE MONEY HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM MY ACCOUNT !!!!”
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So, what I think what we’ve all learned here today is that reviews can be confusing, but let’s be honest, we wouldn’t have them any other way, right?! Short, long, cogent or rambling, we love to read them – so please keep writing them 😉

A Writer Unwritten

There’s a great line from one of my favourite songs (Pink Rabbits by The National) which goes:

‘I was a television version of a person with a broken heart’ 

 The one time I should have felt most like a ‘proper writer’, during my book launch, I felt like a television version of an author. Or what I thought an author should be. In reality, I felt adrift; like a boat that had slipped its moorings. Writing was the one thing that had kept me tethered and yet, while my book was published, I wasn’t being a writer (or at least, not in the sense that I’m familiar with); I was being a spokesperson for my writing, which is a completely different skill set. I never thought I would say this, but it’s official folks – not writing is worse than writing!

Being a published author, promoting a book you have written (past tense) is weird for all sorts of reasons. It’s a time of contradictions, where you feel like the centre of attention one minute, but oddly alone the next. Not many people are fortunate enough to have this experience, so not many people get how strange it can feel. Yet it’s only in the last few weeks, since I’ve returned to my WIP that I’ve figured why. Writing is a verb – if you’re not doing it, then it starts to feel like a distant thing. I felt like I was masquerading as a writer, because I wasn’t actually writing and hadn’t written for months. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not one of those ‘write everyday’ evangelicals (although I probably am still writing in my head, if not on screen or paper). But I feel more like a writer when I’m frowning at my laptop, still wearing my pyjamas at lunchtime and eating cheerios out of a box (although that’s not the author photo I went for in the end).

Maybe, at the back of my mind, it was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it again. Yeah, sure, I wrote this one, but what if there’s nothing left? I know other authors feel this way from time to time – regardless of how many books they’ve written.  Because writing a book is never a sure thing.  We all have those hopeful starts; manuscripts that crash and burn before hitting the 20k words mark.  Potentialities simply abandoned.  There is no real formula – either you’re feeling it or you’re not and that’s not exactly the most reliable career path.  Because once you’re published, you begin to see writing as a viable career, but only if you can keep writing. Eek!

It’s the same with art.  I haven’t painted anything in ages and it’s almost as if that channel gets blocked through lack of use. So if I don’t have dried paint under my fingernails, it feels very far away from me.  And I’m not making a judgement or a generalisation here – this is a very personal realisation came as a surprise to me too. But I feel like book promotion is so divorced from story creation, that I almost became a different person.  And in a way, I think that’s essential.  You have to be a bit harder, a bit more calculating and a lot less sensitive. You need to be cool with seeing your face shared across the internet and nurture the ability to find eleventy-thousand different ways to say the same thing (i.e. please buy my book because it’s actually quite good – for realsies).

To craft a story, you need to be a dreamer.  To sell one, you need to be a realist. And I’m not sure either personality trait sits comfortably with the other.  I assume other authors feel some or all of these things. I know there are many on tight deadlines who don’t have the luxury of not writing while promoting and I take my hat off to those authors. Promoting and writing at the same time is the ultimate Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde act, which I have yet to master!

For now, I’m back in my happy place… mumbling ideas to myself in the shower, researching, scribbling notes, getting to know new characters and wrangling my plot into some kind of coherent structure.  This is where the magic happens and I’m lucky I’ve got time and space to figure it all out and most importantly, enjoy it.  It’s the best part – the part you won’t be able to explain fully in words when people ask, ‘What inspired you to write this book?,’ or ‘Where did the idea come from?’ You’ll just remember that year (or two, or three) in your life when you immersed yourself in a world of your own making and you’ll find it hard to believe that other people are now exploring it – as if it always existed, as if it wasn’t a bloody miracle that it ever got written!

So, to all the new writers or unpublished writers out there, wondering if they should even call themselves ‘real writers’ before they’ve got a publishing deal, hear this:

If you’re writing, you’re a writer!

The rest is icing, fur coat, what have you. It is the action of writing that makes you a writer. But crucially, it is the act of publishing that makes you read 😉

 

*** THE STORY COLLECTOR ***

Book Depository ~ Dubray Books ~ Foyles ~ O’Mahony’s ~ Waterstones ~ WH Smith

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