If someone had sat me down, many years ago, and said ‘should you pursue a career as a novelist, you will spend a great deal of your time feeling utterly miserable about it,’ I wonder if I would still be here, googling ‘YA publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts’. Probably. Actually, definitely. That’s the dreadfully annoying thing about writing – the compulsion is always there, no matter how many doors slam in your sweetly hopeful face. You can’t just stop, even when countless people tell you, gently, politely, brusquely or briskly, that you simply aren’t good enough. Thanks for trying, now fuck off, I have Katie Price to publish.
This morning brought with it sunshine, begrudging blue skies and a rejection email. Thank you, but we won’t be pursuing it. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that. Ten? Twenty? Fifty? If I tally up the rejections across all the writing fields I’ve had a crack at – short stories, novels, screenplays, magazine features, I would run out of fingers, toes and possibly strands of hair. And still, when I see an email in my inbox from a publishing house/magazine editor/literary competition/agent that I know I have submitted to, my heart beats a little faster. It jumps up into the base of my throat and pulses as I click the name. A tiny little part of me – rendered tinier over the years – still thinks that perhaps this will be the one. This will be the email that changes everything. The confirmation. The affirmation. The ‘we want to pursue you’. The ‘we believe in you’.
It is partly that tiny little part – rendered tinier over the years – that keeps putting words on paper; searing one-liners, comical circumstances, character quirks, pithy physical descriptions. And partly this tiny little part that keeps breathing life into characters, keeps building them up and putting them into files on an overcrowded desktop, putting them onto the back of receipts, in the outbox of my phone. Because this tiny little part will always hope that one day, someone will get it. Get it, see something in it and want to share it with the world.
Then there is the other part. The simple need. The push. The drive to constantly document, analyse, theorise, process, test, question. The innate knowledge that words make sense of things. Words gather understanding with open arms, they dole out lessons and clarity unconditionally. Words coerce confrontation, show you things, make you see things, with both great gentleness and great brutality. Words do it all. Words are what it is all about. This part, this simple need, this constant push, is what makes me a writer. Not money, not a publishing deal, not an email that changes everything.
And it is this that I must remember every time that tiny little part has another slither shaved from it. Every time I am told gently, politely, brusquely or briskly, thanks but no thanks. Once a writer, always a writer, whether the world ever gets to share in it or not.