So my nice little plan of writing up an end-of-year post fell apart. I shouldn’t have expected anything else. I don’t know about you but December for me can be very busy, mostly brought upon myself to be honest, but busy all the same. Apart from the normal end of year meetings and reports to be compiled in my day job I usually volunteer to help some friends of mine who run a bookshop over the weekends in December and the build up to Christmas. This does mean I can end up working most of the month straight through but at least this year I had some days off sprinkled in between to allow me to catch up on little things like sleep and the like. On top of this there’s the usual social activities of December and catching up with friends, and, the cherry on the top, is that I was working my way through a draft of a new novel at the time.
I have managed to survive all this, but as you can imagine there was little time for me to write up any sort of end of year blog. As it is I’m struggling to get it finished by the end of January.
To mop up the events of last year I attended the launch of Issue 2 of gorse where I read an extract of my story Extrapolations, it went well, I think, and people seemed to like it, which, as they say, is nice. Below is a link to some film taken on the night including an extract from my piece.
It was a great event and was a fantastic opportunity to hear some great work, and meet some great people. It’s something I definitely want to be part of again in the future. As anyone whose read my story can attest it doesn’t really lend itself to a public reading. I had a vague idea that I could read the whole piece in the allotted ten minutes only to fail miserably when I tried it at home. As it was I managed to get through about half the story. It nearly killed me in the process. The sort of frantic, inner monologue voice I used in the story doesn’t easily translate to a public reading and I was definitely falling apart at the end. Some in the audience may have felt I was getting overcome with the emotion of the piece; oxygen deprivation is closer to the truth! Still, as I said I’d love to do it again. There is a video of my full reading somewhere amidst the gorse. If I get my hands on it I may put it up online in the future, just to serve as a lesson to others how writing a story is all well and good, but if you want to actually read it out loud you’d better be prepared to put in breaks here and there so the reader has a chance to breathe every now and then.
The people at gorse were also kind enough to ask me to suggest my reading highlights of 2014, which I did along with other contributors through the year. It’s not exactly a Christmas list, but it does include those books I most enjoyed reading during the year, both new and old. A list I’d certainly recommend dipping into if you’re interested.
So on we come to 2015. I’ve no great resolutions to report, nor do I have any great expectations that in the broad sense the year will be radically different from last. I’ll continue to write. I’ll continue to submit. And I’ll continue doing this in the hope that I’ll find some success.
The title of this piece Lather. Rinse. Repeat comes from an old sit-com Friends I think, where one of the characters arrives late because she got caught washing her hair in a lather-rinse-repeat loop (not exactly Godot, but not a million miles away either). The writing game is like that. You go through the same steps, you write, you revise, you submit and you wait, and when all that’s done you go back and do it all again. As I said I’m under no illusions that this year will follow any different pattern to last. I’m also aware that this sounds perilously close to that old definition of insanity, repeating the same actions expecting a different response, but I suppose it is really.
The thing is, it’s not just that you have to learn to accept rejections of something you’ve worked very hard on; it’s that despite all your work you may never have any success. I don’t go in for positive thinking, prayers, lighting candles; votive offerings and the sacrificing of small animals aren’t my thing. It’s like those nature documentaries, the turtle lays her eggs on the beach and swims back out to sea, how the hatchlings survive is entirely out of her hands. It’s the same with submissions. I work hard to get my submission in as good condition as I can, but the minute I hit the send button, or put the envelope in the post box, that’s it, I’m done. There’s nothing I can do, except wait.
I think you have to accept the idea that you may never succeed with anything you do.
This isn’t me being defeatist. This isn’t me giving up. This is me accepting the fact that despite everything I do there is no guarantee that I will ever reach that stage where I can walk into a bookshop, browse along the shelves, and see my name as author on the spine of a book. I think I have to face that. I think I have to accept that. But I also have to accept that it isn’t going to make a difference.
I am a writer. I’ll say it again. I am a writer. That statement isn’t qualified by the books on the shelves, the publishing deals or the agent’s contracts in my back pocket. It’s defined by the fact that I spend what time I can sitting in a quiet room in front of a keyboard translating ideas in my head into words on a page, and I continue to do this again, and again. That, God help me, is what makes me a writer. It means that if I am successful I will hopefully make the most of it, but also if I’m not successful I’ll continue writing.
It sounds fucking stupid, it sounds futile, it sounds like a potentially huge waste of time, and it is. But that’s what I choose to do. I know what I do, the types of story I write, written in the style I write, them makes my work a difficult sell. And I know there’s never been a more difficult time to be a writer, though I doubt there’s ever been a good time. But in my own way I don’t care, I really don’t.
I’ve looked myself in the proverbial mirror and accepted that this time next year, or the year after, or in five years, or ten, or twenty, I may find myself going through the same motions, my own lather, rinse, repeat loop, and I accept it. I’ll accept that because I know I’m writing the stories I want to write in the way I want to write them.
It may be stupid, but it’s my stupid.
(and before we go any further this whole post isn’t my attempt to grab the unappreciated genius high ground. I think I have some ability, I think, to some degree, I can write. I know what I do will, even with the best will in the world, always place me in a niche, but I’m fine with that)
So even though everything I do may be a colossal waste of time I intend to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve never felt futility to be a good reason for not doing something 😉
So to end on a slightly more upbeat tone here’s a similar sentiment, in a pop music vein from the Ben Folds Five (basically the same misery, but with added Fraggles!)
Geez, were you not nominated for the Hennessey and published in a very impressive journal this year? Plus your facial hair is the envy of the Irish literary scene. And everyone wants to know what shampoo you use. I’m disappointed, given this post’s title, that there wasn’t some mention of it. You’re right on time for Chinese New Year, anyway, and I’m sure it’ll be a successful one. Happy Year of the Sheep!
Funnily enough, the Hennessy nomination was actually for the 2013 award, even though I’d been saying it was for the 2014 award all year (awarded in 2014 for the nominees during 2013), I only recently just spotted it, eek.
That and the gorse story were great so I definitely don’t want it to appear that I’m ungrateful for either but for me I suppose it’s always been about that idea of the book on the shelf with my name on it as the goal so that’s probably where the main thrust of the post is going
The measure of success. How do we measure success? I know how I felt after I finished my first novel. I’d written a novel! How many people could say that? Thousands, okay. But how many people did I know who’d written a novel? Hell, I knew people who’d never even read a novel. Writing a novel was an achievement. Yay me. That was twenty years ago. When I looked in the mirror back then I didn’t see a writer looking back at me. I wanted to. I did. But there were so many others things that defined me. No one thought of me as Jim-the-novelist. I was always Jim-the-something-else. And I thought I was okay with that but I really wasn’t. Now all I do is write and no one I associate with knows me as anything other than a writer. So success, yes? But as I a successful writer? Ah. That’s another category. How do we measure that? I’m editing a novel at the moment. I wrote it a while back and stuck it in a drawer—folder actually—and pretty much forgot about it. I started working on it last month when my wife was in the States. During one of our daily phone exchanges I told her I’d started and I said to her, “D’you what? I can write.” It’d been so long since I’d read me that I took me aback and I hadn’t even got to the good bit of the book at that time. I can write stuff that impresses me. It might not sell—for loads of reasons but the main one is that I’m just not pushy enough on so many levels—but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Nowadays I look in the mirror and a writer looks back at me. He’s older and more tired-looking than I expected him to be but he is a writer. I didn’t get to this stage of my life the way I might’ve expected or hoped for but I’m here and that’s all that matters, right? I succeeded.