I can write. I know I can write – and I know I’m good at it. Ever since I won a school writing competition when I was 9 for my story about Pip the three-legged dog who lived down my road, I’ve known I can write. I felt like a bit of a fraud at the time – there actually WAS a three-legged dog called Pip who lived down our road. All I did was write about her – I didn’t make it up or anything. In my mind, where was the talent in that? I was simply telling the story of a dog who lived down our street.
I was well aware that my story of Pip the three-legged dog wasn’t some work of imaginative literary genius. I didn’t even have to use my imagination! The story was there – right in front of me. I thought that REAL stories were made up, coming from a place that doesn’t really exist. One of my absolute favourites being Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Now THAT was a real story…
I wondered if my teachers had misunderstood, and given me credit for creating something I didn’t even conceive. Anyway, I sheepishly took their kind, encouraging comments and I held on to them. I filed them away in my box labelled ‘Self-Belief: Proof that I Can Write.’
Even now, I have to force myself to commit to such a brazenly confident, self-assured statement, but I keep winning that arm-wrestle with my nemesis, Self-Belief.
I’ve been writing a book over the past year. Just like my story of Pip the three-legged dog, it is based on my reality. It proverbially comes from ‘down my street’ and not some far-off, distant imaginary land. And just like my thoughts when I was 9 – how is that a real story? Is it even worth telling? It’s hardly Harry Potter and the Stones of Azerbaijan (apologies – I’m not fully up to speed with all the Potter works – it’s not my genre.)
Regardless, I rifled through my box of Proof that I Can Write, and I found my evidence. And so I kept on writing my story.
I gained a bit of momentum, and eventually began putting out some tentative feelers on my work. Armed with my weighty doorstop copy of ‘Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2016’, and fully geared up for the ego-bashing of endless visits to the Slush Pile, I braced myself for the ride: I’m told the Channel can be choppy at this time of year.
Hours of composing synopses, covering letters, market research on potential readers.
“What did you do on Saturday night, Rach?”
“Oh, erm, I spent the best part of 3 hours completing one submission to a single publisher, in the knowledge that I can most likely expect a one-liner email in response titled ‘Thanks but No Thanks’… Yeah it was ace. You?”
“Right. Yeah… Is Gav ok? What did he get up to?”
“Yeah, he’s good thanks. I didn’t see much of him to be honest, although he was sitting right next to me…”
Hmmm. Sorry Gav.
It felt like I’d personally dredged the bottom of the canal by the time I ticked off my first five hand-picked publishers. Each submission had taken hours – no – days of my life, and also a little bit of me thrown into the mix.
Monday came, and as I stood in our kitchen, the first one-liner Slush Pile email response came through. It was softened by the inclusion of some genuinely helpful feedback, and kind, encouraging comments, but I was in the Slush Pile nevertheless. I’d braced myself for this, so I knew to prepare for the blow. Within the space of a few hours, four of my first five submissions had replied: they seemed to appreciate the thorough, extensive and considered nature of my proposal, and my writing style, but it wasn’t for them.
“Jesus. I may have to wade through hundreds of these, Gav. Even then, I might have to consider self-publishing. This is the hardest thing in the world.” (The Dubai marathon came a close second.)
Best get settled for a long old ride, then…
I jumped off the treadmill on Tuesday morning, after a particularly successful speed session. Back in the changing room, I did my usual brief iPhone email scan. Like Charlie Bucket slowly peeling the corner of his very last Wonka Bar, this was my fifth – and only – remaining submission. And there it was.
We are attracted to this submission…”
To be continued…