Writing a novel is a bit like being pregnant. It’s a cliché, I know, but so very true. You can feel this life growing within you, taking shape. It’s so real, so close. You are in love with that life, filled with joy. You nourish it with your own substance, cherish it, and you can’t wait to hold it in your hands. It’s a part of you. You look forward to getting published as to your baby’s birth.
Not getting published is like waiting for the birth, but you never go into labour. It’s pure anguish.
Especially once you’ve been THAT near. An agent = a midwife. She’s felt the baby within you and proclaimed it healthy. Everything’s ready to go. And then – nada.
Gradually, eager anticipation gives way to worry, and then despair. Slowly, realisation dawns on you. The bitter truth. It’s just not going to happen.
It’s a bit like a stillborn birth. You grieve.
And there the simile ends, for a baby is of quite a different calibre to a book, and while a berieved mother will never forget that stillborn baby, a writer MUST forget that stillborn book and move forward, away from it; think of it as a useful exercise in learning to write, and forget it. It might have been good for you, the author, to write it, but that was its sole purpose – it just wasn’t meant to have readers. Clinging to it for too longs makes you infertile.
For me, it only took a moment: a moment to decide to move on to my next book, to sit down and write the first sentence, the first page. And I was off. Novel A was dead. It had never been a baby; it was just a story. There’s no point at all getting sentimental about our stories that weren’t published. There’s no point regarding them as failures. Novel A was not a failure. In the years I’d been working on it I had learnt so much: about storytelling, about the craft of writing, about myself.
Most of all, the latter. I’d written myself into a cul-de-sac with Novel A. In the end I’d become so obsessed with the idea of “getting published” I’d lost the story. I’d been so obsessed with revising it to fit the demands of publication I’d polished the magic out of it.
I was a bit like an infertile woman trying to get pregnant. The more she fiddles with thermometers and calendar dates and ovulation times the more her body rebels and refuses to comply – she’s barren.
So she decides to adopt, throws away her thermometer and charts and – hey presto! – she’s pregnant!
That’s the way it was with me. In no time I was “pregnant” again, with a whole new life growing within me, writing away in every spare second; but this time it was different. I never again wanted to end up in that cul-de-sac of desperation. I had learned one lesson: write with all your heart, and all your passion. Write the best you can; make your story as perfect as your ability will let you. But never once think about publishers. And that was how I did it. I put the idea of publishing out of my mind and concentrated at getting the story right.
Once I was about half-way through I sent the first chapter to Agent A. She wrote back to say she loved it; “send me the first draft as soon as it’s finished.”
That’s what I did. I sent her another sprawling, chaotic, monster of a manuscript and waited for her feedback. I really wanted to get this right.
And waited. And waited.
…to be continued…