Living cautiously

Last year, I decided to whip myself into a frenzy of positivity after being accepted onto an application-only novel editing course with a well-known literary agency. I managed to stay in this elevated state for months on end and one of the most thrilling side effects was that it helped me to fall in love with my book. As a consequence, my writing improved enormously, even if I say so myself.

Last week I sent said manuscript to a handful of literary agents, one of which had been in touch to say they’d heard about my book and were keen to read it. For want of anything better to do now that the novel is out there, I started Googling ‘How I got my agent’ blogs and my mood deflated faster than a Yorkshire Pudding when the oven isn’t hot enough.

I ploughed through dozens of stories of rejection and hopelessness. There were generally happy endings as most of these writers finally found a person to say ‘yes’, but I decided to dwell on the negative. If J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times by publishers, what hope did I have?

I started to talk myself down. It wasn’t good for me to feel so positive about my book because then, the disappointment will be all the more crushing when it comes. Better to expect the worst. I am a person who chooses to live cautiously you see, or at least I was because I don’t want to live like that any more…

The pull of fearing the worst is strong, but surely it is better to experience soaring highs and the lowest of lows rather than the in-between, which would be, well, numbness I guess. I am reminded of a meal out I had with my husband about seven years ago. I had submitted a radio play to the BBC as part of a contest to find new writers. I loved the play. It moved me and I felt certain that it had something important to say about ageing. When the rejection e-mail came mid-way through the starters, it ruined my appetite. “I feel as if I have just been dumped,” I said. Not even Kingston’s finest Pad Thai could pull me out of the slump.

I decided then that I was going to give up writing. It was just too painful. I’d find another hobby, like knitting or jigsaw puzzles, but writing wouldn’t leave me alone. It tapped me on the shoulder and whispered into my ear at night. It was an itch I had to scratch. Before long, I embarked on a new project, a one-act play called Young Souls, that DID get a yes. It’s available if you are interested, from Stage Scripts and a few summers ago, an am dram group in Scotland won a comedy award with their performance of it. A review of the play in the Ilkley Gazette is one of the high points of my writing career. Not quite J.K Rowling territory, but it did it for me.

I’ve been writing fiction for 17 years now and have only ever been rejected (aside from Young Souls). I’ve been longlisted and even short-listed for a few prizes, but not once have I been a ‘winner.’ I’ve kept going because I can’t stop.

Some nights, before I fall asleep, I listen to Esther Hicks talking about how the only way to manifest the life of your dreams is to get into the vortex. Feeling positive about my book had put me right into the heart of the vortex, yet I was choosing to burst my own bubble. Why? Because it’s a bad habit that has persisted, but habits can be broken.

So, rather than feed my fear of rejection, I’ve started book number two. It’s at the very early stages, but I love the premise and just know I’m going to enjoy writing it. If rejection does come knocking at my door, it will find me, in the vortex, giddy with excitement and living fearlessly.

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  1. I think you’re absolutely right to write for the love of it and not with particular outcomes in mind so that you’re disheartened when they don’t happen. Sounds smart to me. I wish I had stories trying to get out of my head! You’re in an enviable position. Also, you’re an excellent writer. -FW

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