secrets and lies

I haven’t read The Help nor seen the film.  Perhaps I should because Kathryn Stockett has been on my mind quite a lot recently.

Everybody loves a feel good story, particularly one where the protagonist survives against the odds and can stand up at the end and say “Yah Boo Sucks!  I told you so!”.  With the release of the film of her book Kathryn Stockett has been all over the media and the story of her 60 rejection letters has made the headlines of magazines and blogs across the globe.  But it isn’t her collection of no thank yous from agents and publishers that has been occupying mind.  No, it’s the response from friends and family.

I am sure I am not alone in believing that if I had even a farthing, let alone a penny, for every time somebody has quoted JK Rowling at me I could give up writing or indeed any occupation and live a comfortable life on a secluded island.  But what about when the local support network turns?  Kathryn describes how friends said never mind, the next book will be the one; how people expected her to dust herself down and accept that the book wasn’t going to make it; how she pretended to be going away on a girls’ weekend and would hole herself up in a hotel for another re-drafting session.  Why did she lie?  Because friends and family stopped believing in her, but as she said in her own words, “for God’s sake, I could not make myself give up.”

Earlier still, a week or so ago I was listening to Woman’s Hour as I was driving.  I was so shocked by something that an interviewee said that I pulled over and tweeted the programme.  Clare Morall, author of Astonishing Splashes of Colour (which I loved), was being asked about her advice for aspiring writers.  She said that (a) have something else to do.  Sensible advice, we cannot eat nor pay the mortgage or rent with rejection emails.  However, she seemed to imply, although I may be wrong, that one had to have something else to do otherwise you would go barmy concentrating on something that wasn’t going anywhere.  Hmm, not so sure about that one but we’ll move on.  Her second piece of advice was to keep going on the proviso that “you are a good writer.”  If you’re not a good writer presumably give up.  How do you know if you are a good writer?  The implication was that the more rejections you got the more you should think about giving up.  How very different from Kathryn.

Earlier this week I was told that my writing was a hobby, it wasn’t a career because it didn’t earn any money and it was about time I concentrated more on the things that did [earn money] and left the writing to one side.  In other words, you have had two rejections (TWO!), you’ve had some fun now please get on with real life.

It is quite true, I have not earned a penny from a thing I have written.  Some has been published but it has not paid.  But that conversation really hurt, much more than I expected it to.  I have taken to writing early in the morning or when nobody else is around.  I have re-draft ideas swirling around my head and am making notes in secret so I don’t forget them before my next undercover writing session.  I am planning ahead, marking out days in my diary when I can have a session uninterrupted at home.  I have become a secret writer.

I cannot stop, I haven’t finished the book for goodness sake!  Just because I got to the end doesn’t mean it is done.  How many drafts is enough?  That I cannot answer, but I know the answer is not one.  What I hadn’t realised was that most people who don’t write think that as soon as you put in the final full stop that’s it; job done; move on to the next thing.  It is so much easier re-drafting than writing the first draft.  I know my characters, I know what they are going to do and how the book will end and now I can flesh out scenes, play with atmosphere, rack up the suspense.  But this has had to become a secret pleasure.

Now I must go, I have about an hour before everyone gets up and I have some writing to do.


5 responses to “secrets and lies

  1. Tis blog really touched me, and you are not alone. I can relate to the ‘hobby’ part, as being in full time academia, I have been asked when I am going to go back into the real world and it was suggested my quest for further study is avoidance behaviour (avoiding what?). But with any affair of the heart, which your writing and my studying clearly is, passion arises, and it is the passion that stirs up negative feelings in others, which can be directed back at you through comments like you have experienced. Yes, Kathryn Stockwell got 60 rejection letters, yes JK Rowling was holed up in coffee shops in Edinburgh writing the Harry Potter novels, but is this different to what we are doing? You get rejection letters from publishers, I get feedback that says ‘very good, but if you did x y and z it would take it up a notch’ and in my opinion, this is the proverbial carrot that keeps the passion ignited. We are always dangling on the precipice, waiting for that letter, that mark, that stroke of inspiration…but frustrating as it is, it is the very essence of us and the fuel that keeps the fires burning. Drafts, shmafts…I finally wrote 1500 words for one disseration chapter. Totally descriptive and needs revising, but I did it, and I got up early this morning to attempt to write another chapter after another severe case of writer’s block and have written 200 words and started a comparison table…not bad for an hours work on one cup of tea…..keep the faith and keep Mr Kipling’s words in your head today (not the cake man)

  2. If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;

    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;

    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;

    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;

    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

    Love you loads xxxxxx

  3. What a lovely post, thank you. I think if there is that fire within you do just keep going. At the risk of sounding cliched and tacky it is what every artist (and I use the word VERY loosely) must have. Whatever you do that puts you out there for public criticism you must really really want to do it at any cost because the price is high and criticism does not have to be in the Sunday Times Review to hurt. In fact third party criticism is, I think, much easier to bear than that which comes from closer to home.

    That is one of my favourite poems. His other one I love for its regret, recognition and request for understanding is his war epitaph ,The Rebel:

    I could not dig: I dared not rob:
    Therefore I lied to please the mob.
    Now all my lies are proved untrue
    And I must face the men I slew.
    What tale shall serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young

    As relevant today as a hundred years ago.

  4. Ah.. drafting and re-writes are a head ache.

  5. Thank you for writing this post – I know it can’t be easy sharing the very thing that means so much to you yet people try and tear down. At the most basic level if it’s something you have to /must do/makes you happy please continue doing it. It’s always easy for people on the outside to criticize – but harder for one to keep going in the face of adversity. You’ve recognized the criticism – don’t internalize it. “Keep Calm and Carry On.” and more strength to you.

Please do leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s