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.