Why do we do this to ourselves?

I don’t remember when I knew I wanted to be a writer. In truth there probably wasn’t a magical revelation moment. It was just something that was always there in the background ticking along. Over the years I’ve filled countless notebooks with stories, or bits of stories, or just words which sounded interesting. I’ve planned out novels, written articles and jotted down poems on scraps of paper. 

They all exist somewhere – most of them in boxes in the attic, along with the childhood treasures we couldn’t part with and at least three blow up air beds we forget about each time we have guests. More recently I have become organised and now much of my writing is stored in the Cloud: the magical land of word documents – less dusty than the attic at least. 

So although there was no ‘I’m going to be a writer’ moment, there was definitely an ‘I’m going to try and get published’ moment. It was the 1st January 2020 when I made my annual resolutions list and stuck it to the fridge. 

In that first month I wrote a picture book and, having done absolutely no research whatsoever, sent it off to literary agents in a frankly shocking display of naivety. I waited for the offers of representation and instead received silence (shock! horror!). This is the empty inbox equivalent of a tumbleweed rolling around and crushing my dreams. 

I know. I know. No one gets published the first time, right? Well. I mean, some people do. But they are the exception. And don’t worry – even JK got rejected at first. People are kind – too kind sometimes. What I probably should have been told back then, on that frosty January filled with hope and ambition, was that actually I didn’t deserve to get published. 

I had done no research. I hadn’t asked anyone to critique my writing. I hadn’t even bothered to learn how to present a picture book manuscript, or how many pages (which I now know are called spreads) are in a picture book. I had done none of the hard work which I now understand is required. Those silent rejections were not only appropriate, but fully deserved. 

I wish I could write that a year and a half later I have put in the hard work and now the magic has happened. Because I have worked hard. I’ve read and read and then read some more. I’ve entered competitions, started building up a writing community network, attended lectures and been on courses. I have two writing critique groups and I am learning more than I even knew I needed to learn. I have had so much valuable and varied experience which has in every way made me a better writer.

But I am still not a published one. 

The last fortnight started with such hopefulness. A Twitter pitch day (I didn’t even really understand Twitter last year), a poetry head-to-head competition and a completed YA novel sent to three prospective agents. But after an unsuccessful pitch day and being knocked out of the competition in round one, I am feeling decidedly less positive. 

Then the real blow came. 

I listened to an established author talking about writing compelling plots last week. Her latest book was just about to be released and the talk was in part to promote her novel. It worked. I purchased it immediately and it arrived two days ago. I finished it today. It was brilliant. I loved it. The only trouble was – a major plot point was identical to the one in my novel. I don’t mean they were a bit similar – I mean they were spookily, eerily, terrifyingly similar. Some of the lines were almost word-for-word matches. It was very disconcerting reading it and part of my heart broke that my novel has already been published but it wasn’t me who’d written it. 

I suppose this must happen all the time. As is often said, there aren’t an infinite number of plots. Just the same stories told in different ways. But even so, I still can’t quite believe it. I remain positive that at least the idea must be a good one, good enough to get published. Even if someone else did get there first.

So, why do we do this to ourselves? I honestly feel like throwing in the towel (or the writing equivalent – recycling the paper?) and calling it a day. Perhaps, like the number of plots, there isn’t an infinite number of times you can be told you’re not good enough before you quit. 

But then this happens…

A new idea.

A new story I want to write.

A new story I have to write.

And then we’re off. Step one (again) on the merry-go-round of life as a wanna-be-author. Maybe this book will be the one which gets published. Maybe it won’t. But at the end of the day it’s not actually about the rejections or the acceptances (one day, please!) – it’s because the stories are there and they need to be written. 

Published by Charlie Bown

Children's Author

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