Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Having a Go

I think the thing I'm learning most about being a writer is that I just have to have a go at things, even if I'm frightened. In fact, the most frightening things often turn out to be the most worthwhile things.

Like writing in the first place. I spent decades not finishing work off, or not sending work off, for fear of being rejected. What was the result? Not feeling satisfied, not having many finished pieces, and being published.

Eventually I signed up, when my children were little, for a part time, once a week, evening M.A, in Creative writing at my local university. I was terrified - but it was so worthwhile, and after two years a I was so far into my novel for adults that I couldn't give it up. I went on to finish it, find an agent and then…nothing. After enquiring, a year after signing the contract, if my agent would finally send it off or was happy with the many changes she had asked me to do, I was told that the agent apologised for being so busy and..I was free to look for someone else.

And no other agent wanted it.

It felt like a dead end. All that trying to be brave and putting in the effort had led to nothing. had I just been deluding myself? I felt really low and…silly. Silly me, thinking I could be a writer.

But now I'm grateful. When I sent my children's work off and met my now agent, Anne Clark, I was really frightened. Would it all go wrong again? She liked my work - but so had my first agent. I knew what wouldn't work in a relationship. She asked me what I needed - I said regular communication - as I knew that months and months not hearing anything from my first agent had really eroded my self confidence. She in turn said she wanted directness and honesty - straightforwardness. She often rings and emails and I feel v valued by her - and she is someone I can talk to and have no fear of being honest with. All the people in her agency love her. Anne encouraged me and now in just over a year I will have three children's books published, and two more to come, and more being written. So being brave did pay off.

I still have lots more things I need to be brave about - personally and professionally. One is trying out illustration. At the moment I am doing exactly what I did with writing for decades - not doing enough, not finishing things, not feeling confident. And, guess what? This is a rubbish tactic. It is not making me feel good inside, and to be frank, at 50 I don't have decades left in which to procrastinate.

So I've just been a bit brave. My next book, 'Dog Ears' has an 11 year old narrator who writes lists and doodles. My publisher, Catnip, is very small and lovely and personal. Everyone I have to deal with is so kind. My agent is lovely. But it still made me feel sick with fear and I had to have lots of encouragement from my family , to say to Anne and Liz my editor and Pip the designer, that actually I had done some doodles that Anna the narrator might have done - and would they like to look at them.

They did! And because I had asked so late we couldn't really incorporate some of the larger ones into the text - but THEY LIKED THEM. Being rejected didn't feel so bad after all - because I could see why they couldn't use them and they hadn't laughed at me and said 'What? You thought THESE were worthy of being called illustrations? You FOOL!!" Instead, amazingly, and kindly, and encouragingly (Catnip are lovely) they are using my smaller illustrations as chapter headings. HOORAY!

And Anne my agent sent me an email saying 'Hooray! That's wonderful, Anne - you are now officially an illustrator!'

And THEN I went to Iona for a weekend illustration workshop with Jill Calder and saw how much I have to learn but absolutely loved the process.

And I know that I have already had illustrations rejected - and it was fine - and now I have some little ones included in my book - and that's indescribably WONDERFUL for me, and I know that I must now actually start drawing again, and need to do lots more work - and I will keep writing and feeling terrified and drawing and feeling scared to share anything I do.

But if I ever have the money I would like to enrol in an illustration course. I'm scared but I'm going to do it - because I've wasted too much of my life already, and I realise, for me, it's the only way things happen.


Laurel Decher said...

Inspired by your courage! Thanks for posting this!

Anonymous said...

'Silly me, thinking I could be a writer.'

That exactly sums up how I've felt ever since the first person rejected my writing when I was 21 (I'm now 54). I realise now that you have to be your own biggest supporter in this malarkey. Thank you very much for sharing this and giving an unpublished writer the confidence to call her self a WRITER!

Virginia Moffatt said...

Great post and so happy about your illustrations. I'm still often stuck in 'silly me, thinking I could be a writer' so this is a helpful reminder to keep goingx

Anne Booth said...

I'm really pleased that this has encouraged people! Go for it! And Virginia - I've seen your writing and it is great!

Penny Dolan said...

Good to hear of your determination, Ann. Courses do offer a chance to feel part of a community. Good luck with your efforts - drawn as well as written.

Jane McLoughlin said...

Wonderful post and lovely doodles. I do know, however, that my doodles would never make it into print. Hey, I can't be good at everthing...