Sunday, 18 December 2016

A leap of faith, why do it? - Linda Strachan

Every time I start a new book and every time I go back and rework something that has been lurking in a drawer (or more likely these days hiding in a file on my computer) I am making a leap of faith as  all writers do.  Unless every book you have ever written has been commissioned, you also make that leap of faith.

As a writer one can spend hours, days, weeks and often years with the shiny new exciting idea that demands attention and devours our lives as we craft the story, breathe life into the characters and then go back and revise and re-write, edit and polish it.   We do it whether it gets published or not, and whether or not it will ever reach the kind of readership we dream of.
Still despite rejections we walk that path of hope and encourage our colleagues to do the same.

People who do not suffer from this affliction (writing) often cannot understand how we can spend so long, so much of our lives seemingly wasting it working on something that might be rejected multiple times, and never get published and, almost immediately after we have started sending it out to the world, go back and write another.
Yet we do.
 Hope springs fresh each time the misty idea of a story grabs the jugular and will not let go, characters talking in our heads demanding to be written, scenes playing out like a film on the page. We blithely dive into this massive workload with excitement and joy although admittedly sometimes, dread.

What is it that makes us do it, are we lemmings? No, we are writers; we have heart and soul and invest it all in the stories we write, carving it from our very hearts and baring our souls and laying it out before a wonderful and heart-warming public, at least we hope so!

But there are other things that require that 'leap of faith' and also take time away from actual writing. I was reminded of this recently by a friend who said she had forgotten quite how much time it took preparing a submission to a publisher or agent, and she never knew if it would be a waste of that time and energy.

Submitting to a publisher or agent is one thing, but do you feel the same way about the amount of writing time that may be wasted by making unfruitful applications?
Writers will often, during their writing/working life, apply for a variety of things.  I am thinking specifically of Writer in Residence posts, Retreats or Fellowships that involve travel and a place to write/share your work, and applications for funding from  public or private Arts funds and organisations.

These applications usually entail a lot of form-filling that may take anything from few hours to a few days of work (time that could be spent writing), in the hope that they will give the writer time to write, but frequently come to nothing and appear to waste as much time as they would provide.

I have nothing against the people who design forms or have to make the decisions between who to accept or decline, it can be difficult.  I am sure they deliberate long and hard but often the forms are usually very long and difficult to fill in, but worse are the unknown specific criteria used, and reasoning behind the decision of the judges.

It may seem obvious to people familiar with producing these forms or used to filling them in, but for most creative writers I know, they are a real headache. I have heard many say that they spent so long on an application and have no idea why they were not chosen, or what the judges were looking for.

The reality of being a writer these days is often that these kinds of applications are the things that allow them to survive and spend time writing, but surely they could be streamlined and the criteria used by those who judge them could be made clearer, rather than having applicants wondering if it was their work, or the way they filled in the form, or some other set of criteria that they did not meet that caused them not to be successful in their application.

Writers will often default to the decision that their work is not good enough, when at times it could just be that overwhelming odds were against them, or perhaps the way they filled in that time-consuming form.

Have you any thoughts on applications and any ways they could be made easier and quicker to fill in and give writers more of a sense of why, if they were not successful?

How do you feel about that Leap of Faith when you are writing?

Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - The Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 

She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her bestselling series Hamish McHaggis illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 


Hilary said...

I enjoyed reading your post. You describe it all well :) We writers would write anyway I think, with or without the promise of publication. I'm sure it's something we just "have to do" - like breathing!

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Found myself nodding and nodding at all the Leap of Faith stuff -- having written some books on spec, and some with a contract in place, I would say each involves a slightly different kind of leap of faith. I'm sort of with you on the form filling in too, but every time I have found a form onerous, I have thought of the possible prize and got on with it. Perhaps years of filling in much more ridiculous forms in my former career, and with no prize in view, has inured me!

Linda Strachan said...

Thanks Hilary. I think so, too.

Linda Strachan said...

I just wonder if all those long forms are really useful or just following an expected norm?

catdownunder said...

I occasionally have to design a form - with other people. It is amazing how many people say things like "Well start with their full name, date of birth, address and..."
And I say, "We don't need their full name. We know they are adults because they are professional people and if they are filling the form out we know how to contact them. It is much more important to know which languages they can read and where they went to university." Those things are important in my job as it helps to put networks together.
I don't always win but I do keep saying "only ask for essential information".