Some writers are slow, some are fast. Me, I’m a sluggard. Not at putting words on paper, mind you, but at understanding what it takes to be a writer. On the weekend, though, the pencil dropped, and I finally got it. To be novelist, I realised, one has to at least finish a novel.
Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?
This brutal truth bit me while I was attending a children’s literature festival on a small southern island adjacent to my own. I’d booked a session with a guest editor – an Associate Publisher at Penguin, no less – who praised the sample of the children’s novel I’d sent her without offering me a contract for it on the spot.
The cheek of the woman!
Then there were the visiting authors, who seemed pretty happy with the whole affair, despite the inclement weather. Writers are renowned for being highly perceptive beasts, and yet not one of those smug scribblers saw me for what I am: a fellow author. And just because I haven’t published a book! Talk about petty. Yes, I felt snubbed, and, yes, I’m embarrassed to admit it.
Ah, the truth hurts.
In some areas of life being a dreamer helps. Clearly, this isn’t one of them. Because, believe it or not, part of me had assumed writing was going to be easy: that someone – this editor, for starters – would one day recognise my Obvious Talent and, with a wave of her magic pen, make me a novelist, just like that. Job done. Forget chapters four to forty – they’d somehow take care of themselves.
Wishful thinking, it’s called.
Okay, okay – I’m an idiot. But at least now I’m an all-shook-up idiot, one who is finally coming to terms with the idea that writing is, as a wise guy once said, one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.
Not that I’m averse to hard work. A year or two ago, I slaved away to finish my Arts degree, sometimes writing close to ten thousand words a week, and pretty good ones at that. As a young tyro, too, I wrote for days on end, churning out long first chapters that never seemed to grow into novels. Bloody things.
To this day, an anthology of these fragments – entitled False Starts – remains unfinished.
No, it wasn’t laziness that misled me. More like distorted self-confidence, I reckon. A superiority complex that convinced me I was entitled to success, interspersed with the opposite – a sense of inferiority – which told me I didn’t deserve it, no matter how hard I worked.
Whatever. I now accept that if I want my Associate Publisher to make me an author, I’m going to have to do what, oddly enough, I really want to do: churn out words until the job is done. Only thus will I win my literary spurs. Novelists write novels, after all.