Yesterday marked the dismal end to a shitty writing week, leaving me teetering on the edge, wondering if I have what it takes to become a novelist? Or, can I only dare to dream?
An Honest Review, the short story that has subsequently morphed into the novel The Secret Lives of the Doyenne of Didsbrook, found its way on to a longlist. The second longlist I made was with the opening chapter of that novel. I thought I had cracked it, allowing myself to believe that I might even make a shortlist during 2020.
The week started okay. I found a pretty good critique for Just Say It on a competition website posted in September 2019. I hadn’t been back on the site since entering the competition last year, because I hadn’t made that longlist. It highlighted the reasons why Just Say It hadn’t made the longlist. It gave me a boost. I can do this, I thought, I do have a story worth telling.
By the time yesterday came around, I was in the doldrums. I’d had three rejections and found out that neither of my books had made the longlist for the Bridport Novel Competition. Okay, I did not assume I would make the longlist for a competition of that calibre, but I had allowed myself to dream that I might.
We wannabe novelists have to keep putting ourselves out there and come out of our corners fighting, often punching above our weight. Yesterday I felt like throwing my laptop out of the window and taking up crocheting. Was my writing getting worse rather than better?
I exchanged commiseratory messages with a writer friend who hadn’t made the longlist either, and we discussed the ‘what next’ scenario. Her immediate reaction was to step up her submissions. She was right, I was wrong, as I ended up having a few (too many) glasses of wine.
Inevitably, I woke up at dawn this morning with a much-regretted hangover. But, I had decided that quitting was not an option. Drinking, yes. Writing, never.
One of the emailed the knockbacks I received this week was referring to an excerpt from my memoir-in-progress which said, ‘we don’t think this piece is ready for publication.’ They were right. I have a nasty habit of sending manuscripts off too soon.
There is a reason; I am Aries. (I am proud to have been born under the Aries star sign, and I refuse to be relabelled a Piscean, despite NASA having discovered Ophiuchus). I am impatient, by nature. According to Everyday Health, the Aries woman does not tolerate failure. Too bloody right, I don’t!
There is much work to be done, and I should learn from the various critiques and feedbacks I’ve received. My writing needs to be edgier. I need to stop bludgeoning the reader with witty remarks, and improve on feedback such as this:
‘Your story certainly deserved its place in the long list. The reason it did not reach the shortlist? Just because there were others out there more strikingly original, more powerful and more edgy. An Honest Review was charming and very readable and in its way perfect (except for a few surprising punctuation errors – wouldn’t it be a shame if you missed out on a prize for the sake of a comma?)’
Hopefully, I have improved on the embarrassing punctuation errors since then, but I need to give myself a break. I only started writing Just Say It in June 2015. The Secret Lives of the Doyenne of Didsbrook only began to emerge from its humble short-story beginnings twelve months ago.
It took Scott Sigler, #1 New York Times bestselling novelist, fourteen years. So I have got a way to go yet. Not that I would dare to dream about reaching the dizzy heights of bestselling novelist, let alone #1 New York Times bestselling novelist, but I do want to see my work in print.
I start digging deeper to find that elusive edge to my writing. While that is happening, I need to keep reminding myself that if I don’t dare to dream and keep that dream alive, I will never find out if I have what it takes to become a novelist.