The thrill bit was seeing my book in print. The spill is waiting for someone to buy it! This novelist thing is terrifying! (Notice the use of two exclamation marks. I must be very nervous)
It was so different when I was the director of Turning Point Theatre Company. Commissions came in and I wrote the plays to highlight health and social issues. It was complicated and needed much research. I had a client to whom I was accountable. There were budgets to balance and deadlines to meet. But I was part of a team. I wasn’t doing it alone!
Writing a novel is a solitary process. Just getting down to it takes all sorts of incentives. I treat myself to a fried breakfast if I want to start early. But then, by 9am I am feeling a bit sick, so I have to stop to drink coffee and eat toast. That could take an hour, as I might walk around the garden several times while I deal with the nausea – the coffee makes it worse, you see. Back at my desk, I look at the clock and see that it’s lunch time. No use starting anything now. I’ll crack on after lunch. But then, I’m not that hungry, so I’ll use the time to go for a walk – for inspiration, you understand.
And so the day goes on until I’ve watched a bit of TV and realise it’s dark outside and the house is about to go to bed. That’s it! I’ve reached the witching hour. Time to write. Yes, I do write through the night, sometimes. Not so often these days, as I’m getting a bit old for night capers, in the literary sense, that is.
When my first book was complete, I felt bereft. It was like a part of me had died; the part of my brain that had created all those extraordinary characters. They’d taken over while I was writing. They do become real. I dreamed about them. They spoke to me. Okay, you might say writers are loopy; they should all be Sectioned or at least given medicine to make them into ordinary people, because when you are writing a book, you do go a little bit mad. You have to. You are living in another world, another time, another place.
Then there is the fear of abandonment. Your book is your baby. You love it. You have cherished it for months, years. Now you have to kiss those words goodbye and watch the manuscript fall into the hands of miscreants who will tear it to shreds and in the process, diminish your self-belief so severely that you feel as if you can’t write a message in a birthday card. But inside, you know it has to be that way. You need criticism. You need people who know and people who don’t, to tell you what they think. It will stop you believing you are an amazing writer, because you are NOT.
When you’ve just written your first book, you are a novice, wet behind the ears, a complete buffoon in the world of literary geniuses, who if they could, would nail you to a wall and throw dog poo at you. You are a starter and they have won the race many times. Why should anyone who has sold a million plus books, be in the same sad league as you, a mere stripling with a profile on Amazon that possibly, just maybe, only your family and friends have looked at?
When your first novel is out, you wake up one day and say to yourself, I am a writer. A real writer. My words are out there, in print! Funny thing is, when I was a playwright, I never felt that way. I guess I always felt part of a team and anyway, I never had time to think about where I was in the great scheme of a small-scale touring theatre company. It was only after years of work and then making films, that I realised how much I had learned in the process. As a writer, you need life experience. You need it by the bucket load. You need a life, because once you sit down at that desk, on your own, with the door to the world closed and the computer blinking at you, there is no life, except the imaginary one you are creating.
Close family have to understand this withdrawal. There will be a book at the end of it, you tell them. I may sell a couple of copies, you tell them, smiling hopefully. I might become rich. The sound of their hysterical laughter stays with you for a long time. Believing you have a skill, a talent is one thing; being lucky is another. Marketing is something else. Writing the right book at the right time is an art form in itself. See Fifty Shades of Grey.
Today, there are online publishers who will nurture you through to publication, but you have to write the book in the first place. There are two ways to approach the task. Attempt to write a best seller or write an altruistic novel that will change the world. There are other options – write the next kiddy book about magic? Write about sex? For me, my work has always been a bit altruistic. I’ve wanted to make a difference – sounds a cliche, but I did. When I was writing plays to raise awareness about mental health or carers, I knew that my audiences would relate immediately to the story, but I wanted them to have a theatrical experience as well. (That’s pretty altruistic by today’s standards) That was where the team came in. Performing something that might be seen as polemic or too worthy was a constant risk. As was taking myself too seriously. A team of people working on the project expressed lots of different perspectives; everyone had a say in the final product. That kept feet firmly on the ground.
With a novel, it’s the author’s responsibility to get it right and no one else’s. A good editor, if you are lucky enough to have one (most internet sites that publish free, expect you to be your own editor) will work with you to shape the raw manuscript into a marketable product. If you are editing by yourself, it’s like climbing up Everest with one leg. It can be done, but it’s challenging. Editing is a real skill. No matter how many times I read my manuscript, I missed things. When you are writing a play, it’s organic. It grows, like Topsy. The actors try things out in rehearsal and you give notes after performances. It is a malleable piece of dough that is influenced by many and reworked at every stage and on every stage. That’s why theatre is so ephemeral. Unlike a book, which once published as a hard back or paper back, is more or less, set in stone.
Kindle allows redemption, however. You can tinker with your book as if it were an old car. No one will notice, as long as you don’t completely rewrite it. So now, my first novel is out in paperback and Kindle and I am scared to death. I have put my baby out there and I will have to take the consequences, good and bad. I will have to accept having my head in the Stocks or receive bouquets and keep my head from expanding.
I am no longer a writer huddled away behind a closed door, dreaming of publication. It’s happened. I have published and I will have to accept that I may be damned!