Writing takes a measure of sacrifice. In August I said I would document the process of writing - the ups and the downs - and this is, if not one of the downs, then a more reflective post, to see the new year in.
I've been with family for a month or so, haven't written, let the novel breathe. I did dabble a little in other forms - a piece of flash fiction (not my forte) and a poem (slightly better) - but as a rule I've taken time out. I went on some walks, saw a rainbow on one which in whimsy I hoped denoted luck. On these walks I contemplated my decision to do this, to continually try for something that may never take off, praying that it would. I started officially planning the novel in January 2014. So as of this month, it will be four years. Four. Years. I feel sick when I think about it. When I think of all the times over those four years I have been asked "How's the novel going" and I've had to force a smile and say "it's going", then watch the amusement/pity creep in. I know what they're thinking. They doubt me. It's child's play. One day she'll give up and actually do something meaningful with her life.
Not all of them think that of course. At least I like to believe so. But very few of them know me, really know me, and as such it's easy for them to judge. Here's an example. I was at a conference last year. A conference I go to every year since its commencement. And because I've been there since it began, anything I can do to help, I will - big or small. I was asked if I would help out with the afternoon teas and coffees because the person who usually did them had to be elsewhere. Of course, I said yes. What I hadn't anticipated however was the way I would be treated. Many people who came to the table were nice as they knew me, but some were new attendees who had no idea I was a familiar face and barely acknowledged me at all. One particular woman came to the table, and without so much as a word or a look, simply held her cup out to me at arms length. I was taken aback, but politely asked if she wanted tea or coffee, milk, sugar, etc. She ignored me. Actually ignored me. I had to ask twice more before she turned her head, swept a derogatory glance up and down, and told me in a snooty voice "black coffee is fine." No please. No thank you. I think I actually hated her a moment. Who, I thought, do you think you are? You think because you're a scholar but I'm 'the tea lady' that I'm nothing? That I'm somehow less than you? You don't know me. You don't know me at all. You have no idea what I've been through, what I've done, and what it takes for me to attend this conference every year knowing I'm still unagented, still unpublished, and try to keep my head high anyway, to justify even to myself my presence there. And this is the thing, isn't it? This whole process is a form of justification, not just for yourself, but your writing too.
In some way or another, writers - especially start up ones - all suffer with what I call Doubt Demons. I see people I know manage to publish something. Someone I admire get a publishing deal and do fantastically well. I read upcoming début extracts and feel my stomach plunge with self-loathing when I think I will never, ever, be able to write like that. How effortless it looks, how beautifully constructed. Why does it appear so easy when I fight over every single damn word? It makes me feel like I cannot write, that I'm a fraud, a delusional fraud. Then I scold myself - that is them, and this is you, your story (fictional and real) is different from theirs - but it's horrible to feel that way and it can set your confidence back. I think of things I have achieved - and I actually have a lot to be proud of (and I am) - but an attack from a Doubt Demon makes me consider those things unworthy. Instead, on bad days such as today, I feel myself doubting everything about myself and wondering why the hell - at 32 - I am still treading water, in all aspects of my life, because I've sacrificed so much for something that may never take off. (Disclaimer's added to reassure people I'm not wallowing in self-pity or at the point of no return. I'm just being brutally honest.):
I've made it sound horrible, haven't I? You probably think I'm taking all this far too seriously. That this is unhealthy. Let me reiterate - this is me on bad days. On the good ones - and there are many - I'm pleased with my achievements, and I look at what I've written and think yes, this is good, this is worth it. It won't be like this forever.
There is a desperateness that comes with writing a début novel. It's the need to prove to yourself that you can do it and for me, in order to write that first novel, it has required some sacrifices that have had a knock on effect on everything else. Writing is a long-term thing. It has changed everything about my life. In truth, I can't remember the person I was before all this. The person I was no longer exists, replaced by a me that spends her time troubling over sentence structure and doubting word choices. The me that comes out on the other side will be different again. I'm both looking forward to and frightened of meeting her, because of everything that other side might be. Success or failure? Published writer or someone who had a dream, once, and now has a regular run of the mill job because it didn't work out?
2018 is so important to me. It's the year that INFELICE either happens or doesn't. It's the year I choose between carrying on anyway by writing Book 2, or throwing myself 100% into a career trajectory that I'd only ever considered before as a backup. I have scarified myself for this novel. I've sacrificed security, peace of mind, and yes, sometimes, health and happiness. Yet ... No regrets. I do this for the end-goal, for justification, for satisfaction of a thing complete. To say There. I've done it. Moreover I do this for the love of a story I felt needed to be told and told right. I do this for me, even though, sometimes, the sacrifice doesn't feel like it.