Most writes say that their writing life is a journey and that it’s different for every writer. Ups and downs, versions of success, what they’re writing and how its published. So many different paths to take. But we have one thing in common: the doubt. The “what if” thoughts that are never or rarely optimistic, and if they are, many contain an overwhelming chunk of inevitable disappointment.
I remember the first time I decided I was going to be serious about an author.
I needed to write a book. To have a plan.
Cue the inevitable – what if I can’t finish? What if I’m not able to write a cohesive book?
A great weight fell on me, and few things could negate it. How could I sit and write a book I planned to sell, how good of a story did it need to be? I tried, kept writing, and knew I’d needed guidance. I had something complete. It was a full story. I was kind of happy with it.
Then I realized with dread the next biggest hurdle was finding someone to edit it.
But I was paying them, so surely that was OK, right? They’d help.
I found an editor, who, with mostly carrot and some stick, guided me edits on my first novella. The editing process was a learning phase I wasn’t ready for. Nice and caring as my editor was, they were very clear on the work I still needed to do.
It hollowed me out. There was so much work. I didn’t know at times whether it was worth it, but I’d paid for it, I had to finish it. I couldn’t quit when I’d just started. And then I finished it, it was done, I could finally… give… it… to people. To read. Other people. People I didn’t know. Who didn’t know me.
I don’t even remember hitting the publish button on Amazon the first time. I just remember having it all set up, the absolute terror I’d stuffed something up, and hoping a good friend would get it and check it for me, because I couldn’t see the mistakes, I was making any more.
So, I released it, hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst, and waited for reviews that came back and said… this is good.
I wrote another novella with high hopes and sent that off to my editor. I had some teething issues but managed to get it done. I knew how to do this, how to write, how to get there. But every time I wrote a book there was something I hadn’t done. Some new problem with my writing to tackle, some flaws I needed to smooth out. Until I learned, over time, a very hard lesson.
The story will never be perfect.
And that’s Ok, it’s why you need editors, betas, readers, reviews, and experience. But most of all to keep writing and keep trying. I came to accept that there would always be a flaw with my writing. Some of the hollowness went away.
Then I held a new kind of hollow. Because my world changed. I could no longer afford the necessary funds to self-publish, and I began querying. I’d have to let other people assess if my story was worth publishing.
In the past I’d never had to deal with that emotion. The less polite term is gatekeeping. The idea of someone else deciding if my words were worth the greater world’s attention. But at the time, the only other choice was to quit.
This was a step beyond what I was ready for. The self-assurance of past success wasn’t good enough. I needed to write better, to learn how to create well crafted stories. I read so many popular books trying to break down their components, understood what made stories tick, why this book and not that one, even sometimes when I loved it, and other times when I didn’t.
The hollowness within grew. Because I fed it.
I scanned reviews, I searched similar authors, I began planning what was next for me. What was there for me after self-publishing? A small press, and I signed on with the wonderful Literary Wanderlust in a random sequence of events that left me unequivocally delighted.
Yet the hollowness grew. I wanted to be part of something more, I wanted the next step. The stages in publishing were clearly laid out, self-pub, small press, agent, trad press.
Like publishing was some linear achievement and this was all like a game but with my spare time and whole heart.
My mind needed instructions, it accepts the rules of a situation because I need rules. I need the guidelines; I was asking myself now “What next?” instead of “what if” and all it did was making the hollowness grow. A great sucking vacuum some of you will call with cynical humor the “querying trenches.”
Where did that leave me? Ever trying to find out what mysterious story components were needed to create something greater than I could envisage. To find out what I was “missing.”
I had to come up with an original story idea, didn’t I? That’s what Neil Gaiman says.
I needed to make sure I stuck with traditional concepts twisted as something new, didn’t I? That’s what many tutorials said.
I needed to make sure my story followed a specific arc, didn’t I? That’s what Save the Cat said.
But it wasn’t just these people saying what was needed, it was EVERYONE who agreed with them.
It was all the people who in pitch events and mentorship programs asked for the books of our hearts, but still there were these invisible rules I couldn’t read, didn’t understand, wasn’t reaching.
The hollowness consumed everything.
What was I, if I couldn’t achieve these things? What would happen to me, if I could never make the next steps? If it was too far out of my reach…
I’d like to tell you this has a happy ending; it doesn’t. There are days I still feel like a wall blocks me from those next steps. That there is some next level, like publishing is a straight line and not a ball a of wool more tangled than my own perspective of this industry. That bitter kittens haven’t clawed the wool to complete shit, that the hypocrites and gatekeepers calling for what publishing “should” be, and no one knows what to do because there is something “wrong” with trad publishing. Yet everyone still treats self-pub like the author had no other options to spout their hopeless drivel and they should’ve kept it on an abandoned blog from the noughties.
There are days the darkness of doubt within is so vast I can’t breathe.
WHY AM I STILL DOING THIS?
Because… I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t a writer.
Because… I love writing stories; my happiest moments are when a plan comes together.
Because… I can’t imagine doing anything else with my time that would bring me such joy as starting a new story, finishing an old one, editing enough to make it polished so that one day, one dark, depressing day, I can open up my inbox and see a message from someone looking to buy a signed copy of my book. A book they’ve already read and loved, and they want a physical copy with my signature for their shelf.
Not a family member. Not a friend. Not someone from social media I was acquainted with.
A complete stranger.
You could say this is about validation, and you’d be right. There is no point lying about feeling validated in this industry. Or that whenever I get a five-star review, and I do, that each one chips away at the hollowness. But here’s the thing; I’m sending one of the copies of my book to that stranger via international post at my own expense. The five-star reviews coming in for Behind the Veil are all on platforms I’ve arranged to get ARC reviews from, and all I want is for people to enjoy the tales that I tell, and then my happiness is twofold; I write the stories I love, and people love them too.
Writing stories should always be about the story, never where it ends up, because some stories will never go further than your heart, and others will end up in the arms of a stranger who loves them just as much as you do.
Both stories are valid, loved, and why the hollowness will never ever stop me writing the next story.