We’ve all had days when we’ve considered giving up writing. The days when the words don’t flow, or the rejections come thick and fast. The days when life seems short and meaningless, and writing about that fact feels like shouting into a hurricane. But we don’t stop, because serious writers are illogically, inhumanly persistent. Like the common cold, we mutate and diversify, dipping a toe into poetry or a tentative elbow into the world of short stories. Some of this is about finding a voice, or at least the genre that best fits our mode of expression. Some of it occupies the “throw a lot of shit and see what sticks” category. Much like the common cold, we fervently hope that one of our strains of experimentation will find a willing host – someone with influence in the publishing industry.
We hear a lot about the people who never gave up, and their stories perpetuate the romantic myths about publishing. We all know that lots of publishers rejected J.K. Rowling, although, interestingly, everyone who tries to console me with that fact quotes a different number (it was actually only 12, so I'm well ahead of her there)
But what about the people who did give up? Because there must be tens of thousands who hit the buffers of publishing with their first attempt and never went back. Some of them later self-published, I'm sure, but many more just shoved their manuscript back in that figurative dusty drawer. What is it like to be one of those people?
As luck would have it, I'm married to someone who wrote prolifically and then abandoned it entirely. When she was commuting from London to Brighton by train in the early 90s, my wife Claire averaged 1000 words a day. She produced 11 children's novels in first draft, one of which made it all of the way through the editing process (on an electric typewriter) and went out for submission. There being only one manuscript, the whole thing went to Puffin and then returned with a form rejection.
This was ten years before I got into children's writing (and I've only managed 2 novels myself since then), so we were both unaware of the market and what was required to crack it. Shortly afterwards, we moved house much closer to London and Claire's need to write dropped away. Looking back, it's clear that she views it as just another phase in her life, the writing replaced in her affections by ever more reading, painting and the blitzkrieg invasion of children. I think she was able to see the writing as simply a way of pleasurably filling time - when that timeslot disappeared, so did her urge to write. It may even be that she did find her voice, but it was in pursuits other than putting words on the page.
I'm approaching a crossroads in terms of career choice, feeling the pull of both publishing and my day job, and not entirely sure how to reconcile that. I'm also a little haunted by my wife's story. I've clearly achieved more than her so far in the realms of children's publishing, but is that due to talent or persistence? Could she have got to the same level given the same will to succeed?
Fortunately for our domestic harmony, she doesn't feel the need to find out.