Friday, 28 January 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

I've been impatient ever since I can remember. In fact, I was a premature baby, so perhaps it goes back further than I can remember. You don't have to tell me that becoming a writer and wanting to be published wasn't the most logical or sensible career choice!

I seemed to spend so long at my writing apprenticeship, frustrated at my inability to make the scenes on the page match the pictures in my head. Then there was a point about three years in where I realised that barrier had been lifted, but by then I was having to learn a whole bunch of stuff about characterisation and scene structure and narrative blah blah blah. After that, the book still couldn't be published because there was editing and submissions and the whole dizzying world of agents and editors to navigate. Rather than see the waiting as an inevitable part of the process, I fought against it, using that frustration like the bit of grit inside an oyster's shell.

So when things started to happen for me in publishing, I knew I would have to move quickly to convince everyone that I was up to the job. I spent pretty much all of last year writing to tight deadlines, and I hit every one of them - even when it would have been much easier for me to quit. I don't mean to brag here, but I feel proud of that achievement, proud that I could impose some organisation on my otherwise scatty brain.

Yet here I am in early 2011 and suddenly I have time to breathe, to feel my way into the first draft of a book rather than bulldoze through it. The change in work patterns is jarring, sending doubts spiralling around my head. Am I blocked? Is this the right way to do it? How can I achieve anything without that familiar urgency? Worse is the fact that all around me people are rushing - writing one, two, four thousand words in a single day. And yet I'm still creeping along, like an eighty-year-old in the slow lane of the motorway. All I have right now is this one new book, this one thing I'm committing all of my creative energies to. What if it's rubbish or totally uncommercial? I'm not someone like Jonathan Franzen, secure in the confidence of already having written a multi-million bestseller.

For all of this anxiety, there is something marvellous about writing gradually - it forces me to be good. I can't possibly commit to a half-baked idea in the hope of catching the zeitgeist, I have to come up with something remarkable. And right now, with the market for debut authors so very tough, I don't think that's such a bad way of going about things.



  1. Nick, I think there's never been a worse time to rush! And patience is more important than ever (though no easier). I've had a text on submission with a single publisher for nearly 10 months, with the final acquisitions meeting due next Wednesday. That's a whole lot of heartburn right there! (not that you need to be told that, I know.)

    This is a time for those who play the long game, and you sound like a winner to me.

  2. Ten months? That's a long, long time to hold your nerve - well done for lasting through it and best of luck for the acquisitions meeting!

  3. Just signed up for your wonderful blog, Nick. I say "hear, hear" to all of the above. And good luck, Thomas!

  4. Trouble is, everything in publishing seems to happen at such glacial speed! I'm also naturally impatient and find waiting for responses to anything VERY hard....