Friday, 14 December 2012

Following Up

Last week's post (What If You Never Got Published?) clearly struck a chord with many of you, and thank you for all of the heartfelt comments. The responses were so good that I thought it was worth following up those sentiments in this week's post.

A key theme that came up was not trying to write to the market. I hear you on this and believe me I'm trying not to. But it's more than just a case of not following the market, I also live in fear of it catching me up. There's nothing worse than having an idea in your head for years and then finally writing the book, but just too late. I'm quite a slow and deliberate writer, so that stuff tortures me – I still shudder when I think about the publisher who would have loved to acquire my zombie book, if only they hadn't bought a similar one just the previous week. And when writing my last book, I found dystopian elements creeping in, but I just let it happen because that was what felt right creatively. Unfortunately, by the time I'd fallen out with my agent, written another draft and got the book out to editors, any hint of dystopia was a no-no for commissioning purposes.

I said last week that I'd been writing for ten years, but that's not entirely true. I've been writing for children for ten years, but for another ten years before that I dabbled in all sorts of things, trying to find my style. When I look back on that period now, it's remarkable the freedom I felt to experiment with form and content, without recourse to thoughts of the market or the idea of gatekeepers. It's also striking to see the volume of work that I managed to turn out, whereas nowadays I often find myself paralysed by thoughts of perfection as I try to meet the high standards that the children's publishing industry demands.

Candy Gourlay made a very telling comment on last week's post where she said that with the sure knowledge of never being published, "I might allow myself to try other kinds of writing that have always interested me." I totally empathised with that feeling of being boxed in by the process of writing and publishing a book, the idea that I must spend all my creative time doing only this because otherwise how can I hope produce something good enough? But what starts out as a tool for promoting focus can quickly fall into tyranny.

I do think that my fantasy of giving up writing is just that – a fantasy. I might not find writing the easiest activity, but some inner need keeps drawing me back to it. I do wish it could be more fun for me, though – I lost some of that joy during my own rush to publication and subsequent depression a couple of years back and I'm still struggling to find it again. But there's an undeniable buzz to writing that rewards my efforts from time to time (like writing this blog).

There's also the question of identity. So much of who I am is bound up in being a children's writer, along with my social networks and support structure. If I walked away from writing, would I also be walking away from my friends? After all, it's hard to talk about your latest book if you aren't writing one. I'm sure I'd drift into other hobbies and find other people, but dammit I don't want to! Children's writers are the nicest people you'll ever meet. Fact.

OK, that's enough navel-gazing for one week. Thanks for reading this and do come back next Friday, when I'll be presenting something no less personal but hopefully much funnier for your Christmas reading pleasure.



  1. Oh, totally empathize again, Nick! Ditto all round! Your last two posts really speak to so many of us, and echo what I think many of us feel and privately think. When I go through my patches of wondering "what if", one of the big questions for me is "would I also be walking away from all the wonderful friends I've met through SCBWI-BI" - in some ways that feels a whole lot tougher than walking away from the writing - because I do think that there is so much incredible support to be had from fellow Scoobies - and we do kind of egg each other on, don't we? :-)

  2. Oh don't we Nicky! I don't think I could walk away from SCBWI - maybe we need a fringe group for 'I tried but it didn't work out and Hey, I'm still alive'. But not yet. Not , quite, yet...

  3. No, not yet, people! What about writing plays, short stories, something that uses completely different creative muscles. Nick's right about one very important thing, though--children's writers are the nicest people you'll meet (doubt if that's true for every type of writer!)

  4. I too used to worry about when to call myself a children's writer. The fact is you are one Nick. Because you do it. You care about it. And from what I've seen you are good at it. So, as the others said:NOT YET!

    It is a good sort of tyranny, writing for your particular chosen thing. In fact real creativity (for me at least) seems to come when I do allow myself to do lots of things. I made a resolution last year to be more focused, stay in the Writer's Cave until I finished my book. But it suffocated all my creativity. About September I decided to climb out and allow myself to be distracted. I wrote in the mornings but in the afternoons I played around with other creative stuff. Lo and behold my writing improved!

    We should all give ourselves permission to experiment with the other creative places inside us.

  5. Thanks for being so honest Nick. There's such pain in being a writer, in particular being a so-nearly-there writer. No one gets it unless they write themselves.

  6. What great posts, Nick. I've been thinking that what is needed is for more writers to learn to become really good editors - then we could edit each others work to a professional level, making it publication-ready. That could help with submitting traditionally, and with self-publishing.