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.