I’ve had a period of rest from writing recently. My next novel is finished and while I wait to see if the powers that be consider it to have legs, I’ve been giving my writing brain a break.
The best bit about taking a break has been the opportunity to immerse myself in even more reading than usual. As a reader, I always tend to have my critical brain switched on. But, when I’m not actively writing and when a book is really good, I can pretty much give myself over to the delight of being swept away to another world. Good fiction, as well as being entertaining and transporting, usually has something pertinent to say about life. Not in an obvious how-to-fix-it way, but in the more subtle evocation of the ebb and flow of human existence. At a time of general uncertainty in my own life, I find this deeply consoling. Fictional characters whose lives are unpredictable, with shades of light and dark, reflect back my own. The over-arching message of all the best fiction is, you are not alone.
I’ve been enjoying other leisure pursuits: a holiday in Italy, exhibitions and concerts back home, trips to the cinema, learning favourite poems by heart and rekindling my old love of photography. I’m an amateur, hobbyist photographer and delight in creating photographs free from the exacting standards I attach to my writing. I don’t worry too much about whether it’s clichéd, or technically inept. I simply post my efforts on Instagram and, if I’m lucky, receive a couple of likes before the image is consigned to obscurity.
Flicking through other accounts on Instagram, I am struck by how blissfully happy, productive, popular, remunerated and aesthetically nourished we all are. That’s what it looks like anyway. Do people post about failure, disappointment, relationships that go wrong, careers that flounder, ill health, boredom and spots? Not much. It’s all about lifestyle and success. Meanwhile, so many adults, young adults and children that I know are sinking beneath clouds of ever decreasing self-esteem. Lack of self worth and lonely despair in the light of others’ brilliant existences, seem to be a scourge of modern life exacerbated by social media.
For the sake of offering an antidote to all this, I’m going to tell you now that my previous novel has failed to secure a publisher. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit it. Having blogged about writing a novel and sending it off, I’ve put its progress, or lack of, out there. So, yes, my novel has done the rounds of publishers and drawn a blank. The stumbling block seems to be the main character – she isn’t likeable enough. I like her (though I admit I wouldn’t invite her to tea), but that, of course, is no use.
Rejection is part and parcel of the writing life. We all know of successful authors who have been rejected countless times. We all know there’s a large element of subjectivity involved and an even larger element of luck. But none of that really matters. I’m not revealing this in order to garner support and encouragement, or commiseration and consternation. It’s okay for my book to fail. I’m not happy about it, but failure is okay. It’s part of a realistic engagement, not just with the writing life, but with life.
I want to succeed in what I do, but I’m also enjoying this current let up from trying to succeed. As I said at the start, I’m enjoying reading. You might think the last thing I’d want to do is read other novels that have been more successful and are undoubtedly better, than mine, but that is exactly what I do want to do. Because writing for me isn’t about pure ego. It’s about being fully engaged in what I love: books.
I know that whenever I’m looking to find company, comfort or catharsis, to be entertained and distracted, to be uplifted, to be moved, challenged, amused and stunned, one place I don’t turn to is social media. I turn to fiction, or to literature, or any art form. That’s where life is at, in all its vagaries and guises. I recommend it to everyone.