On Being an (Unpublished) Writer

Right now, I am in writers’ limbo, a land where I must seek and wait. So far I can report that I have received some very nice comments from agents, but as yet no offers of representation. I know the drill: don’t take anything to heart; don’t re-write your entire novel in the light of one piece of feedback; remember it’s all subjective and that so-and-so received five million rejections before they became a bestseller; chin up, etc.

Yes, I know all that. And it’s fine. It really is. I have only just begun the submissions process. It takes much longer than you might imagine because, well, because agents take so long to get back to you. You send out a round of submissions and then, weeks or even months later, having heard from some, but not all, you decide it might be about time to get on with the next round. You re-read your submission, fiddle about with that horrendous synopsis a while longer, send it all off again and prepare to wait some more, with precious little to show for it.

In the meantime, you get on with your life and you get on with your writing.

Yet, for all the fighting talk, it is hard not to occasionally fall prey to a crisis of identity. Being a writer isn’t just about sitting down and coming up with a string of words you find pleasing. When you invest that much time and thought and emotion into an activity, it inevitably becomes a key factor in who you are.

The prospect of carrying on indefinitely without recognition takes the wind out of your sails a little. There’s simply no denying that. How long can you carry on without acknowledgement? Who are you writing for if nobody ever gets to read what you’ve written? If nobody reads what you’ve written, who are you?

It’s not a question of how other people see me. It’s a question of how I see myself. In the face of rejection, or of simply being ignored, my raison d’etre, my quintessence, can seem to melt away and leave me feeling stranded. It takes self-belief and sheer bloody-mindedness to carry on.

Or, does it? I’m not sure. Because when I’m actually engaged in the act of writing – be it tweaking my existing novel, writing a short story, or tentatively embarking on the next novel – I don’t mind any of it. I don’t mind anything. I’m consumed in my own world. It’s only when I look up and realise I could have been doing something else – something that might have made me some money, or made my house tidier, or helped other people – that I question what I have been doing and whether I should continue. Maybe that’s how it’s always going to be. Maybe one day I’ll get published and that will make it easier. Maybe that will bring its own set of problems.

Maybe, when you see yourself as a writer it’s because, regardless of success or failure, you simply don’t have a choice.



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