As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve wanted to be an author for almost my entire life. As soon as I learnt to read books, I wanted to write. And write I did – from abortive attempts at Enid-Blyton style fairytales, to angst-ridden diaries in my teenage years (zealously protected from falling into the wrong hands; or any hands, actually), to flights of fancy when it came to writing school essays (fun to do, but not so effective for scoring marks) to my early attempts at novel-length fiction, to feature writing for a lifestyle magazine… And finally to blogging – 500 posts in 5 years and counting.
In the two years that I worked as a magazine journalist, I realized that I couldn’t write on demand. I got stuck trying to write what someone else wanted me to write. I’d get the piece done, and I’d meet the deadline too, but the words wouldn’t come on their own, and the piece turned out stilted, boring, and dead. I also hated it when I wrote an article I wanted to write, like a travel story, and sent it to a newspaper for publishing, and some lousy sub-editor did a hack job on it and turned my well-spun story into a grammatical and syntactical mess. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!
So I gave up writing to please the market and started writing to please myself. And I decided that if what I wanted to write wouldn’t sell, then I’d die unpublished, but I wouldn’t write what “they” wanted me to write if it wasn’t what I wanted to write.
I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that finding a publisher for my work was no easy job. The first publisher asked to see my completed manuscript back in 2006 and I was walking on air for a few days. When they rejected it with a snort, I was devastated. It took me more than two years to pick myself up, dust myself off, take a long, hard look at my work, re-work it, and begin the ego-battering task of sending it out to publishers again. Altogether, I sent it to 15 publishers. I had just about given up on it, when suddenly… one publisher, and not even one of the last couple of publishers I’d sent it to, but someone I’d sent it to some months earlier and never heard back from, got back to me. They liked it! Could I send the full manuscript?
From that point, it took another several months of delay and despair before I suddenly and altogether unexpectedly got a contract .
But I wasn’t walking on air any more. I’d learnt my lesson. The more you let yourself hope, the harder you fall.
Even now that that book is almost a paper-and-ink reality, I still don’t feel that euphoric joy that I let myself feel the first time. Now, after having almost lost hope altogether, there’s just a faint, cautious optimism, that this firstborn of mine might actually see the light of day. Sometime soon, I hope to be able to walk into a bookshop and see my book on the shelves there – that’s all I want right now.
In the last year-and-a-half, despite – initially – the apparent lack of progress with my first manuscript, I churned out another three manuscripts. One is in cold storage, but the other two are out there now, doing the rounds of the publishers. There are a couple of promising developments. Maybe these two will also become paperback realities some day, but it’s still too early to hope.
It’s not an easy one, this journey to be a writer. So much of your fate rests in other people’s hands. Time crawls by ever so slowly as publishers mull over your work and – too often – just never get back to you. So much of this job is just about following up and waiting, following up and waiting. Writing – that’s just the first step. After that, it’s all about patience and perseverance. And stubborn determination.
The risks are high, and the returns unknown. The most likely outcome of being published is a short shelf life and then… oblivion. The most worrying outcome is that poor distributorship will render your work even more invisible and inconsequential than it might otherwise have been. The least likely outcome is a meteoric and long-lasting ascent to fame and fortune.
I don’t know what outcome lies in store for me and mine. But my first book is hopefully going to press this week. I will soon have a few copies of it tucked away in one corner of my home, so that I can pull it out sometimes and say to myself: At least I got this far.