Sitting at my desk, looking out at the dark, listening to Jose’s Heartbeats and Bon Iver and thinking about two emails I got today from lovely, hard working, decent women, B and L. Both have a dream – to be published writers. One is writing funny, sweet stuff for younger readers, the other, popular fiction. Both have been rejected soundly over and over again and are looking for some advice. And it’s so hard to know what to say. The publishing world can be hard, hard, hard. And you need a strong constitution to survive, you literally have to be writing fit, willing to sit at your desk until the early hours of the morning if that’s what it takes. Willing to chose writing over everything. Willing to give up things you hold dear. Willing to switch off the telly, cut friends and family short during phone calls, ban your mother from visiting while you’re trying to work, shoo the kids away when you're working. And it’s tough.
Recently I was at a 40th birthday party and they were serving delicious looking champagne cocktails. I was on 7UP. A woman asked me why I was on the dry and I told her the truth – that I couldn’t drink and write the next day, that alcohol makes my mind muzzy, so I wasn’t drinking.
She looked at me sideways and said ‘You’re joking?’
I shook my head and explained that I had a book to finish and I had a certain amount of writing days to do it in, and that if a sacrificed a writing day the book ran the risk of being delivered late, which would have a knock on effect, meaning it might not get published and I would disappoint my readers. And that if I didn't get my 2,000 words done a day I felt a failure.
She looked very disappointed. ‘I thought writing was supposed to be fun, Sarah. You make it all sound like such hard work and a very stressy. You must be doing something wrong.’
I just smiled to myself. ‘Maybe,’ I said and excused myself.
I’m not very good at parties anymore. I seem to have lost my small talk app. I’m very comfortable with close friends and family, but stick me in a non book atmosphere or a pub and I’m like a plant without water. I don’t do sport, find most people don’t do politics anymore, and the only subject I want to talk about anyway is writing. Or books, especially children’s books. I’m obsessed. With books and writing.
But here’s the thing – that’s pretty much how you have to be if you want to write books of any kind. OBSESSED. You have to have a compelling, addictive urge to get what you want to say down on paper. And it’s not pretty, it’s not sociable, and it’s certainly not healthy. But you know, sad as it may sound, writing makes me happier than anything.
So what I would say to the two lovely women is this: If you really, really want to get published, keep writing. Write as much as you can, as often as you can. If your first book doesn’t make it, write a second. If that one doesn’t make it, write another. Write because you can’t not write.
I write therefore I am. I am therefore I write. Keep the writing faith!