Bonfire of my vanity

This may sting a bit…

Last year ended on a bit of a writing high for me. I felt as though my freelance business was extending its roots (granted, December was a slower month than the previous four, but hey, Christmas was coming), I was making headway with my work-in-progress, The Caretaker, and January was looking peachy. 

However, I’ve since discovered that January isn’t the season for native soft fruit, although things have proved to be interesting.

One of my fellow authors at Musa Publishing discovered that pretty much all of Musa’s books were being pirated – i.e. offered for free, without permission. That’s a slap in the face, but the next kapow was learning that only one copy of one of my books had been downloaded. I know, I should be happy that my interests are not unduly compromised. I am, but viewed from another, albeit distorted perspective, this suggests that I literally can’t give my books away. Now that I think about it, I also offered ten review ebooks of Covenant in January and only had one taker.

It would less than honest if I didn’t also refer to my recent email tennis with a television producer who wanted comedy sketch samples, but who was less than forthcoming about rates and rights and whether, in fact, this was less of a golden opportunity and more of a rusty nail.

Add to the pile my most recent novel rejection, which concluded that they specialise in commercial fiction and have to be confident of significant sales – subtext: don’t give up your day job, or, if you’re writing full-time, get yourself a day job – and I find myself on the plateau of broken dreams and eating crisps. Let’s face it, there are snacks for all occasions.

Now, I could – like the crisps – get eaten up by all the above and start to ponder whether the Universe has abandoned me and widdled on the fires of my literary dreams*. I might question whether my recent blog post about what a hell for writers would be like was just tempting fate. I could even question whether there is any such thing as fate (although I may be fated to do that, of course). Or I could just keep writing. 

It’s tempting to see ourselves as the centre of our own universes, and that’s necessary, to a degree, as part of the creative process. However, while writing is my life, it’s an inner life and not indicative of anything going on around me. Creativity is, in part, a filtering process, and we can easily start to filter out the good stuff from our perception just because we’re not getting the funfair ride we wanted. Other rides are available.

So, those metaphorical crisps taste a little of humble pie and vinegar at the moment. I could tell myself that ‘not now doesn’t mean not ever’. I could also remind myself – via an excellent and very funny essay by Johnny B Truant – that no one is forcing me to write, or indeed needs me to write. And, having reflected on what it is that drives me to write, I could get back to the stories still to be told and shared. 

Maybe I’ll self-publish that novel further down the line. My friend, Sinclair Macleod, has successfully ploughed his own furrow. Maybe I’ll find an agent or indie publisher somewhere out there, like Susie, Kath and Chloe have done. Heck, maybe I’ll find a radio or film producer to bring it to life in some other way. (To any would-be dealmakers, Thursdays is my best day to get in touch.) 

My point is that even the experiences we’d rather avoid can be useful, to a writer. We are forced to regroup and ask ourselves the awkward but important questions. 

Does my view of myself as a writer change if I self-publish my work? 
(Actually, I’m bringing out some humour ebooks under my own banner, later this year, so that question only applies to my novels.)

Do I need to be any particular kind of writer to feel like a writer?

Will it stop me writing?

When you strip it all back, it’s just you and the pen and the page. It’s good to remember that, every once in a while.

* No dreams or ambitions were harmed in the making of this blog post.


  1. As you might expect, after I'd written this blog post I made a submission to a new agent / publisher. Watch this space!

  2. Chloe says:

    Gosh – that's a lot of things to be dealing with at once! I think the fact that you write because you like it is important to remember – we all say that we would write whether or not anybody was reading, it's just preferable not to have to prove the point!

    That's terrible about Musa. I hope they catch the pirates! Good luck with your latest submissions. Keep on keeping on – you've already achieved more than many writers ever do…
    If it's any comfort at all, nearly all my (many) rejections from publishers, since finding an agent, have said something similar to the comment you got about commercial fiction and significant sales. Publishers rarely take on books by "new" authors now because they aren't prepared to start on the journey with somebody – they want somebody who has already got proven sales. Getting a foot in the door seems almost (not quite!) impossible.

  3. Yes, Chloe, I think we have to be brave and bold by deciding our own version of success and aiming for that. Contentment should be in the mix, as well as progress!

  4. motheroad says:

    I thought about this post for days and days after I read it. And days and days and days…it's March 11 and now my thoughts are done percolating and I'm prepared to comment. It's regarding this bit:

    "No one is forcing me to write, or indeed needs me to write. And, having reflected on what it is that drives me to write, I could get back to the stories still to be told and shared."

    …because that's the Heart of Art, isn't it? It comes, unbidden, from somewhere within. Our only responsibility is to let it be born into the world. And that's what you've chosen to do, and what you choose to do again and again every time you put a finger to the keyboard. Failures and successes may come and go, but that decision to KEEP ON CREATING NO MATTER WHAT is the one that defines us.

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