A Writer’s Worst Enemy
It’s late. After a long day of washing, I’d like to rest, but it won’t do. I’ve got to write, even if there isn’t much to say about laundry. There isn’t much to say about television in Germany either, so what do I do now?
I must think of something, anything to fill my pages. Isn’t writing always about filling pages? Not really. On a good day, with plenty of time to concentrate on the essentials, there’s no need to think about filling pages. That’s when writing is a self-runner. There’s nothing like free-wheeling down a page: it beats any roller-coaster. I suppose that is why writers write.
When I think about what it was like when I first started writing, I’m astounded how easy it can be. I was in such awe of everything concerning writing. Always an avid reader, for me, it was like trying to eat cherries with the greats. I was afraid of getting the stones hailing down on my forlorn head. I read and read, but the wish to write grew proportionately to my writing. Then I started asking myself what I’d write if I dared. That was the worst threshold to cross. In desperation, I started writing about hedonism, and God, and food, and philosophy. It was a mess, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. To do something, I quoted all my most beloved authors, until I realized that I wrote more quotes than anything of my own. That was embarrassing. I scrapped it all. But I kept the papers and notebooks as a memento and a warning. If you want to write, you must write. You must dare to reveal your soul and your ideas. That was a hard realisation. From then on, I prevaricated. It went on for years, but slowly it dawned on me what I had to write about.
Armed with my idea, I started writing. It was still difficult, and I still spent more time staring ahead trying to find out how to write the narrative I wanted to write. I read and read, but it was difficult to take that final plunge and simply ― write. In my fear of not being able to write, not being able to produce a full-scale novel, I fell into another trap: I forced myself to invent the most complicated way to say the simplest things. In other words, I made all the mistakes I could possibly make. But I did one thing right: I persevered. I finished my first draft.
Then I made the next big mistake: I thought my first draft was the finished product and started writing to agencies. Naturally, I got nothing but rejections. Then I heard about a friend who’d written a book too, and who’d sent it to a literary consultant. Ah, I thought, such a one could be my saviour. Well, I realized that saviours come at a price. I received good advice and some encouragement. That was a real lifeline, but I didn’t understand that at first. It took a long time before I dared attempt another revision, but I still hadn’t learned to be severe.
I felt insecure, but it didn’t matter. I had to write.
So, I persevered. Thankfully, I became fed up with praise. I wanted real feedback, but I couldn’t afford to pay for it. That’s when I made my big discovery: online author groups. It was difficult to choose, but I did go for one, connected to a large publishing house. It was a revelation. It was inspiring and maddening: I thrived. I wrote and received critiques. It was a learning experience that brought me far ahead. I realized that there’s a difference between reading and reading with intent. Exactly as there are differences in approaching writing. I made friends ― and surely ― a few enemies. The group closed, and for a short while I was devastated, but then something happened. I started my umpteenth revision, and this time I was brutal. I rewrote and cut and mutilated my ‘baby’. It became an obsession, but it was worth it. I also decided that traditional publishing wasn’t for me. I’d never thought I’d go down that path, but it suddenly seemed right. It was my choice: my way. I haven’t regretted that decision. Now, I’m revising my second novel. I surprised myself: I finished the first draft a few months after publishing my first. Prevarication and doubt is a thing of the past. May it stay that way.
© HMH, 2018