Last year I was like a hummingbird, frantically flapping about, struggling to fit in everything I had to do and fighting resentment of my life, my husband, my child. When I stopped sleeping I had to ask myself, was it all worth it? Maybe it was time to hang up the clogs and stop dancing.
I’ve been a published author for fifteen years. I’ve written non-fiction, fiction, short story, poems and stories for kids. Many of my fiction stories have a fantasy element, because I am a great believer in the mystery and wonder. I want my stories to make you think, the characters itch at you. Like the boy who decided he could do without two years’ worth of hugs because they’re embarrassing. So he signs a contract. But when things start to go wrong, he realises who much he misses those hugs and that he has to get them back!
People often comment at ‘how wonderful it must be to be a writer! I’d love to do that.’ And gaze at me with admiration and envy on their shiny, earnest faces. Raising an eyebrow imperiously, I usually respond with something like, ‘Do you think you’d enjoy digging your brain out through your ear with a fork?’ That’s what it’s like in those dark, trapped times. Nevertheless, I am always pushing myself up to the next level. I love running writing workshops in schools and at conventions. Some say I’m blessed to be able to do that. I guess they’re right. All I see is the next goal. What I wanted, more than anything, was to have a spec fic novel published. Having completed four of them, I was hoping my ‘apprenticeship’ would finally yield success. I could taste the peppery excitement of it on my tongue. I could feel the warmth of that blanket of recognition and achievement around my shoulders. I wanted it badly.
So, I drove myself half mad and tried to do it all. Shouldn’t a woman have something of her own? Shouldn’t a creative woman feed her soul? Did being a mum mean sacrificing everything? For years I criticised other women for ‘selfishly doing their own thing’ instead of focussing on their kids. Why have them in the first place, I’d say, if you’re not going to devote yourself to the task properly? But here is a truth I have discovered about myself – having a child is a responsibility so pressing, so taxing, that you cannot survive it without something of your own to cling to. Sure, there are moments of blissful love and joy. Sure, there are times when I relish the challenge of motherhood. Of course I love seeing that look of understanding that flashes over my child’s face when she makes a discovery. But many is the day where I feel completely empty. And then I feel resentful. And then I feel guilty. And then I get the cranks.
I put it to my female friends: Do you ever feel this way? How do you manage it all? Should I just give up on writing? Am I being selfish? It seemed too hard. But as I lay in bed, looking at those tiny white lights in the sky, I reminded myself of something else I had learned – only the persistent win. So I divided my week, my days, my hours into blocks of time. I wrote at 2am, I wrote at 9am and 10pm. I wrote in the half hour before I went to work, after cleaning the house and doing four loads of washing. I wrote while waiting at the doctor’s, I wrote while watching TV with hubby, I wrote while eating breakfast. I wrote about a girl who goes through a huge change in identity, from Queen Bee to outcast. Her whole life has been a lie. She’s dealing with a new reality, a new image and the certainty of a young death, especially if she persists in using her powers. The other manuscript was finished – a race of people with dragon DNA, sort of Tolkien’s elves/Avatar/Ironman. The flying hero has his wings mutilated. His love interest is a tortured Goth Girl. I had been writing it for four years. I knew it was ready. Both stories are about characters enduring physical pain and pressing on. It’s a way of making my own pain give me something positive back. But who wants to read about people who struggle with chronic pain/illness? A disabled hero? It’s just not ‘edgy’ enough. It’s whingey. Boring. But, I told myself, people love a fighter, an underdog. I had to believe in my work, believe in the personal connection it could make. Believe in my own message, my ‘voice’.
I decided I would attend a pitching session and, (because I am completely insane and compelled to torture myself), that I would pitch both novels (one finished, one half done) to a publisher in five minutes. 30 seconds to say hi etc, two minutes to pitch each novel. I asked writer friends for tips on how they boil down their novel to a summary, then a synopsis, then a pitch page, then a blurb then to a one sentence elevator pitch. It took a full week to do just one novel. I was ready. I pitched to four publishers on the day. They were all fantastic, but I felt a bit sorry for them, having to deal with us nervous nellies with our huge, wide eyes, stammering voices and deafening hope. That was in October. I then tried to forget I had done any such thing and get on with my life. Huh. Yep. So easy.
We had visitors staying, a busy Christmas and New Year and in the first week of January I decided to focus on what I wanted to achieve in 2015, because worrying about what a publisher thought of my work has never helped me write. A huge part of writing now is promoting yourself. I am a keen learner, but I do struggle with this. It is not remotely cave-related, and that’s where I want to be, most of the time. One of my mottos is: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. So I regularly ask for advice. I had three weeks to get my act together before school went back. In my work as a Special Ed Teacher I deal with parents directly, every lesson and students 1:1. I have to devote a lot of mental energy to keeping the balls in the air for each of my ten students, to remember their struggles, their needs, their personality quirks and the program I have planned for them. As a Children’s Counsellor I hear a lot of pain and confusion. While listening I need to engage empathetically and at the same time keep a healthy distance. These demands can be taxing sometimes but they are also hugely inspiring.
I had five projects I was working on – one a biography about a WWII veteran that has taken four years so far, three adventure chapter books and the spec fic novel about the dying super girl. I desperately wanted to finish the novel, in which all four publishers had indicated interest. But I had been stuck at the three quarters finished stage for eight months. The worst writer’s block ever. I just couldn’t see past it. I lay awake every night trying to figure it out. I tried not thinking about it. I asked every test reader, every writer friend, my family, my students. Nope. Stuck. A new novel started creeping in and tempting me to write it. Argh! Go away! And so I struggled with all my other projects too. The year had barely started and I was a dead loss already. The humming bird plummeted to Earth with a poof!
And then I received the email. ‘We have reviewed your submission and we really enjoyed it. If it is still available we would like to offer you a contract to publish with us.’ I cannot express the relief and (tentative) joy! Within two days I had finished my urban fantasy story.
This year I have decided being a hummingbird is too exhausting. I think a moderately brisk woodpecker might be better. Or perhaps a rather determined blackbird?