I realised it’s been four months since my last blog. Erm, yes, sorry. There is a good reason, however, and I thought it was probably time for an update. So, well, here it is…
When I last wrote about something proper and writing-related (as opposed to nerding out in NYC), Tainted Earth, the dystopian YA book I’d written, was nearing being taken to publishers by my agent. A lot can have happen in four months, so do I now have exciting news of how it’s going to get published in twenty-six languages and turned into an HBO drama series…?
Not at the moment anyway. The book did get sent off and it did get lots of really encouraging feedback from editors at publishing houses… but, unfortunately, it didn’t get sold. Apparently now is a reeeeally bad time to be writing dystopian YA. There is a lot of it on the shelves – which I love, because I love reading it – but in business terms the market has become very saturated. As such, it’s incredibly hard to distinguish and launch a new book in that genre, especially from a debut writer, and so people are understandably cautious about taking on anything new.
Was it tough that it didn’t sell? Yes. Rejection is always hard, especially with anything artistic as it can feel incredibly personal. BUT, it is also something that happens to pretty much everyone who works in the arts. Repeatedly. I’ve experienced it several times before and will do so again, and it is just something you have to learn to live with if you want to try at this kind of career.
My general reaction to rejection/criticism is this; feel really angry/upset/hurt/irrational about it for a day (or a few, if it’s really bad), then get up the next morning and try and fix whatever the problem is. I got an idea of where things were headed with regards to Tainted Earth before the last few turn downs actually came in. So, I did my complaining, had my little internal grumpy strop, and then started to think about what to write next. An idea started developing bizarrely quickly and that’s what I’ve been squirrelled away spending the last four months doing. One of the best ways to deal with rejection? Don’t let yourself become obsessed with one project. Be able to move on. (And, yes, this can be really hard, but it is necessary. Or it is for me, anyway!)
Most situations have both good and bad you can take from them. The good I took from the editors’ responses was that, firstly, none of these proper-grown-ups-who-really-knew-what-they-were-talking-about had told me I was ridiculous for trying to be a writer. I know, shocking. No one had called my book stupid or my writing dreadful. In fact, if I let myself look past the no, lots of what was said was actually really encouraging longer term. My agent was also really supportive, especially with regards to the idea I’d had for a new book – a book in a completely different genre which I was actually feeling really excited about writing.
And that is the main thing.
I can genuinely say I do not regret spending all the time I did on writing (and re-writing, and re-writing, and re-writing) Tainted Earth. I’m still really glad I did it. I love dystopian fiction and – not to get too cheesy about it – the story of Tainted Earth was the story I wanted to write. I don’t regret it because, actually, it was something I had, deep down, wanted to do just for the sake of doing it. To get a little arty flarty about it, it was something I’d had to do. I’d had those characters in my head for about five years before I started writing and it really means at lot to me that I have that story down now, even if nothing ever happens with it. I think this is a really important thing to come to terms with if you’re going to try to work in anything creative.
I’ve been trying to write stories professionally for about ten years now and what I’ve learned is that if your fulfilment comes solely from career progression or commercial success, more often than not you are setting yourself up for a really hard time! I’m not saying aspiring to these things is intrinsically bad, it’s not, it’s just that if you are only motivated to keep writing by the success of what you have written before, it can just be really draining to carry on when things don’t work out (and for the overwhelming majority of people, success is not overnight, or with the first thing you write). Case in point; I have now written two musicals, neither of which have been fully staged professionally, and two books, neither of which have been published yet. I’m not saying there aren’t exciting things that have happened with them, and the continued interest in The In-Between is constantly amazing and exciting to me, but what I’m trying to get across is that if I was writing purely to achieve certain goals, I would have given up by now, and be feeling thoroughly depressed and bitter about the whole thing.
My point in all this (and I’m by no means the first to make it); if you want to write, then write what you want to write because you want to write it. Write for its own sake. That is your fulfilment and that is why you are able to move on to the next project when the previous one is done, regardless of whether it became the next Harry Potter or was only ever read by your grandmother. Write because you have to, because you have a story inside you that you want to tell – not because of what might come from it when it’s done.
An interesting thing I’ve found as well is that the moment you do shut off your expectations and just let yourself start creating, that is when you work the best – ironically probably creating something all the more likely to move your career forwards in the process. Similarly, comparing how you’re doing to the success of other writers often works negatively. Social media is Very Bad for this (Twitter, I love you, but I’m definitely looking at you here). If I go online and read about what the other writers I follow are doing, I genuinely won’t work as well that day. I’ll start to become overly worried about failing, about making mistakes, about not living up to the things I’ve set out for myself… And I’ll just write crap.
And not even very much crap at that.
The other thing to say here is that I also believe you learn from everything you write, from the process of having done it, whatever ends up happening with it. I think the more you do, the more you learn how to create more clearly and quickly. I couldn’t have written The In-Between if I hadn’t written Faerytale first. The writing of Tainted Earth has massively informed the writing of my new book (it also got me an agent), and having written the new book will have taught me things I can bring to whatever I do after that. I just have to keep writing, and keep wanting to tell stories.
Yikes, I’ve talked a lot. Sorry. Call that four months squished into one post.
To end, then, just a little about what this mysterious ‘new book’ actually is. Well, it’s called Echoes and is a contemporary YA cyber thriller. It’s a story about a girl called Mallory Park; a 16-year-old computer hacker whose real life collides with her very different online one when someone close to her goes missing. I’m currently working on rewrites for my agent and then, hopefully, it will be sent out to publishers. Will it get published? I really don’t know. What I do know is that, whatever happens, I’m glad I wrote it.
Thanks for reading,