The Failed Novelist (And Why ‘Giving In’ Is Not The Same as ‘Giving Up’)
Editor’s note: The following piece is an impassioned response to a recent controversial article. Please be aware that it contains one or two instances of ‘colourful’ language!
Giving in isn’t giving up.
Everyone has been there – everyone has experienced it. That frozen moment, that heartbeat, standing on a knife-edge; step off and return to the safety you knew before, or step forward and risk cutting yourself again in pursuit of reaching ‘the point’.
Shakespeare put it more eloquently than I – heck, he put it more eloquently than most writers (unless you’re Mark Lawrence!) when he wrote the words ‘to be or not to be’. Sure, I’m force-fitting his words to my own purposes here, but no less so than the weather forecaster saying that the ‘light-shower’ was the rain they predicted, nor the doomsayers of their respective faiths decreeing the end is nigh as the signs have come to pass (2016, I’m looking at you, buddy).
Two articles have recently caught my attention. One, a Guardian piece titled ‘What I’m really thinking: the failed novelist’, the other a blog-post by an aspiring author (and I emphasise the word aspiring for its heartening criticality) quite simply titled ‘Not the Easiest Post to Write’. Sure, both sound a little gloomy, but they are literally, and figuratively, WORLDS APART. Ultimately, they boil down to the one thing in life that EVERYTHING ultimately boils down to.
And what comes with choice?
With great choice, comes great doubt. (Take that Uncle Ben, you parboiled prophet. Who’s mother-f’n-spidey-senses are tingling, now?)
Will you make the right choice?
Both articles recount the efforts of would-be novelists reflecting on their pursuit of ‘one day’ (more on this later) publishing a . . . well, a novel, as that’s what novelists do (for the most part). But this is where the similarities end.
In ‘The Failed Novelist’, we are introduced to Anonymous, who has worked and become emotionally-invested in attempting to publish a novel. They achieved far more than many aspiring authors in that they a) secured an agent, and b) said agent submitted them to publishers for consideration. The first novel was rejected, and despite a second novel being their self-proclaimed ‘masterpiece’, it too (in their own words) ‘bombed’. At this point, Anonymous gave in (the exact words were ‘gave up’, but I’ll talk about that in a moment), to save their own sanity. This was their choice.
Which brings me to the second article, ‘Not the Easiest Post to Write’. This time we recount the tale of Sadir S Samir, who after writing a big, fat 150,000 word EPIC, has decided to put that novel away. Why? Following a round of test-reading and the work of a freelance editor, the verdict was in: it just wasn’t good enough. But rather than give up, he gave in to that novel, and moved on. He’s already 10,000 words into his second outing. And, again, why? Because this was his choice.
Everyone has a choice. Do I hit snooze or get up, now? Do I have toast or fruit for breakfast? Do I have breakfast at all and instead skip straight to Tequila (Arriba, arriba! Ándale, ándale!)? These choices require that you give in to something, but not that you give up. If you don’t hit snooze today, you can catch an extra 10 minutes tomorrow, then wash down the fruit you skipped out on yesterday with the rest of the Tequila (I mean, come on – you’d be mad NOT to choose Tequila, and I’ve made it easy for you by offering fruit (LEMON); all you need is the salt of your tears to finish the equation, har-de-harh-harh).
Giving in is different to giving up. I wholeheartedly believe that Anonymous’ article is a symptom of something much larger; and I am in no way disagreeing with their choice to give in, but I do disagree with the choice of wording in the article which states they gave up to save their sanity. No-one should ever give up, on anything. Period.
Also, and I’d like to caveat now, that there’s a reasonable chance that the ‘The Failed Novelist’ is clickbait. Well, CONSIDER ME BAITED!
Do not go gentle into that good night, rage against the dying of the light – blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t have to be about profound prose, volcanic fury, or pitch black ultimatums. It’s ok to have a tantrum about faltering dimmer switches, because so what, you stub your toe when it gets a little gloomy out there? Or worse, you’re on your metaphorical knife-edge and you can’t see where to step next to reach the ‘point’ (and there is a point to this article and I’ll stick you with it in a moment).
Part of me realises that I am ranting about semantics, and the mere choice of words. Giving in vs giving up. But we’re talking about writing here. Writing words. So I want to make my point clear. YOU HAVE A CHOICE. Write, or don’t. But don’t give up because of a silly little thing called doubt.
Give in to doubt if you have to – because sometimes it’s trying to tell you something – but always move on. And, if you have NEVER published before, don’t write to publish. You DO NOT KNOW publishing yet – yes, you’ve read the books, the blogs, the bloomin’ yearbook, but not only do you not know publishing yet, but PUBLISHING DOES NOT KNOW YOU. So instead, write what you want to write. Write what you enjoy – because if anyone is going to enjoy reading something, they’re going to enjoy reading something that someone else enjoyed writing. They’re not going to swear servitude at the altar of a writer who bled their way, step-by-step, along a sacrificial knife of their own miserable making.
And, for argument’s sake, let’s remove emotion from this. Straight to business, no pulling punches, heavy-hit after heavy-hit (go on Westwood, saaaan). No more ‘write what makes you happy’ as there’d be shit-all plot, and the biggest conflict in your manuscript would indeed be ‘toast or fucking fruit for breakfast’, and ‘oh shit you drank all the tequila and there’s nothing left but salt from your tears and dried lemons’. If you’re doubting, do better. JUST DO IT! (Swoosh). It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something – or so it’s said. DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!
It’s not about standing on a knife-edge, nor is it about putting that damned thing away before you hurt yourself.
It’s about learning how to wield that knife; risking drawing blood in the process, picking-up scars that sometimes no-one else can see, and one day – maybe not today, not tomorrow, or maybe not at all – maybe one day you might have the chance to plunge that blade home into the heart of the one thing holding you back from achieving your dreams (here it comes)…
Rip its fucking throat out.
Title image by Ajnataya.