With Thanks to the Ultimate Champion

March 4, 2009 at 6:18 am (Uncategorized)

When I met Llew at the jetty bar down at the wharf last night, the very first thing he said was “Congratulations.” I made a face, and he reminded me that my manuscript was just shortlisted in a national competition. He pointed out that the shortlist placing is an accomplishment in its own right, and it represents the significant progress I’ve made in the past year. He’s right, but that’s not what struck me most about what he was saying. What really bowled me over was the unstinting support inherent in everything he said, and everything he continues to say about this fraught endeavour of mine. He is, quite simply, a champion. I think all writers, and other people hurtling down creative or unconventional paths, require at least one champion, but I am ridiculously fortunate: I have many. I have family, friends, colleagues, Darklings, fellow bloggers, neighbours and even total strangers encouraging me to an extent that is constantly overwhelming. It is also fundamentally enabling; without it, I don’t know that I could keep on going. But without Llew standing there telling me how proud he is of me – when I’ve just gone and lost the damn thing – I’m sure I couldn’t. I need him to believe. I am utterly humbled that he does.

I actually feel worse for Llew, and everyone else who believes in and encourages me. It would have been so wonderful vindicating all their love and faith by making it through. It’s a shared disappointment; some people won’t know what to say to me, and worse: I know there will be some wondering if I should just call time on what is to them a madcap and frivolous escapade. Well, I can’t do very much about their opinion, and they’re absolutely entitled to it. But I can tell you what I told the Darklings down at AI, which is that when life threw the uncomfortable, irrefutable and irreversible fact of death in my path, several years ago now, it forced me to ask myself this question: what would I regret if my time were suddenly up? The answer was not writing a book. It came ringing out of the dark night as clear as any siren: I would regret not writing a book. I have always, always, always wanted to do this – I know it sounds wanky, but writing is my raison d’etre – and now that I’m finally doing it, not making it the very best book I’m capable of producing would be my one true regret.

That’s at least as far as my creative heart goes, because obviously there are other dreams in my sentimental heart, including having a child with Llew. But that hasn’t been a constant in my life. For a long time I believed I would never marry and never have children, and the maternal urge has come late. For me, a desire to have children is something that becomes more potent as time goes on. I didn’t always know I’d be so lucky as to meet Llew, but I did always know I wanted to write books. Now I’d like us to grow our family, and I’d like to write books. Is that getting greedy? Perhaps it is, especially for one who is already so fortunate. But there it is. The heart wants.ย 

I licked my wounds last night by toasting the winning writers. Then I toasted my fellow Darkling, who also missed out. Llew and I clinked glasses again and again, and with every clink I felt better, because toasting their success made me the champion of those five strangers, and every writer needs at least one of those (thank you, my dearest Llewie, for always being mine).



  1. champion said,

    I actually just want you to write a best seller so I can retire early. Back to work woman!I’m very, very proud of you and your talent.

  2. charlotteotter said,

    You bring tears to my eyes. Every writer needs at least one good champion and I am so glad you have so many – including very distant, virtual ones like me.

  3. davidrochester said,

    It is so, so lovely that you have such a wonderful support network. While publication is a worthy goal, there’s a lot to be said for having even one reader who is moved by and thoughtful about one’s work. A wide readership is great, but … a deeply appreciative readership is just as good if not better, on a different level.

  4. doctordi said,

    The other good thing about my champion is that he knows when it’s time to kick my arse… I’ve had my sulk, I’ve stared dolefully at the screen for a day, and now I need to get back to work…

    Thanks, Charlotte, and I hope and trust you’ve got a busload of supporters too. You seem to, and really, you must. I’m certainly one – virtual, distant, but committed and sincere.

    And the same goes to you, David. I really, REALLY want to know what your agent is doing to sell your novel!! I completely agree with you on this – publication isn’t, it turns out, my primary goal. It’s writing something that other people want to read. That’s a tall order for any novel, but it’s absolutely what that one reader deserves.

  5. Lilian Nattel said,

    I don’t think it’s wanky at all. And you can have kids and write–it just gets slower when they’re little but they also provide a healthy counterbalance of importance.

  6. davidrochester said,

    Oh, that agent was a long time ago, and after six pitches to major houses, she gave up. ๐Ÿ™‚ We got an “almost” from Bantam & St. Martins, but the book was considered too difficult to market because it didn’t fit in a recognizable category. And that was all right with me, because the whole process made me realize that I actually don’t care whether I’m published … for me personally, it wouldn’t validate me as a writer; it wouldn’t really matter to me to see my name in print; and I don’t have the time, energy, or money to market a book … which you have to do yourself nowadays, as publishers basically provide exactly nothing to first-time authors unless they have some reason to think the book will be a big seller.

    It was a great learning experience, but now I write when I’m compelled to do it, and spend the rest of my time coaching and mentoring other writers who are more ambitious than I am.

  7. doctordi said,

    Thanks Lilian, I’m glad!! But then again, you’re a writer… I guess I wouldn’t expect you to think it was wanky. For some non-writers, though, it seems like the most self-indulgent, decadent career in the universe. They think the whole thing is an unbearable wank. And yes, for people who spend so much time in their own head (or up their own arse according to some!), I can imagine children would be a very healthy counterbalance.

    David, I appreciate what you’re saying because I think I share some of your feelings about all this, and about what’s important, but it does seem a shame if no one gets to read your book. You were motivated to write it, and often times I think that effort is an attempt to communicate with others. It’s not just a one-sided thing whereby you’re done once it’s done. It’s a two-way communication, at least in a way, and at least for me.

    So I hate to think of your book lying fallow. Maybe you could drip-feed chapters through your blog. I bet all your readers are gagging to read it. I have to complete my education about the publishing world – not to mention fix my manuscript – before I decide what to do, but if I really can’t get a publisher to bite in the years to come, I’ll probably publish it here. It’s too sad to think of all that work going unread. A lot of love has gone into its creation, and eventually I’d like to share it with others.

  8. davidrochester said,

    Educating yourself about the publishing world will just depress you — I recommend putting it off. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I might drip-feed the current novel I’m writing, but the first one, in retrospect, really was just for me. It was readable by other people, but it was more an exploration of my own inner mythology, and it’s useful to me now as a reference point in therapy. I think that was why I was so driven to write it, so I wonder whether it really does need to be shared.

    On the other hand, my therapy blog has an enthusiastic following, so … maybe my inner life is more compelling than I realize. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. doctordi said,

    Well, just speaking in relation to Quotidian Vicissitudes, I think your inner life is very compelling to others because of your inimitable style of articulating it.

    Having said that, I think most first-timers inject a lot of their own mythology into that virgin effort. It’s no accident that many debut authors create works that are transparently autobiographical on some level. That’s not a crime, and is probably unavoidable to a certain extent – all part of the learning curve etc etc – but it does become obvious to me the more I redraft that there were plenty of things in earlier drafts I just had to get off my chest but that don’t belong in the thing this particular MS has become. So… I wonder if you’ve been through it lately? You may find similar sections you can excise.

    Or you could just start drip-feeding your adoring public. Either is good.

  10. David Rochester said,

    Thanks, Di — that’s very flattering.

    RE: the novel — none of it is autobiographical at all; it’s my inner mythology in a very literal sense, perhaps more an archetypal sense. When coaching writers, one of the first things I do is tell them to re-invent anything that is obviously “true,” because truth makes terrible fiction; memoir and fiction are two vastly different arts, and you’re quite right that many beginning writers make the mistake of not being able to tell them apart.

    But the real problems with the novel are:

    1) The first-person narrator isn’t the main character, which works if you are Scotty Fitzgerald writing “The Great Gatsby,” or you are Christopher Isherwood writing “The Berlin Stories,” but doesn’t work if you’re me, with my particular level of talent, writing something that isn’t transcendent, but merely craftsmanlike. Ya gotta be transcendent to pull that one off.

    2) Too much of the story is told through dialogue, which I could fix, but I’m too lazy to do it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. doctordi said,

    I certainly can’t fault your pragmatism, David. You obviously have a very realistic grasp of the entire enterprise, including a capacity for blunt self-appraisal that I hope you’re passing on to your students! I can’t help suspect you’re judging it too harshly, but it is yours to do with what you will, and that includes nothing at all (sob!).

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