After two days of what I just described to friends as ‘choking and howling,’ I am entering a different and very welcome state of mind. Articulating a few basic truths to two of my non-writer friends just now has had the effect of breaking the back of my illness, that horrible, debilitating writer disease of hubristic self-pity.
Because who else would or should take pity on me?
Nobody, and here’s why: I do what I love. I am one of a very fortunate few, because I know what I want to do with my life, and I’m able to actually do it (how many frustrated musicians, artists, writers, photographers, fashion designers, interior decorators, chefs, sailors, golfers, sculptors, wanderers and gardeners do you know?). These are two extraordinarily huge privileges, and they never, ever get old.
And these competitions and prizes and awards, well, they’re actually of very limited importance to the untold satisfaction of creation. As I said to my friends, I just do write, and will write, and so I’d best get on with the job. I had to leave the house yesterday to stop myself from writing. I closed off my computer only to pick up my diary, and it was a physical effort to put it down and walk outside and not write another word for the remainder of the day. I write. It’s a small, simple act, but even so I personally can’t help it, and I can never stay away. So these disappointments – and they are so brutal in their moment – just recede, eventually, because they don’t fundamentally change anything about what I actually do and who I actually am. They don’t even come anywhere near.
This particular result winded me so badly because this manuscript has been shortlisted in a Varuna program before, so it feels like it’s now lost ground, even though I believe in my heart that the MS has improved since then. It’s been 18 months since that shortlist placing, and I have not only worked extremely hard – although Shuckin’ Charlotte very wisely pointed out to me yesterday that a mountain of work does not necessarily translate to a better book – but I have felt that work to be beneficial to the manuscript. I don’t think I’m so out of touch with reality that I have no perspective left on my own work – I’m very alive to my own many and pronounced shortcomings, and to the problems that continue to dog this particular project. The limitations of my own ability and the structural difficulties inherent in this manuscript are the reasons why I’ve been asking myself if I need to accrue more experience in order to actually pull off what needs to be done. It’s why I’ve asked myself here and elsewhere if this work and I do need to part company, at least temporarily.
Not making the shortlist brings that question into very sharp relief. I can’t help but feel it as another sign that it’s time to step away and do something else, like return to MS # 2 or perhaps remove myself further by starting from scratch on something completely new. Poor #2 is already sort of tainted by its status as #1’s unwilling bridesmaid, always trailing along behind in its lesser role, pulling crossly at scratchy fabric (specially chosen to be slightly unflattering), and wearing shoes that are much too tight. A second manuscript is perhaps a little like a second child – it will never, ever know life from the lofty position of being the beloved first born, of being #1. Or maybe #2 will turn out to be my Prince Harry, whom we all know has a lot more footloose fun than the future king.
Whatever the future holds for these two troubled siblings – mine, I mean, not the House of Windsor’s – I won’t be making any decisions about this until the dust settles and the bruises heal. I can’t actually contemplate, right this second, throwing myself back into the manuscript; just the thought fills me with panic and dread. But I will finish this redraft before I call time. I know things that need doing, and so I will do them. And then we’ll have a trial separation, duration undecided.
But in the meantime, I hold fast to an amazing, privileged truth: I am embarked upon fulfilling my lifelong dream. I am living it.