A Privileged Life

July 2, 2010 at 2:24 am (Uncategorized)

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.



  1. Annah said,

    Hi Di,
    I just knew you would come around. You really do bounce back so well. I love the spin you have put on this disappointment by realising how incredibly lucky you are. Your day will come my dear, because thats how perseverance is always rewarded. I have been checking your blog this morning waiting for the bounce back and was so happy to read your post just now.
    I remember watching an interview with Marina Lewycka, who has written novels for over fifty years without being published, when finally she broke through with her nomination for the Orange Prize for the book A Short History Of Tractors In Ukranian….she has received so many good reviews and so much success..imagine if she had given up….
    So fifty years is of course the worst case scenario..but a scenario with success all the same. Keep plodding away, and make sure you keep making writing a happy experience..it sure beats working in finance thats for sure xx

  2. doctordi said,

    Ah, see, now I am choking again, Annah, but thankfully in a very different way!! I am just constantly and completely bowled over by the support you and others so selflessly give me on this blog. It makes such a HELL of a difference, and it’s so appreciated, thank you.

    You know, I love those stories, and at times like this I really lap them up, but I have to regularly renew my vows, so to speak, by making peace with the idea that the success may never, ever come. That is all right too, and it doesn’t make my writing life a failure, because the success and the satisfaction and the significance is in the act, not the accolades. Accolades are wonderful and success would be a terrific way to say thank you to everyone who supports and has faith in me, but I can’t afford, nor do I wish, to measure the worth of my writing against them. It can’t be about that, or else I fear I’m doomed!

    Thanks SO much for this lovely cheer, Annah. You’ve raised a smile on a face that’s been looking pretty sad.

  3. charlotteotter said,

    You are living your dream, Di, which is what makes it so wonderful. You are a living, breathing writer. One day, one of your beautiful books will take wing and take your dream to another level.

  4. doctordi said,

    Thanks, Charlotte of the Burg, and right back at you, lady. It was very exciting reading your own progress report just now – all great good luck with the hunt for an agent. I love your title – that’s one hurdle you’ve already cleared!

    One day, one day… hopefully one day.

  5. litlove said,

    You’ll get there. To heck with competitions – figure out what you really NEED to write, follow the energy, open a vein, get to the heart of what truly matters to you. That’s all the work that counts.

    • doctordi said,

      That’s good, Litlove, because it’s certainly the colour of the blood on the floor… I think that’s what is heartbreaking about the ongoing wall of rejection: when you’ve written what you really need to write, when you’ve followed the energy, opened a vein and attempted to get to the heart of what truly matters to you, it takes your breath away if no one cares.

  6. Lilian Nattel said,

    Wonderful–especially that you can’t stay away from writing. That’s all that matters.

    • doctordi said,

      So I keep telling myself, Lilian!!! It’s a little harder to persuade the bank, but I hope they’ll come around…!

  7. Grad said,

    Follow the dream, Di. Keep it in the crosshairs. What you’ve been working so hard for is right around the corner. You’ll see.

    • doctordi said,

      May I ask *which* corner, Graddikins?! Because I feel like I am going around in circles. Send GPS coordinates post haste!

  8. Tim said,


    As a picture is worth a thousand words, you’ll just have to imagine the email message equivalent of one of those posters of a magnificent tiger bounding towards the camera with dappled sunlight at its back and the word “Inspiration” emblazoned in elaborately-serifed font beneath it.

    That’s the spirit!

    Tim x

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, Timbo. That’s a good picture, as I love cats big and small – not to mention cool cats such as your good self. Have been thinking of you, actually, wondering what’s happening in the post-New Matilda world…

  9. Norwichrocks said,

    Had I seen the post about the Varuna scholarship list earlier, I would have said exactly what you’ve just come up with; viz. the important thing is that you’re doing what you love, doing what you MUST do, doing what makes you you. Prizes and accolades may come or they may not, but they have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with your talent or ability.

    Just look at Vincent Van Gogh.

    (Sorry, I always have to bring it back to painters rather than writers, since that’s my area of familiarity!)

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, Woo. You’d be surprised how often I think of Vincent. It’s always with a mix of great respect (talk about the real thing) and abject horror (please don’t let that happen to me).

      • Norwichrocks said,

        Yup, me too. I once stood in front of one of his later paintings with tears rolling down my face in the National Gallery in London… much to the bewilderment of the friend who was with me. 🙂

  10. Pete said,

    Hi Di, I would just echo what the others are saying that is the internal validation that matters more than the external kind. You love what you do and you can’t stay away from it. And you’re really good at it. That’s all that matters. Of course it’s important what others think but it’s so difficult to gauge others’ responses. Maybe these judges read the earlier version of the MS and decided it wasn’t for them and so are sticking to their original decision. I would say: get this MS to the point where you’re happy with it rather than trying to win the approval of the Varuna judges. (Sorry for the advice. I can’t resist it.)

  11. doctordi said,

    Well, that’s what I keep telling myself, Pete, and I do believe it’s true, which is why reminding myself of it in times of trouble always does make me feel better. I haven’t been trying to win the approval of the Varuna judges, that’s not at all the driver of the work I’ve been doing, I’ve only been hoping that the MS would attract support in its own right, and it’s disappointing to have that not be the case. But I guess I continue to hope that when all the work is done, it may find that support somewhere, someday.

    • Pete said,

      Yes, that’s a good distinction between approval and support. Here’s hoping you get the support you need (and deserve).

      • doctordi said,

        I kind of feel like I get more than my share right here, so perhaps I am asking too much of the publishing industry at large.

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