It was all going so well...
and then the second quarter of 2020 happened...
bringing lockdown with one hand and taking my writing time with the other. And, as the months have dragged on, things have seemed to go from bad to worse. On top of having barely any waking hours to create new things (writing early or late just doesn't work for me), my six month roll of writing successes dried up, the same manuscripts failed to list in further competitions and, after finishing my year long writing course- no agent is responding to my submissions. (Which I keep reminding myself is to be completely expected and better than a NO!)
So what happens next when the hope starts draining out of your plans? I gave this a lot of thought as I jogged the length of our local two-mile beach this morning.
1) Keep Perspective
Writing is something I love to do and want to do full-time but not being able to do it is absolutely nothing compared to what 2020 has bought to others this year. Being thankful and grateful is something I aim to be everyday - including being aware of how lucky I am to spend able to my Saturday mornings running on a beach!
Plus lockdown has bought a lot of positive changes too - more time with my family, a slower pace, more appreciation for things we take for granted.
2)Figure out what I Want to Achieve
I mean, publication, is the dream, right? Watching as talented illustrators bring your story to life, holding that proof copy and finished product in your hand. I have friends who are going through this amazing process right now. But is it why I write? No!
This week has been a reawakening. Having lost myself in the doldrums of routine and the demands of parenting, being able to return to writing during the school day and then being free to spend evenings and weekend focussed on my family, is the dream. I'm lucky that my work is currently minimal and flexible. And, as I lost myself in a new chapter book manuscript this week - a manuscript that centres around a topic that currently isn't selling-I remembered how intoxicating and enthralling it is to let a magical world pour out of your head, how joyous it is to meet new characters and how satisfying it is to achieve a full-formed story that has come from your own imagination. This is therapy! It's what makes me feel alive.
This has brought me back to a question that Stuart White, who founded the awesome WriteMentor, posed on Twitter a few weeks back:
Would you rather be able to write for the rest of your life but never get published or get published but never be able to write again.
At the time, it was a question I simply couldn't answer, but this morning it was clear. After a week of typing away, of living out my ideas...how could I ever not want to do it, whatever the outcome.
I have to see publication as a bonus. As a looming possibility on the horizon.
3) So Keep Doing it Your Way.
When you are jogging straight across a beach, illusions of the mind, of mist and of space makes it feel that you are never going to reach those cliffs at the end. Yet, as long as you keep jogging, walking, limping or crawling you will! That's where you are heading, that's the goal and only if you stop, will not reach it! But what if I don't head straight for those cliffs? What if I change direction? Or zig-zag across the sand or stop for a paddle in the frothy surf? I may or may not get to the cliffs but I'm having a jolly fun time.
Last year, I trained hard for a half-marathon. I stopped enjoying my runs and, although I just about completed my goal, it made me ill. After that I was forced to pair right back...and found my enjoyment of just plodding again.
So maybe I'll keep writing that manuscript that probably won't sell. Maybe I'll stop to socialise with some writing friends or hang out on social media. Maybe I'll keep doing those courses or try some new styles. It's more of a fun journey than pounding those keys in a rush to press send.
It doesn't mean I lack motivation or dedication. It doesn't mean I'm not achieving. It means I'm doing this for me, in a way that will give me more joy and fulfilment instead of stress and panic.
Lockdown has affected everyone. Agents are busy looking after current clients. People are furloughed and worried. Let's take some time out to figure out what's really important to us. As Stuart again always tells us; focus on the processes, not the outcomes- something it is so easy to get caught up in.
4) Protect your Mental Health
So now I've re-realised that as long as I am writing, I am happy. And that brings me to the place where I can continue to make the right decisions for me. Submitting and showcasing my work is something I still want to do but is no longer the priority. Now we are at the time of year when things begin to happen again and competitions open their doors, what's the best thing to do...for me.
Last year I was lucky enough to shortlist in both the PB Prize (my third attempt) and the WMCNA. As these opportunities roll round again, should I re-enter? Part of me hoped that I wouldn't need to because my summer goal was to gain representation from an agent. But, that was a pre-lockdown goal and the goalposts have changed.
If I'm happy just writing, do I need to enter myself into the same competitions and put myself under the possible stress of not achieving the same result as last year? Will the fear of not being re-listed have a negative effect on my mental health and my craft? Is it a sure fire marker that I have failed to progress and achieve this year...when in fact we've all been coping, adapting and striving?
No, I don't have to! I may well do, because the positives that can come from these fabulous opportunities should not be overlooked, BUT if I do it will be with the calm understanding that it is writing, not the winning, that makes me happy. That just being able to write for the, hopefully, long and foreseeable future is what's important and something that I don't want to take for granted again because who knows how long it's going to last for this time? Just like running, a long journey means you weather the clouds, the sun...and the battering wind!
Life is short- spend it doing something you love.
That's why, I'm in it for the long game.