05 January, 2016

Ring in the New Year

The long blog hiatus was this time for a very good reason, and I stand by it.

I recently had the biggest punch in the stomach of my career. I finished Forget Me Not, was told it was very good, but that it wasn't marketable in the slightest. Tragedies don't sell, according to many so-called "experts". I say those "experts" are incredibly out of touch with young people today. I say Emo and Goth music wouldn't exist if young people weren't capable of appreciating deep feelings, or indeed enjoying art designed to explore melancholy. Those particular styles in that particular art are just two of a myriad examples. In fact, as a person who wants to write for young people, I find the idea that they're incapable of appreciating tragedy quite offensive.

But I'm not delusional. It's true that tragedies are, on the whole, one of the least lucrative (if not the very least) kinds of stories. I believe Forget Me Not will be one for the future, for the critics. These days, publishers aren't interested in anything by a new author unless they think it's a guaranteed hit. That's why there's so much shallow trash out there in the YA market. There's some great stuff too, but something's wrong when the really great writers have a tougher time getting started than the ones who want to crank out some generic "Heroic young person takes on evil grown-ups and wins" story. I don't want to write that crap.  I always hated reading that crap, too.

After getting my feedback about Forget Me Not, I felt lost. I'd spent so much time believing that good books will out, that craft is the most important thing, that ideas are cheap and it's all about execution, and that gripping and beautiful stories would, if they're well told enough, get published. It turns out I'm working in an industry that never would have published Catcher in the Rye, for instance. How would you pitch that one to an agent? What's the synopsis? "Jaded teenager wanders around New York for a weekend." Doesn't sound like a rain-maker to me, and yet every agent who would scoff at that synopsis (i.e. all of them) would be dead wrong. Even if Catcher in the Rye isn't your thing, I can think of dozens of mega-best-sellers with an equally boring synopsis.

I was lost, and down, and had to pick myself up again, and I didn't know how. I was very close to giving up on the whole thing. If it's not about good fiction, what's it about? What's the point?

That's how I felt, and I didn't want my bitterness to spill over into my blog. I couldn't write anything without seeming bitter, because I was bitter, but I think, actually, this has been my greatest lesson, and I hope it's my final hurdle.

Every NEW writer I've ever known has pinned all their hopes and dreams on every work they've produced. This is difficult, because most of their early work isn't very good, any more than a pianist's first attempts at playing a tune. It's practise. It was difficult anew when I wrote something that I KNEW was good. Industry experts TOLD me it was good. I was RIGHT, and yet I still hadn't achieved a thing.

Now, I just don't care anymore. I'm broken. It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything, as Tyler Durden said. And it's when we're broken that we can most easily forge ourselves anew.

Now I just feel like I'm writing books. I'm pretty prolific. I'm making plenty of money in my day job (or, enough to survive, anyway) and I'll write one my agent thinks could be a rainmaker eventually. I'm focusing on "cool factor" as much as depth or meaning. I think it's entirely possible to achieve both, and I'll admit Forget Me Not was light on "coolness" as one of the emotional effects. It was a tragedy through and through. I have a handy writer's group that I started in Leamington Spa where I live. Every time I show them my work I ask whether they felt what was happening was cool. I'm going to write something with cool factor eventually, and I refuse to give up on my ambition of creating work of social, moral and emotional significance. I strongly believe one can achieve both, and I'd be far from the first to do so. I'm still at it, about 8,000 words into another book, fully plotted, and now that I've taken my hard-earned Christmas break, I'm still writing every day.

Every knock-back I receive, I learn a little more the importance of what Karen Blixen said: "Write a little every day, without hope, without despair."

I won't forget Forget Me Not, but I'll learn, and I'll grow. There's no such thing as failure. There's just trying and giving up.

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