Yesterday afternoon, I had drinks with some friends who all happen to be published writers. We discussed the process of letting go of books we had written, how difficult it was, but we all agreed that once a book is finished, the healthiest (sanest) way forward is to let it go, move on, begin work on a new story. The truth is, no writer I know is one hundred percent normal on the crazy scale – with one being rational and sane, and ten being lunacy beset with nervous tics and uncontrolled urges to swear at strangers. We range from quirky geeks to neurotic divas, or perhaps that range of characteristics is inherent in every one of us, depending on where we happen to be on the success ladder.
Sending a book out into the world takes enormous self-belief and courage (usually beefed up by a shot of vodka) but, minutes after we press send, the erosion of that belief begins. No matter how much we try to pretend we’re okay with not receiving feedback from our agents and readers, we’re not. We wait like dogs under a table hoping for scraps to fall from the mouths of diners. We want reassurances, no matter how small, that the work was worth six years of our lives. Silence feeds our doubt, but we are too afraid to ask those who hold our precious manuscripts in their hands if they have read them yet because the answer, inevitably, is an excuse; they have not yet found the time, or they started, but haven’t found the time to finish – worse, because it indicates a loss of interest.
Of course, by we I mean me. Perhaps not all writers feel this way, and would be offended that I speak for them. I’m sure JM Coetzee sends off his manuscripts knowing they will be immediately read and snapped up. Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Marian Keyes and their ilk probably leap out of bed the day after they’ve pressed send knowing their inbox will be full of mail, all of it singing their praises. I imagine a flurry of excitement in the offices of their literary agencies when the manuscript arrives, that their agents drop everything for an all-night caffeine-driven reading stint. I’m willing to bet that no offer in Stephen King’s inbox has ever been from Groupon. Neil Gaiman probably doesn’t even check his mail immediately, and chooses first to luxuriate in an expensive cup of coffee and fresh croissant, then take the dog for a walk, picking apples along the way.
There might even be one or two unpublished writers with unshakable self-belief, or mid-list writers with one or two books under their belt that never lose a moment of sleep. I am not like them.
I dreamed last night that CA came to me with an offer from Harper Collins. $5 million dollars, he said and, when I exclaimed in disbelief, he burst into laughter and slapped me on the back. Just joshing, he said. The rest was a nightmare where he refused to tell me the sum, and I knew it was paltry, but that I should accept it because there would be no others. I woke with clenched fists and, squeezing my lids together tightly, I prayed for the sandman to come back and put me to sleep for just a few days longer. Just until a new story lands in my head, and I can begin to let go of this one.