I’ve said in the past, I might even have written it, that writing is a lonely business. I was wrong.
Writing is solitary, not lonely. When I sit at my computer, or even pick up a pen, I am transported somewhere, whether in time or place. Sometimes I cry as I type, sometimes I laugh, always I am engaged. The characters become real – their loves, their lives, their dreams, their idiosyncrasies. The hours fly by and, if I am in the house on my own, I might miss coffee, lunch and tea though, it must be said, rarely do I miss a glass of wine. But by that time the sun has set and I am nudged to rejoin the real world by the arrival of darkness and sometimes Bonnie, our deaf cat, yowling to be fed.
My solitariness is a privilege. Granted with grace by my husband as I spend day after day in my imagination and on my computer. And when the first draft is complete, I go back and attempt to fill the pages with SPICE. An acronym coined by my first publisher, Jo Parfitt of Summertime Publishing http://www.summertimepublishing.com. SPICE is what fills the writing with Specifics, Place, Incident, Characters and that most important of condiments, Emotion. SPICE is what makes the reader want, need, to turn the page – to read until dawn.
Initial edits are then made and, as the wait for comments from Beta readers stretches into weeks, I begin another story. I put that new world down to return to the novel that has filled my life for months and months. A rewrite follows, which is never a chore because I am once again embroiled in the lives of my characters. I delete. I add. I edit. I tweak until even I recognize it is time to let go. For now.
Filled with hope, I think of the words of Iranian-American young adult author, Tahereh Mafi, “Hope. It’s a fresh rain, a whispered promise, a cloudless sky, the perfect punctuation mark at the end of a sentence,” then I send the manuscript out in its search for a literary agent. That in itself is a job.
Each agent requires systematic analysis into their likes and dislikes, their ‘wants’ and not ‘interested ins’. As I troll through pages of names I recognize my many flaws. No, I am not drawing on a tragic background as I weave my tales. No, I’m not part of the LGBTQ community. No, I’m not black, though a large part of my life has been spent in Africa. No, I’m not brown, though another chunk of years was spent in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. No, technically I don’t live in England, though it is my birth country and my father was British and part of my heart is embedded in the rolling Dorset hills, and in pre-COVID days I travelled there regularly. No, I don’t live in Australia but I spent seven years at boarding school in Armidale, New South Wales, and my mother was Australian …. and a large part of my heart is there too – but I’ve left slivers of heart in all the places I have lived. No, technically I’m not American though I am a citizen. No, I’m not from the Caribbean but I currently live there. Yes, I write English English but hey, I can adapt.
The pundits say write what you know.
So what am I? What do I know?
I am a global nomad. I know the joys and challenges of relocating around the world. Of the isolation, tinged with excitement, of being the new arrival, again. Of living a sometimes disconnected life. And of feeling the agonies of guilt when we aren’t present for final moments, or weddings or births and birthdays. Of knowing the importance of saying good goodbyes in order to welcome the hello, the ‘mahnin, the sawadee-ka, the selemat pagi of a new country. Those are the emotions I draw on, those elements of spice that come from living and working in different countries and cultures, of learning new histories. That combined with a wondering, and wandering, imagination is what goes into my writing.
Novelist W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” I suppose the closest thing to a rule is the axiom most writers live by – ‘show, don’t tell’. But aren’t rules made to be broken? There really are times when ‘tell’ is the only option, and please excuse the following example, but sometimes an apple is just an apple. Sure, there are variations in colour, size and texture but there seems little need to describe the orb that falls from trees.
Christian Nestell Bovee, C N, to his pals, was an epigrammatic New York City writer who said, “There is probably no hell for authors in the next world – they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this one.”
Whilst I don’t suffer from writing, and nor do I consider it a lonely occupation, I can state that waiting for agent responses is harrowing. And believe me when I say, once received, rejection is the loneliest business. Sympathy, and sometimes empathy, from friends and fellow writers eases the sting of rejection and, despite agent’s letters assuring hope may be found elsewhere but ‘this book is not for me,’ the failure is a most lonely affair.
It is a jolt to the heart, a dart speared into the imagination, and all we can do is wallow for a sentence, maybe a paragraph then write on and think of Sylvia Plath’s admonition, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Hope once again accompanies our solitary days.