I’m battling with something. It started as a gurgle a little over a year ago. I pushed it down, denying I was feeling this way. Further and further, I pushed. I did everything I was told to do, to pretend I was comfortable. But now I’m going to admit it out loud – well, in a version of getting it out – by putting it down on paper.
Two years ago I bravely took the steps I needed to take, to commit to writing my first novel. I’d always had a desire to write, but life had got in the way. Earning money and supporting myself and my children had always been the priority. For me, there was no-one in the background saying, ‘chase your dreams, I’ll support us while you write.’ Also, I’m not sure if my independent self would have given myself over to that sort of agreement. Being dependent on someone else – even if it were a partner – for everyday things, such as a coffee, or lunch with a friend, would have been torture. And, what about the big stuff? Asking for a casual two hundred dollars for a hair colour and cut? That seems impossible to ask someone else to pay for. So, over the years I wrote in journals, played with words, and hatched an idea for a book I would ‘write one day’. Then, during one of Victoria’s lockdowns, I found myself working from home and having a little more discretional money to spend. What did I do? I paid approximately two thousand dollars over six months, with weekly courses designed to improve my understanding of how to write a novel. At the end of the six months, I’d done it – a finished manuscript stared back at me from the computer screen. Was it great? No. Was it a start? Hell, yes! What transpired next was a gift from the universe.
Sixteen people did the course I did, and we resolved to continue as a writing group into the future. Two years later we are going strong. Daily posts that include every form of communication: links and resources; pieces of writing for feedback; writing exercises; books we are consuming; opportunities for writing prizes and competitions; and contributions to our monthly zoom meetings. Sometimes photos of walks on the beach, brunch at the café, or views from our writing spaces. Anything that speaks to our worlds of being a daily writer. I could not have asked for a better and more supportive community to be part of.
We are spread across Australia, with one member in Japan. Our writing genres are diverse – historical fiction, fantasy, literary, crime and contemporary fiction. And our lives are very different. Some of us have raised our children, and a few have grandchildren. Others are single or married, without children. A few are juggling parenthood and work. Some work fulltime, others part-time or have retired after a lifetime of work. But we show up to Discord when we can, to share our writing, and keep driving ourselves forward with the goal of publishing. Which brings me to what I have been ‘pushing down’, or failing to admit to myself, let alone others. My dream to be published is real, but I do not think I have it in me to be the person I see other authors being, to get their book out to the masses. Put simply, I am not a ‘public’ type of person.
Getting published is huge. It takes dedication to keep putting your book out to publisher after publisher. Promising the person employed to read (at least) a few hundred submissions a month, that your book is going to sell. Make them money and make you a household name. That’s the dream, right there. Walking past a book shop one day and seeing your ‘baby’- your book in their window. Thinking about this right now, makes me smile. It is the ultimate reward for the hours and weeks and months and years of dedication to writing a book. Of knock-back after knock-back. Of pitches and queries and unsolicited queries. Of requests for further chapters, and well-crafted rejections…not right for us at this time…We’re a small press, so need to be very selective…unfortunately we don’t think we are the right fit for you…and on and on.
So, what do I mean when I say, ‘I’m not that person’? It is what happens after the book is sent out to booksellers. The promotion. Interviews, public speaking, photo opportunities, Instagram and Facebook posts, Tik-Tokking. All. Of. It. I have taken the initial steps to improve my public profile and increase my followers. I have an Instagram account and a website (and a Twitter account that now lies sleeping – thanks Elon!). I post moments and snippets of my writing life, using these mediums. I don’t mind doing this. But for me, it’s frought with anxiety around ‘building’ a following. When my website has a visitor, I get a notification. Wow, someone is visiting my site – what a big deal! But, building a following one person at a time is like walking a mountain, one step per day. It seems insurmountable.
I follow a couple of people on Instagram that are now on their second or third books. They are always at book events, or just posting happenstance book-related moments. Oh, here I am at the park and what-do-you-know…someone is sitting on the bench reading my book! Here I am at the markets, which-by-the-way is where my protagonist hangs out. Having coffee with my editor – look at us toasting to the success of my book! It all looks great. Don’t get me wrong. I am really, really happy to see aspiring writers living their dream. But I don’t want this pressure to be omni-present on someone’s Insta feed. It’s just not me, smiling and pretending that every day is a great day. I have far too much in my life that isn’t perfect, to pretend. My Dad is in his eighties and has danced with death so many times in the last five years, that I can’t distinguish his many hospital stays and issues.
My sister is a victim of a relationship involving long-term abuse and coercive control. My kids are in their twenties and although they are all employed, they are still at the m
ercy of inflationary pressures and financial hardship (who do they call…Mum?!).
My work situation, although very settled at the moment, has been up and down and possibly will be again, who knows – right? So, the pragmatist in me says, don’t be unrealistic and pose for socials, speak at events and pretend life is amazing because you are a writer.
Being a writer in Australia, means competing with everyone else to stay relevant. To sell books. To get another contract for another book.
My book is good, but it is not Harry Potter good. I’m a realist, and I live in the real world of having to be everything for a lot of people. If I could ‘turn this off’ then maybe I could see myself in the world of smiling photo after smiling photo. Energetic and enthusiastic about every day I get to pose as an author. As though, that is the only thing I do.
So, do I want my book published? Yes! Do I want to position myself as being an enormously satisfied person once I am published (and implication that I don’t have anything else in my life except writing…)? No. It would be false. And, for me, I’m just not good at pretending. Good luck to all my writing club buddies who are in the position of being able to partition their lives to accommodate for future writing success and all that this entails. Structurally my life just seems different. Sure I want to hold my book baby, in all of its bound up glory. But, I don’t want to be on the publicity trail. There – that little thought I’ve been pushing down - over the last year or so – is out. And, it’s OK. I’m OK. If all I ever do is write for enjoyment, I will still be satisfied. And happy…very, very happy.