I was talking to one of my former colleagues the other day.
‘Kathleen,’ he said, ‘you read a lot. Have you ever thought about writing?’
‘Well, um, yes,’ I said. ‘In fact…’ And I went into the whole thing. Novel. Started out as Trollope-esque ecclesiastical comedy. Ended up as Christian lesbian coming-of-age. Written. Currently editing. Self-publishing. Likely to be read by all of seventeen people, but I don’t give a damn. And all the rest of it. This was a fairly significant conversation, because it was the first time I’d let on to anyone in the ‘real world’ about it.
As it turned out, he was about four thousand words into what sounds like a very interesting sci-fi thriller. I was impressed at his being willing to talk about it at such an early stage. I’ve been writing mine for years and am only just getting over the temptation to deny everything.
I think he was quite impressed by my having a finished novel, and a little bit horrified by how much I’ve deleted. At present, Speak Its Name stands at just under 80,000 words. At one point it was over 115,000, and that doesn’t include the huge chunks of earlier drafts that I didn’t deem worthy of copy/pasting into ‘Speak Its Name FINAL’, ‘Speak Its Name FINAL 2’ or ‘Speak Its Name FINAL 3’.
(I really do hope FINAL 3 is the last one. I want it off my hands!)
‘So…’ he said, ‘if you had known, back when you started, that you’d be cutting all these words, that you’d be self-publishing, would you still have written this book, as opposed to a different subject?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, because I needed to write it, because this needed writing about.’
And – I didn’t say – because I simply wouldn’t have believed it. Over the years I’ve read plenty of books, articles, blog posts, whatever, that told me how hard a writer has to work and how difficult it is to get published. I ignored all of them. If I went back to the October of 2007, found my twenty-two year old self sitting at her aunt’s dining table and writing detailed character profiles in colour-coded ink, and told her that she’d have to rewrite the whole thing from the perspective of somebody’s love interest, lose about 40,000 words in the process, and that even at the end of it she’d have to publish the thing herself, she’d have said, ‘Oh, really?’ and kept right on doing what she was doing.
Was it worth writing 40,000 words that will never see the light of day? Was it worth all that time, all that effort, writing a novel that I’m having to self-publish because it falls between several mutually exclusive genres?
Well, if nothing else, I’ve learned how to write a novel. I’ve learned how to combine characters and plot, and dialogue and description, and what needs to go in, and what needs to come out.
And I’ve learned by doing it for myself. I could have read the theory until I was blue in the face, but I wouldn’t have understood it at the level I do now. Those moments where I went, ‘oh, but Becky needs to be the one who sets this going’, or ‘well, how about I just take out everything that’s not from Lydia’s point of view and then see what’s missing?’, those moments of deep insight whose profundity I can’t put into words, would have been worth a very expensive creative writing course.
And writing this particular book was a lot more helpful than any counselling session, in working out how to be bisexual and Christian myself. (None of the characters are me, but most of them have at least one of my issues.)
And I’ve written a book that I’m proud of, that I think is worth putting out into the world.
And I’ve developed the confidence along the way to take responsibility for that myself and not give a damn what anyone else thinks.
Any one of those on its own would have meant I hadn’t wasted the past eight years. Combined – hell, yes, it was worth it.