Friday, December 26, 2014

East of Yang Pass, With Love

It is the day after Christmas. In Ireland, we call it St. Stephen's Day - but I shouldn't say 'we', because my family call it Boxing Day, and hating people who call it Boxing Day could be called one of the last acceptable prejudices in Irish society.

My mother bought me a copy of The True Secret of Writing, by Natalie Goldberg, in which Goldberg quotes the work of the poet Wang Wei.

Seeing Off Yuan The Second On A Mission To Anxi

At Weicheng morning rain has dampened light dust,
By the hostel, the willows are fresh and green,
I urge my friend to drink a last cup of wine;
West of Yang Pass, there will be no friends.

I am blessed to live my life east of Yang Pass. A belated merry Christmas to everyone celebrating, a happy 26th December to everyone not, and a wonderful 2015.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How To Keep The Faith As A Writer/Artist/Singer/Creative Person

Warning: There will be a little bit of profanity in here.

I started this blog in 2009, back when God was a boy and Big Brother was a thing people cared about and before I fully accepted the healing power of chai lattes into my life. I was 24 years old, almost 25, and I didn't think I would still be here five years from now, blogging about my life as an unpublished writer. I blog infrequently now because I have very little to say about being an unpublished writer that I haven't already said.

But when (if!) you log into Feedly and think 'hmm, haven't heard from that Irish girl who likes Dorothy Parker in ages. Hope she didn't, like, die or something. Or quit writing,' don't worry. I haven't died and I haven't quit, and here is what I've been doing while not updating my blog:

  • I've won Nanowrimo five times (2010-2014 inclusive)
  • I have been an ML for Nanowrimo for five years (2010-2014 inclusive) and I ain't going anywhere. Nanowrimo participants in Dublin wrote 5.1 million words this year and I am beyond proud of every one of them.
  • I have written four complete novels
  • I have edited two of them to what I feel is query-able standard
  • I've queried one of them (The Curse of the Carberrys - my own favourite of my books so far, I think, but probably not the best one) and had positive feedback, but ultimately it hasn't found representation. I'm still looking but it's slightly on the back burner in favour of a newer project. I feel I can wring another edit out of the second edited one, The Ripple Effect, and improve it a lot, so I haven't queried that yet. That's slated for January/February 2015.
  • I have two more incompletely-edited novels that I feel have potential (whether it's the character, the voice, the setting - they each have something in them that I got right) but that need major edits. I plan to turn my attention to these after The Ripple Effect (April 2015-ish). It was from one of these novels, The Soldiers of Bruges, that I read at the Irish Writers' Centre and at Dalkey Creates to positive responses, so they are definitely still on my radar.
  • Speaking of which, I've read my fiction at two open mic events, once in the premier literary venue in the country, and one of them on a Sunday afternoon in Dalkey, when my friend Catherine turned out to support me and one of my favourite YA authors EVER was in the audience and I had to not fangirl at her because no one deserves a fangirl hepped up on cinnamon and steamed milk. I pretended I was telling the story only to Catherine because otherwise I would have fallen off the stage. After both events, writers I respect hugely were kind about what I read and how I'd read it
  • I have had done professional freelance content writing, which I loved more than any other paid work I've ever done (although travel writing was a close second)
  • I'm looking into self-publishing two non-fiction/travel titles

But the book deal I've dreamed of since I was a kid, and worked solidly towards since I was 25, eludes me.

Given that nice bulleted list of achievements, do I even care?

Of course I care. But every single thing on that list started as a baby step, that I thought would lead nowhere, but taken together, it's not a bad list.

  • I sent a Nano mail to a friendly lady who was already an ML for Dublin, asking if she wanted help. She said yes, and became a friend and a mentor.
  • I started every one of those four novels with a blank page, a churning stomach, a hot beverage and a flimsy idea. One of them started as (I kid you not) 'Torchwood with fairies and not everyone is necessarily bisexual.' One of my friends still asks me about that novel and that is what she calls it ('Have you ever gone back to Torchwood with fairies, Ellen?')
  • I sent every query for The Curse of the Carberrys with aforesaid churning stomach, and I never imagined I'd get a response, let alone a positive one with useful feedback.
  • I signed up for the open mics convinced I would be rejected.
  • The freelance content writing came my way through no action on my part, I must admit - a former employer needed a writer and thought of me. They still hired me based on a sample I was afraid they'd hate, though.
So what do you do when you've been chasing your dream for five years and it feels like it's no closer?

I don't know what you do, but here's what I do.

I sit down and I quantify what I have done - even if the list is short, even if it consists of no recognition, just your own efforts ('I sang for twenty minutes yesterday. I emailed someone about my painting. I followed four YouTube tutorials and photoshopped my pictures'). Even if the list makes you laugh. You've done stuff - own that. It's better than not doing stuff. Even if the stuff you've done isn't directly related to your dream, it proves you have it in you to do the things you need to.

I tell myself that there are new innovations exploding around me all the time, that I have some ideas unlikely to find a mainstream audience so self-publishing is something to consider, that we might be telling our novels on YouTube in five years, or YouTube might have dropped into the ether, like Bebo. But avenues we can't even dream of are opening every day.

I tell myself that it takes years to be an overnight success, that I didn't rock my first job out of college either, that my first college essay probably sucked (I don't remember but if it was good, I'd bloody well remember that), that it may be my fifth or sixth book that gets me to where I want to go. It may be my tenth. I can't control that.

But I can control this. If there's breath in my body and I can sit and type, there will be a fifth and a sixth book. There will be a tenth book. As artists, all we can do is do the work. No matter how many people are doing better than us, no matter how demoralising and crap it all looks. I can't promise that I will post here this time next year and tell you that I have a book deal (although I hope I do, maybe even sooner than that).

I can promise you that there is a blank page, and that I will fill the fucker.