This business of writing, this craft of creativity is strange.
Creativity and industry are like two tracks, running parallel, sometimes crossing over, or intertwining. Other times changing direction, making choices, and moving slowly. And on these tracks sit the carriages of desire and ego. And you’re feeling them. You must get to that station. The one that’s called published author. Or maybe I’ve done it. Or possibly I’ve made it. Or insert your own title here.
Why do you want to get to that station? (Why would you put yourself through all of that, I was once asked. Because I do.)
Is writing part of who you are? Or maybe you write because you want to get published? Or become famous? Or get it out of your system? Or because someone once said that you could? Because everybody’s doing it. Perhaps you have always told stories. You cannot recall a time, especially as a child, when you were not telling yourself stories. And, in time, you began telling other people stories, and other people’s stories.
So, you’re a writer. You’re responsible for producing the words (note – the words, not the book, not yet). And you’re writing. Every day. You don’t need to nag yourself; you have your rhythm, and you’re dedicated to your craft. You’re doing it not just talking about doing it. You don’t feel yourself when you don’t write. And there are days when you think it will kill you – or you it – and the story meanders and takes routes you’d never even thought of, and your characters misbehave and do things they shouldn’t (they’re complex, remember?).
But you’re okay with this because it’s all part of the journey.
Tracks, as we all know, join, and split, and move towards each other, a singular destination for a journey. Beside creativity is industry. Without it what you produce is not going to move beyond that track, or even out of the carriage. Industry matters. It desires and needs creativity. But at the right time. On this journey towards the right time, you will probably experience rejection, false starts, large fails. Emails which said yes, but. Or no reply at all. Or we liked the writing but. It will be you and your writing. And silence. You might experience doubt. You will have days of despair. But you will also enjoy praise – how ego seeks praise! – and moments where time and life stop when you fall into the story, when you are lost in that carriage of creativity. You will call yourself a writer.
So you get to the station at the right time. The celebrations begin and you forget, then, about the push and pull of creativity, the desire, and the need, and the pain, and the joy. And you relish the pats on the back, the handshakes, the power of readers – your relations and friends at first, and then, at the book launch strangers. Complete strangers, wanting to and paying for your book!
This is it.
Over in the dark, cold station, the carriages sit, empty as used up wells. They no longer move, because they’ve reached their destination, and you wonder, momentarily, about the last colours in the fireworks that fly out of this emptiness. Your eyes strain, your ears concentrate, and then someone calls on you to sign your books. And you sit down in an uncomfortable chair, behind a desk, and start writing your name. Over and over.
You now know who you are.
Now that you’re published you know how, you think. But there is no how when it comes to creating. There is only the gut and the work. And persistence. And perseverance. There’s no time for mistakes, you think. But creativity wanders, tries and fails, and angers, and threatens to derail your industry plans, derail itself. It doesn’t want to be part of a package. It just wants to be. It doesn’t care that you’re self-published, or traditionally published. Or not published at all. Or your novel got a good review. Or you’re in the post-publication ego slump of what now? (But really there is no what now because industry wants you to already be finished your next work as it’s probably been nearly two years since you handed the first book to the publishers, but I digress).
This station – published author – is only one stop on your journey. You might decide to stay here. You’ve done it so no need to do it again. Or perhaps you take time (note the word time) to look for an agent, if you haven’t secured one, if it is what you want to do. The right agent for you and your writing not just any agent. You research, study, write, and re-write, before making any decisions. You will encounter rejection, elation, disappointment, joy. And again, you will create.
This is the journey. Remember, creativity doesn’t care about ego. It just is. We create stories – write fiction – in order to make sense of our world. Because what it really means to be a writer is to live and be vulnerable. To have the capacity for hope and disappointment; to reflect this in your writing. To be that mirror of emotion and action. Writing to be published is one thing. Writing because you do is another. Robert Olen Butler reminds us that the “desire to give voice and the desire to be published sometimes feel like the same thing, but they’re not. The dream that comes from your white-hot centre and the dream of fame – they are not the same.”
Be authentic to yourself, and true to what it is that moves you. Write every day. Write and re-write. Find and embrace your rhythm as writer. Truth can be seen, and felt, in writing. And in living. And despite impressions, industry needs, loves, and craves truth. Your truth.
(c) Shauna Gilligan
Shauna Gilligan is a novelist and short story writer. Originally from Dublin, Shauna has lived in Kildare with her family for the last 15 years. Her debut novel, Happiness Comes from Nowhere (Ward Wood: London, 2012) was described by the Sunday Independent as ‘thoroughly enjoyable and refreshingly challenging’. She has received numerous awards for her writing including an Arts Grant for Literature and the Cecil Day Lewis Literary Bursary for Literature in 2015. She is represented by Andrew Nurnberg Associates Literary Agency and is currently working on her second novel, set in Mexico.