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Rules for Writers: Part Three by R.M. Clarke

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RM Clarke

R.M. Clarke

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You’ve done all that – you signed up to a lifelong writer’s group, had your journal submission dates etched into the calendar, and re-mortgaged your home to enter every writing competition you could find – and all you’ve gotten out of it is enough rejections to wallpaper your hallway. Which is just as well because you can no longer afford to buy any.

At this stage, the phenomenal stories of twenty year old writers fresh out of college selling the debut novels they wrote in their summer holidays for seven figure sums is starting to wear somewhat, as are the ones about the media-friendly authors who have rewritten lesser-known indie books under new titles for major money and huge marketing campaigns with global publishing companies. You are starting to realise that the world of writing doesn’t just not make any sense, it isn’t bloody fair.

It’s vital that you try to gain an eagle-eyed view of the situation. Yes, stories of incredible success like these can sometimes be as disheartening as they are media catnip, but in the echo chamber of our screen-centred worlds where the personally tailored algorithm colours everything they can appear larger and more numerous than they actually are. It might be wise to turn off Twitter for a while, to mute your news updates, and unfollow a few people whose current rise is making you feel as though you want to pile up your rejections and bury yourself under them.

It’s not that you’re a jealous sod. Well, it’s not just that you’re a jealous sod, but you are also human, and sometimes when you want something desperately and it remains out of your reach, when it seems to come easily to others it can be, understandably, painful. And it’s much easier to throw your pain on the dartboard of someone else and hurl your disappointment at them, rather than sit with it and wonder why it is there.

Now would be a good time to ask yourself why. Why do you feel so awful? Why is a large part of your happiness and the value you attribute to yourself dependent upon achieving a certain outcome with your writing? Why is your world built on the conditional tense, when you only ever write in the past?

Why on earth do you even write in the first place?

Getting to the bottom of these questions can be murky work. As soon as you think you’ve hit on the reason, you see another one peering out from under it, like you’re trying to pull the hair you lost while crying in the shower out of the plughole. There are lots of reasons why people write. To understand things. To explore things. To journey to places never been, to places that cannot be visited. To feel things. To make others feel things. To feel heard, seen, or appreciated by others. To feel important, or expert, or even omniscient. To feel special. To feel like you’ve actually done something with your one small life, something that will make it seem like it’s all been worth it. If you have written something, or a lot of things, and even now after all the trying no one, except that one friend and your cat – and the faceless editors who have all said NO – has read it, it can drag you into a major what’s-the-point state. The reader part is important, you bleat; the story has to become ‘not your own’ for it to be fully realised. It’s all too easy to say, ‘I write for myself, I don’t care who else does!’ But you know you don’t really mean it. You feel – you know – that a piece of writing cannot become a piece of ‘writing’ until it joins the waters of the society that inspired it. If it isn’t in the discursive flow, then you, the author, are not in the discursive flow, and so neither you, nor your writing, exists. You’re back in the wilderness again, alone.

But, persist. You remind yourself that most writers have to slog it out for years. Some, like the genius Jean Rhys, didn’t achieve real success until decades after she had begun to write, when, she remarked, ‘it (was) too late.’ Some have to die first before they see – or fail to – the fruits of their labour. That was mostly centuries ago when people had a habit of dying long before they would make the ‘Thirty under Thirty’ lists, but still. If you haven’t yet thought about it, now’s an opportune moment to seriously consider the alcoholism route. It worked for Brendan Behan, didn’t it? For a while, at least. But who wants to live forever? That is, after all, now you come to realise it, exactly why it is you write.

You’ve finally figured the whole thing out. You write because you are afraid to die. And when editors tell you NO, it is like they are saying they’d rather you didn’t exist, anywhere near them, at least. And you want to exist; you want to be wanted to exist. And when you write, when you hit upon those rare moments when you’re no longer reaching for a thought, or struggling with how to make a character get up and leave the room, and everything is flowing out of you like gold is pouring from your fingertips, you feel as though you are soaring above yourself somehow, above the planet. Those are the moments you chase when you write, and hope to inspire in others when they read the things you have written, and it’s a very strange thing, really, because those are also the moments that you forget that you’re alive.  How is it, you wonder, that that the thing you are desperate for from others and the thing you are desperate for from yourself cancel each other out?

Perhaps, now, you can settle somewhere in the middle. The opinions of editors no longer determine your entire reason for being, and you think that, maybe, most of the time, you will make peace with living as you. It’s only writing, after all, you begin to accept, it’s not the end of the world, nor the beginning of it. It’s just something you do, because even though a lot of the time it doesn’t make much sense, things make more sense to you when you’re doing it. Yes, reconciling the opposites may mean that you end up walking in the middle of the road, and you know that someone important once said that was death for the author. But you no longer care. Even if you do end up taking the wrong path through the wilderness, at least it will be your own.

(c) R.M. Clarke

See here for Part One of this article and see here for Part Two.

About The Glass Door:

Then the leaves whispered, the branches creaked. Something was up above, watching. Hello? She could feel eyes upon her. She knew she was not alone anymore: Who’s there? Then a voice came back to her: You found me. After all this time.

The Glass Door is a haunting investigation into the deep, complex and often frightening labyrinth of the human mind, where three generations of Irish women learn to tread the difficult path of reconciling individual identity with social approval. It is a novel about absence and brokenness and longing, and a small and fractured family trying to figure things, and each other, out.

Set in the 1970s and 80s between the east coast of Ireland and London, Rosie’s story unfolds as she and her unwed mother Sandra chase her reluctant father across the sea, where he slips through their grasp and disappears, leaving emptiness in Rosie’s hand where a work-roughened palm should be. Mother and daughter are forced by failure and poverty to return home to the bitter embrace of Rosie’s grandmother, Marie, whose love for her daughter and granddaughter is poisoned by her desire for social acceptance. But the strange child Rosie grows increasingly stranger, especially at night, when her unpredictable behaviour becomes both frightening and dangerous. Sandra, coming under growing pressure, both from Marie and the society she lives in, must find a new man to take Rosie’s father’s place. But once she does things only get worse for her and Rosie. After years spent enduring years an increasingly disturbed home life, everything comes to a deadly climax.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

R.M. Clarke began her career as an actress in 2006, moving behind the scenes into voiceover and writing some years later. Her stories have been published in The Irish Times, Spontaneity, Losslit, The Open Pen Anthology and written for Dublin 2020. Her debut novel, The Glass Door, won the ‘Discovery’ award at the Dalkey Book Festival and The Irish Writers Centre Greenbean Novel Fair 2016. She is editor of and contributor to The Broken Spiral anthology in aid of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, published in 2017 with the assistance of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature. She was part of the 2018 XBorders:Accord writing project in association with the Irish Writers Centre and Arts Council Northern Ireland. She holds a BA and the Gold Medal in English from Trinity College Dublin. She lives in Wicklow.

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