Last night, I saw an interview with Thomas Keneally on a TV program. Keneally has published over forty books and has been writing for about fifty years.
Often, when I listen to novelists speak, I feel discouraged and depressed. It seems impossible to ever reach the level they have achieved. But Keneally was different. He said a couple of things that hit home for me.
Firstly, he said: “write first, get it right later”. He reinforced what I’ve heard before and what I should know, that you need to get your story down, do the editing later. Don’t let that critic in to stop your flow of thoughts and ideas. But it’s hard to stick to this. When I heard this, I suddenly realised I had stopped writing my young adult novel, because the critic had taken control. For weeks, I’d been on Chapter 14 and not budged. Prior to that, I was writing one chapter a week! So I put my head down, fingers to the keys, and got back to the writing. And now it’s flowing beautifully.
The second thing he said made me smile. He said that as writers, we’re made up of fifty percent uncertainty and fifty percent artistic arrogance. The arrogance is about us thinking that the world needs and wants to read our books. Both are so true. I swing from feeling self-doubt and uncertainty about my stories, to being incensed that my work doesn’t always get published. It’s an interesting mix.
So I sally forth, feeling a bit less isolated in my writing career, determined to keep going. One bit of feedback I got from a manuscript assessor for my junior fiction novel, “Seeing Dogs” was so uplifting, that I feel driven to get it published, no matter what. Sally Odgers, a multi-published children’s author, read “Seeing Dogs” and told me there was nothing wrong with it. The problem in getting it published is with it not fitting the market. I’ve got some choices about how to remedy this, one being self-publishing, the other being condensing it into a picture book. I’m considering both, but still searching for that elusive publisher.
The other bit of encouragement that is keeping me motivated and my fingers on the keyboard is an acceptance of a couple of my pieces by Harcourt, the educational publisher with whom I’m now aligned. They’re non-fiction pieces for a year six literacy unit, but it’s a foot in the door. I love this type of work: it’s challenging, exciting, and a new learning curve in terms of knowing how to write for the education market.
So I’m going to practise what Thomas Keneally preaches: write first, get it right later.