The writer's struggle is real

“It must be tough, I thought, making it as a writer only to realize your struggle is just beginning.” Malice, Keigo Higashino

This week I’ve been reading Malice by Keigo Higashino, a clever cat-and-mouse murder mystery, that is more about the why than the who. But what struck me, even more than the smart writing, were the parallels between my own writing life – indeed, most writers’ lives – and two of the characters.

Two novelists, one unpublished and the other already published and an award-winner, have this exchange:

‘I was worried that without any real connections in publishing, I’d have to start sending in submissions blindly and hope for my own new-author award.’

‘Oh, don’t bother with those. They’re a pain in the ass. Half those things are just luck. If what you wrote doesn’t suit the tastes of the underlings reading the slush pile, your novel will simply get cut in the early stages and never even see the light of day.’

‘I’ve heard the horror stories.’

‘Yeah, it’s brutal.’ Malice, Keigo Higashino

When you’re at the start of your writing career, you are full of hope and dreams. You know about the horror stories: the never-ending slush piles, the fickle market, dreams shattered and elusive Lady Luck. But, you cross your fingers and hope. You hope that you are one of the ones who won’t have to struggle. That’s pretty much where I am right now. An agent is reading my manuscript (that’s awesome, right?) … and I’m hoping (also checking my emails a lot).

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So, I’m waiting for feedback, just as the budding novelist was a bit later in the novel. He’s hoping his published author friend will open some doors for him.

‘Good books grab the reader, pull  you in. Maybe it’s a case of having the right ingredients but lacking the right recipe.’

‘Well, what part in particular doesn’t work?’

‘The characters just aren’t compelling. And I think it’s because the story’s a little too … pat, tidy even.’

‘Do you mean it feels contrived? The story and the characters lack dimension?’

‘Something like that. Don’t get me wrong, for an amateur novel I think it’s quite good. The writing’s fine, and the story elements are all there. It’s just the way those elements are put together isn’t compelling enough to grab the reader’s attention. Or to get published. Technical skill alone doesn’t make a salable product, you know.’ Malice, Keigo Higashino

 

There are a few messages here – one is that sometimes what you’ve written simply isn’t enough. It isn’t ready. It’s not good enough … yet. Maybe it won’t be. How hard a pill is that to swallow? Rejection is something all writers experience at some stage, but it’s never easy.

And sometimes it goes deeper. Sometimes talent isn’t enough. There are so many other things that affect whether a novel gets published – and even if it does, whether it sells. Confession time: ever read a novel by someone with a big name and thought it wasn’t fantastic? Not because of sour grapes, but because sometimes, names do sell, no matter what.

As I said, I’m waiting for feedback and it’s a bit of a nail-biting time. Most people advice either taking a break or getting started on a new novel straight away. I did the latter. Started the new novel … and then wondered if that was the right new novel … I wrote a thousand words and then froze.

Again, the budding novelist echoed my thoughts:

“I started in on my next novel right away. However, my pen seemed reluctant to write … sometimes I would spend an entire hour at my desk torturing myself over a single turn of phrase, trying to make it work.” Malice, Keigo Higashino

I haven’t touched the new novel in two weeks. I’m trying to finish a short romance I committed to writing and that has a deadline. A self-imposed one of January 31 – I’m almost there. At this point, novel #2 doesn’t have a deadline, so I can afford to hold off. But the elusive second novel is hovering at the boundaries of my writer’s mind, teasing me by withholding words, dangling ideas like a carrot in front of a horse.

Ah. The writer’s struggle. It’s not easy, but now that I’m on this journey, I’m not getting off the rocky track any time soon.

For more information about Malice, click here.

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