Dear Unpublished Dave,
I talk to myself.
Not with quiet, muttering, embarrassed to be caught, having a one way conversation with myself kind of chatter.
I’m talking full blown back and forth banter with arguments from all perspectives; a brass band where I play all the instruments.
This private episode of Q&A is very helpful for writing, acting out all the parts and getting into the heads of all the characters in all the situations I plunge them into.
However, it also has a dark side, where I can talk myself in circles. For years that talk was getting published.
It drove me up the wall, distracting me from the doing that needed to be done.
So, let’s consider this letter to my unpublished self as a kind of self-talk that you, dear reader, are overhearing in the next room, with a wiser version of myself urging the clueless one to just chill out a bit and concentrate.
So here goes.
To my unpublished self… forget about being published.
It doesn’t matter yet.
Believe me, old friend, I’m a month into this rollercoaster ride of publication. Though it’s enjoyable, there’s nothing to compare to the quiet satisfaction of tinkering with a story.
There is as much difference between the publishing of a book to the writing of the thing as there is between an elephant and pair of grey trousers.
Sure, their colour is the same, and they have legs, but that’s about it.
It is only natural to want to make the elephant wear the trousers, but you must know by now that this is neither practical nor sensible.
A writer writes. Nothing else.
A published writer polishes and then promotes the book and craves to get back to the page.
You became obsessed with cracking the code for publishing. For submitting. Getting an agent. Deciphering the Amazon algorithm. Attending workshops and focussing a great deal of energy on reaching the summit of the mountain you imagined was a publishing contract.
Which is fine. Perfectly normal. And yielded a good crop of experience and knowledge.
But let’s indulge the mountain image.
The summit is not being published. The summit is typing ‘the end’ on the very best draft of the book you can possibly muster from your blood, sweat and tears.
To ponder publishing while you are climbing the frozen face of the mountain is to saddle yourself with an extra burden.
Do not worry yourself with it.
Just grip the rock, put one foot in front of the other, and climb. Only when you devote your whole self to the writing, and nothing but the writing, will the ascent truly happen.
Then you will reach the highest height you can get to, and that will be the summit.
If you’re lucky, someone will see the flag you plant in the wind-blasted snow. Then the treacherous descent will be about finding a publisher to help your work make its way down, down, down to the valley floor where hopefully a decent crowd is waiting at base camp.
While you are exhausted someone will ask you when the next one is coming out.
And you will look to the mountains and see an endless corrugation of peaks beckoning you to try your muscles again.
Because being published does not make you a writer.
Only writing does – only the climb.
Keep that in the centre of your mind’s eye as firmly as you can, summon your grit and do the work, climbing without hope of external reward.
You will find that when you finally put aside your publishing thoughts and concentrate only on the writing that Locust Summer will begin to take shape.
One thing at a time. One foot in front of the other. After all, how better to get published than to have something irresistible to submit?
Do the work.
And for God’s sake, put a block on Youtube. That’s not research.
David Allan-Petale is a writer living between bush and sea north of Perth, Western Australia. He worked for many years as a journalist in WA with the ABC and internationally with BBC World. Written while travelling the globe over five years, Locust Summer was shortlisted for the The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award (2017) and was developed through a fellowship at Varuna, the National Writers’ House.
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