I had a way of doing things with writing in the past that eventually burned me out. Taking on Donal Ryan's 'scattergun' approach - it worked out well for him, didn't it? - I was sending short stories out to journals and competitions left, right, and centre, whilst finishing my second book, ghost writing, writing articles, applying to arts councils and residencies, and keeping up voiceover work to pay the bills. I suppose many a writer would read this and say, so what? So do we all. But what I learned through doing that for a few years with an extremely low hit rate, if any at all, was that all that output with no response was extremely draining for me. Perhaps other writers thrive off the uncertainty, are even emboldened by it, but after decades in an artistic landscape, first as an actress, then as a writer and voiceover artist, I have come to tire of the 'no guarantee' lifestyle. For me, it seemed that the thinner I spread myself with writing, the harder it was for any of my work to land. I learned I need to sink in to a piece more deeply for it to render into what it needs to be. I need time and space and a slow pace - not just for the work itself but for my own peace of mind.
It's not that I never want to write again. I just want to write less. I want to care less. I want to be less hinged upon the outcome of pressing GO on Submittable. I am trying to cultivate a state that if I never do get a piece published or placed again that it won't affect me so deeply. Of course, it still does. But I am learning to let go more and more.
One of the ways I am going about that is to focus on one project at a time. So, as I finished my second novel (now looking for its publishing home through my lovely agent, Paul Feldstein), I did nothing else but that. I wrote my novel. I ignored, with difficulty, the many tweets about competition entries and submission windows, and what seemed like endless wins in the #amwriting news on Twitter, all the while fighting the mounting panic that I was doing something very wrong - that I was missing opportunity after opportunity, and slipping away ever more deeply into the shadowlands of obscurity. I forced myself to focus. I took a year or two and wrote until I was as happy as I could be with it, then I gave it into the hands of my agent. Then, I took a break. A long one. I didn't think about writing anything new. I didn't think about submitting anything old, with a new title, to the same journal, in the hopes I would do what that writer that I read about who did that once (was it Stephen King? Ian McEwan? Martin Amis? Google fails me) on the editors and this time, they would like it.
For a while, I was completely over it. Over writing, over trying to 'be' a writer, over everyone else who was one. I barely read for about a year. I could only read non-fiction, one chapter at a time, or maybe a short story here and there. Novels felt like a life-sentence - I think the only two I managed to finish were Kate O'Brien's Mary Lavelle and the latest Pullman Book of Dust - and that was HARD. What would ordinarily have been consumed in a day or two took me months to get through. The whole thing just wore me out, I think. Maybe it was because I had so many wins early on with my first book that felt so promising, all coming to nothing. About six years of that - it was extraordinarily demoralising, more than I realised at the time. I kept pushing through thinking, next one, next one, next one. I came to my senses, finally.
This blog post is really just an acknowledgement of all of that - that it was difficult, that it was trying, and that it ground me down. It is also a quiet marking of my recent first foray, after a long hiatus, of beginning to submit things again. I dipped a toe into arts council waters, and send a story out to one or two carefully chosen potential homes. I have already received one rejection. It smarted a little, but no matter. Quietly, gently, and with a lighter heart, I think I'll try again.
RM Clarke is a writer and voiceover artist. She has written for various literary mags and anthologies and won awards. She has put her voice to most things she can think of.