Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Split the difference




I’ve just typed ‘The End’ on a novel I’ve been working on for over a year. I’ll let it ferment for a bit and in the meantime I’m planning a re-write on another project. This means that at some point in the next few months I might actually have two books ‘Out There’ in the submission machine at the same time.
A terrifying prospect, you say? Luckily I have a cunning plan.
I’ve hired myself a Submissions Assistant.
She’s efficient, straight-talking and – best of all - tough as a rottweiler in hob-nailed boots. She’s going to roll up her sleeves and trawl the Writers and Artists Yearbook, firing off subs by the bundle and having no hesitation in phoning up scary publishing types to demand they hurry up and bloody well read them. If any of the envelopes come back with rejection slips tucked cruelly inside, she’ll crumple them up in her ham-like fist and chuck them in the bin without a second thought. Then she’ll make me a nice cup of tea. And bring me a biscuit.
(Go on, admit it, you’re jealous, aren’t you? Well, hand’s off. She’s mine).
The best part is that she’ll do it all for nothing, because she is, in fact, a figment of my imagination. I’m thinking of calling her my Kickass Alter Ego tm or KAE for short.
Just in case you’re wondering if I have literally lost the plot here, let me explain.
This writing game seems to me to require two quite incompatible personalities in one person. There’s the wafty creative you, who spends a significant portion of each day in a land of make-believe, sometimes, ahem, actually preferring fictional folk to the real thing. But publishing is a business like any other and once you send off your baby, sorry, manuscript, it’s out there in a world where harsh realities, tough decisions and financial constraints are the name of the game.
Somehow we all need to bridge the gap between the sensitive soul who likes writing stories and the person who has to deal with (in the case of wannabes like me) rejections from agents, or (for those further into the process) tough-talking editors who casually ask you to kill off your main character, make the ending the beginning, or completely re-write every bit of dialogue. It would be nice if all this just ‘pinged’ off us, like cartoon bullets.
Some writers suggest you have a ‘writing head’ and an ‘editing head’, so you can dispassionately slaughter your darlings and cut swathes of unnecessary words when needs be. And it’s true that emotional distance is vital when it comes to honing and shaping your work.

Well, I’m just proposing you go that little bit further.

I’m not the first to come up with such an idea. Take the author Preethi Nair. She self-published her novel Gypsy Masala after countless rejections and pretended to be her own publicist in order to flog it to bookshops. She did such a good job of persuading them, that her made-up persona was shortlisted for Publicist of the Year (red faces all round there then). Nair eventually landed a major publishing deal.
Strictly Writing’s Sam recently talked about the need for rhino hide in this business. I don’t think I’ll ever manage that so maybe I’m proposing a kind of mental armour, which you only slip on when you need to put your creative side on hold and get out there with your elbows flying.

The strange thing is, I’m not half as sensitive and thin-skinned when it comes to my day job as a freelance journalist. I can negotiate fees with the best of them and a significant part of my day is spent cold calling interesting or clever people and trying to extract good soundbites from them. It’s just that when it comes to writing stories - which come from somewhere much closer to my heart - then it all becomes a good deal harder.
Maybe in time I’ll become a little tougher about the realities of publishing, just as I have in my other career. Who knows, I might one day successfully combine the sensitive writerly me with a right old business bruiser.
In the meantime, I’m sticking with KAE.
Now, where’s that cup of tea she promised…

29 comments:

Suzanne said...

Oooh, I like that idea. Much easier to be tough when you're pretending to be someone else.

:-)

Luisa said...

Brilliant post. I love this idea!

CarolineG said...

Thank you both! Apologies for mispelling 'wannabe' back there. Am too technically incompetant to go back in and change it, sadly!

BeckyC said...

Oooh an evening post! Great stuff - think we could all do with giving the hard-nosed side of ourselves a bit more free rein sometimes...

Emily Gale said...

So true! And I propose that we potentially have multiple personalities as authors, as I recently surprised myself by turning into Diva Author over the blurb for my novel - though fortunately I managed to put her on a leash before she did too much damage.

RosyB said...

I think a bit of compartmentalising is useful like you say here. And treating the nasty bits you have to do or the uncomfortable/embarrassing bits as the "job" bits, maybe. Or at least that's what I try to tell myself when I'm flaking about something or other.

All easier said than done, though. Approaching people in any capacity whether letting people know about your book or sending off subs is just...well, difficult and you never quite know what you're doing. And feels kind of unnatural too, doesn't it? Especially as a lot of writers aren't that forward in the first place. KAE sounds like a great idea and perhaps being a writer you can really flesh her out until you hardly know she isn't real. I love the publicist of the year anecdote. She must have been really something!

CarolineG said...

Thanks so much everyone for your comments. This was my first ever blog post and I was ridiculously nervous about it all! Really appreciate you all reading and commenting.lutedes

Geraldine Ryan said...

Great post, Caroline. I suffer from the same split personality but am working it. Has your girl got a twin sister?

CarolineG said...

Possibly, Geri, but I'm afraid you can't have her either
;-)

CarolineG said...

Strange random word in my earlier post. Where the hell did that 'lutedes' come from!!!

Samantha Tonge said...

Has she got a mother or daughter, then?!
Brilliant post, Caroline. I've found over the years that the standard rejections are a lot easier to take, it's the personal ones, ironically, that i find hurt more.

Goodness, you'd better start saving the pennies for stamps if you're going to be subbing two projects at once!

Sam x

bfs ~ "Mimi" said...

This is such an important post! Very, very good!

emmadarwin said...

Soooo true. You need some kind of business head, both to do this stuff, and to protect your tender writerly insides: to help tell the difference between feedback/information/experience which helps or at least helps you grow, even painfully, and stuff which is useless and perhaps damaging.

I also think you have to forgive yourself when even your KAE isn't capable of protecting you. Sometimes you do just have to mourn, or swear, at the death of a hope.

Gillian McDade said...

I completely identify with this Caroline!
And another interesting point I picked up on was the journalist in a 'cold-calling' situation. I have no problems with it, as I've been doing it for ten years in my job, but the thought of picking up the phone to contact an agent fills me with horror! That's why e-mail is my best friend :)

CarolineG said...

Yes, Emma, I think you're right and that sometimes it just darn hurts, regardless! Sometomes you have to feel it and then move on. Guess the danger is that the thin-skinnedness is in danger of paralysing you, like, ahem, with some people I could mention (ie me). Thank you, Mimi, for your comment, and Gillian - I would happily substitute the phone for email every time!

ireneintheworld said...

great post. thoroughly enjoyable read. x

CarolineG said...

Thank you, Irene. Much appreciated! x

Sheila Cornelius said...

Like Irene, I enjoyed reading this, a reminder of my New Year resolution. I'm not sensitive, but I hate the palaver of sending stuff out, and haven't sent anything for ages. I like to fantasise, too, about someone who does all the tedious stuff while I just do the writing. I need to remind myself how much I look forward to the post when I have submitted something.

Sheila

Sheila

CarolineG said...

Sheila, the penny has dropped that you are in fact 'Cornelia'! Thanks for your comment.

Leigh said...

You're quite right, of course, but a cup of tea's no good after that; I think I need a brandy.

Liane said...

I love this blog. Great idea and I´m going to use it. When are you writing your next blog so I can check it out? What a treat this was. Thank you

CarolineG said...

Thank you so much, Liane. New post on Friday from our Rebecca :-) Someone is uploading every few days.
Thanks again.

CarolineG said...

Oh and meant to say thank you to Leigh too :-)

Anne Brooke said...

Brilliant idea. I've been doing something like that for years - the trouble is my Kick-Ass Persona is the one I use when I write and my real Wimpy Me is the one who handles the business.

Sigh. I suspect that goes towards explaining a lot about my sad writing career!...

:))

Axxx

Geraldine Ryan said...

LOL, Anne!

Adrian Reynolds said...

Like the thinking, like the writing. And yes, however resourceful we are in some respects, learning to put them in the service of our writing selves is important: it's what makes the difference between a perfect manuscript in your desk, and a publishable one on an editor's.

Jacqueline Christodoulou said...

What a great post! I regularly pretend I am Tont Blair or Simon Cowell just before I do public speaking and that Deborah off Dragon's Den when i am in meeting.

Not only am I more confident but it diffuses the boredom!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Tont Blair? You must mean Tonto Blair, Jacqueline!

womagwriter said...

Great post, and so true! We do all need multiple personalities to get on in this game.