Three years ago, after I’d had my second short story published in Voiceworks magazine, I was emailed by an editor at a small publishing house saying she wanted to read my novel. I’d advertised this novel, (not the one to be published this year, but a different one I was working on at the time), on my Wheeler Centre profile. So, the editor had a pitch and, with the short story she’d read, a sample of my writing. That’s all any editor really needs to know if they want to take you on.
I got her email on the same night that I got another email saying that my third short story was going to be published in the Sleepers Almanac. I was quite a strange and excitable young man back then, only slightly less so now, and I remember I was eating a burrito in Melbourne Central train station when the emails came through.
I was working full time and would go to the train station after work to have dinner and do my day’s worth of writing. I chose the train station because it was away from my room (not having my bed in sight made me less sleepy) and they had free internet. I like to write with the net on.
After eating my dinner, I opened up the short story I was working on at the time and after ten minutes or so, I rewarded myself by checking my email. Naturally, I couldn’t write for the rest of the night.
My hands were shaking and I was delirious with excitement.
Having been sick with Crohn’s Disease, O.C.D and depression for a number of years, I had very little confidence in myself. Being chronically ill placed me in a constant state of self pity and doubt. I didn’t believe that I could do the same things healthy people could. Because, I guess, for a long time I couldn’t.
When I finally got well, I believed my limitations were to do with me, not because I’d been unwell. Even when my first two short stories had been accepted, although part of me was excited, part of me was convinced that the editors had made a mistake. When I got my marks for my honours degree, I believed the same thing. I had to bring down my achievements in order to match the inferior perception I had of myself.
However, when I got this email from the publisher saying she wanted to see my book, I couldn’t keep my self esteem down. Because I knew it was a pretty rare thing to happen and I had to have something to offer with my writing, otherwise I wouldn’t have received any attention for it.
As happens to people with inferiority complexes who suddenly and magically have reason to feel good about themselves, I became impossibly, unbelievably, embarrassingly arrogant.
I pinned my entire new-found self esteem on this offer. I bit off more than I could chew, overcommitted myself, put too much pressure on myself and couldn’t pull off the book. I finished it after nearly a year of writing, however, it wasn’t accepted.
I didn’t do very well after this. I fell apart, is the truth. It wasn’t only because of the natural feelings being rejected bring up. It was also because I knew I’d done a bad job.
I’d tried my absolute hardest and I’d failed. At this point, I became terrified of two things. One, my writing space would be tainted. And two, I’d become a ‘failed writer’.
From then on, when I wrote, I had to take it in short spurts because my mood would dip quite drastically and I’d start to doubt myself. I made sure to only write when I was enjoying it. This started off not being much at first, however as my next book, the one that comes out this year, started to build I became excited and wrote more and more.
Soon, I became absolutely obsessed with the novel and I started to look forward to coming home to it each night.
When I finished this next book, (which we’ve titled The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew, and is about a homosexual boy in the Melbourne orthodox Jewish community) I felt fantastic, because I knew I’d done a good job. And when it was accepted, I didn’t feel overwhelmed or overexcited. It just made sense.
Having been on the brink of becoming a ‘failed writer’, I now see what it means. It’s someone who stops writing because they never received the validation they thought they deserved from the publishing industry. Their whole reason they write is to get published and when they realise they probably won’t be, they see no more point in writing.
That was never the reason I started writing and won’t be the reason I’ll stop. Death will be.
Since this latest book was accepted, I’ve had the privilege of meeting several other published authors. What I’ve learnt through this, is that, at least in Australia, very few authors live off their writing.
It seems obvious now that I’m writing it. However, I would be lying if I said that a large part of my fantasy of being a writer wasn’t that I would be able to earn a living off it.
Now, that I’m soon to be published, I know the reality. I’ll probably never be able to live off this. But, honestly, that’s cool. It takes the pressure off. And I’ve realised (not to get too sentimental) that all that time I was writing while working on the side, I was already living the lifestyle of a ‘real’ writer. Because, that’s pretty much what it’s like now — and probably will be for a number of years.