My daughter sent me this photo today. At first glance it looks as if I’m reading a book to the four grandchildren gathered around me. Sadly this isn’t so as on closer inspection we are all staring at my phone. Photos of them at the river, as I recall. We’d been swimming in the Yarra. But somehow it would have been an infinitely better picture of domestic bliss had I been reading an actual book to them rather than ogling technology don’t you think?
My two adult kids have often tag-teamed in life, so it was an intense two years when two-a-piece these four scamps arrived, a bit like an avalanche crashing down, but with the bonus of ecstatic moments. The youngest is seven now, the oldest two have recently turned nine, and the middle child has just clocked eight. To varying degrees I’m involved with all of them – sleepovers, the works – though not as much now as in their early years when their parents really needed my hands-on support. At the time this glorious litter of grandchildren first graced our lives I was a free-agent in my early fifties and had just started writing a novel. Until then it had been short stories. After my daughter’s marriage collapse, for a few years my writing world vanished. Kapoof, scattered to the winds. With two babes-in-arms, one 5 months and the other 18 months, my daughter needed as much assistance as I could offer. We do that as parents, and I would do it again if I had to (though god forbid it never happens!).
Time passes, and these days along with grandparenting commitments, squeezing in a bit of exercise, and my work as a psychotherapist and relationship counsellor, once again I am writing like the clappers. Sometimes I’ll look around at my writing buddies and writing community, awed that so many of them have now published novels and even second novels, or memoirs. And although I have had successes with my short fiction, without an actual book to my name, I feel fraudulent. Not the Real Deal. Not a Real Writer. All writers know or soon learn how incredibly hard it is to get published. Yet, ten minutes scrolling Twitter and Facebook, four new launches are being announced and applauded. It clearly does happen.
Last year, I put a full stop on my long-form manuscript. I figured it was as good as I would ever get it. By then several established author buddies had read it and given helpful and generous feedback. Based on this feedback I’d massaged that manuscript to the nth degree. At some point I realised I needed to stop tampering and not alter another thing. At least not until it gets picked up, a contract is signed, and the next level of editing begins. Industry professionals always advise a manuscript must be in its best possible shape before being sent out. I have now submitted to four agents, three of whom have respectfully declined, and one I’m still waiting to hear back from. Submissions, with their specific criteria, are a time-consuming and somewhat stressful process that tear you away from immersion in the style of writing you love. The type of writing where your mind roams free. It can be harrowing at times, the time involved in crafting submissions – for residencies, grants, competitions, agents and publishers. But I knew it would be like this. Submit, reject, submit, reject. It’s difficult to get picked up. The right manuscript, the right agent or publisher, at exactly the right time. And given the world is burgeoning with us would-be-published-writers, it’s imperative that at some point we set the time aside.
After a decade or so of slog it’s hard not to succumb to a sinking feeling of defeated, to question all the hours and days and weeks spent tapping at a keyboard, all those self-funded writing retreats, the myriad hours that can never translate into cash, the social invitations declined in favour of writing. Yet that is precisely what we do.
Towards the close of 2018 and seduced by the weight of defeat, I tweaked the lens on the kaleidoscope until a more pleasing picture dropped into place. True, I haven’t yet published an actual book. However, I have crafted three long-form manuscripts – a commercial fiction manuscript (we mustn’t call it a novel until it is one), a collection of literary short fiction, and an interlinked series of whacky stories about the perils of online dating – all ready to head straight to the labour ward, and birth. It could even be triplets. Imagine!
But it’s not simply acknowledging the volume of work that has helped put things into perspective. It’s my four grandkids, plus the two blow-ins (my step-grandchildren). It’s my two absolutely gorgeous adult offspring. It’s my dear writer friends. And of course, my life-long non-writer friends. It’s my original family. It’s all of this. The sum total of which adds up to a Real Achievement, regardless of publication. For now, I can live with that. But I do need to carve time and be a little more proactive about getting my work out there.