On Wednesday this week, after more than four years’ work on my novel ‘The Heartland of the Winter’, I finally clicked ‘send’ on an email submission to a literary agent. I’ve just taken my first step on the road signposted ‘publication’. It’s certainly a long and winding road, and it’s probably also poorly-lit and potholed. And the destination at the end of it might not be quite what I had in mind. But hey, you’ve got to set off sometime if you’re ever going to get there.
So what comes next? Well, I’ve taken the decision not to worry about that too much right now. Instead I’m going to take a well-deserved break, and enjoy being unpublished.
What’s that? Enjoy being unpublished? Surely being published is so much better? You get recognition for all your hard work, and of course payment. If you get enough payment then you can quit your day job and do nothing but sit around the house all day in your dressing gown drinking tea (or gin) and dreaming up imaginary people and their imaginary problems. Brilliant.
Well, maybe. But that’s all very much in the future, and instead of wasting time in daydreams, it’s better to enjoy the here and now. And in the here and now are the manifold but sadly oft-neglected pleasures of being an unpublished writer. To whit: you can write whatever you like, whenever you like, without worrying about whether there’s a market for it or not. You can write the most lurid fan fiction about Spike and Jack Harkness doing unspeakable things with that guy from accounts* without fear of being sued for copyright violation, libel, or indecency. You can come home from work, pour out your feelings and vent your frustrations without concern that you are exposing too much of your inner life to the public gaze. You can write in whatever genre and style takes your fancy – romance one day, gothic horror the next, medieval murder mystery the day after that. Short stories, flash fiction, doorstopper epics – all are within your remit.
Best of all, writing is always a pleasure, never work. Admittedly it’s a pleasure you sometimes have to force yourself to indulge in – rather like that run you know will make you feel great once you actually get off your bum and do it – but a pleasure nonetheless. With no agent, publisher and rabid fans clamouring for the next instalment, you can indulge yourself in flights of fancy which provide a delicious escape from everyday life. Once you get published, writing becomes your everyday life, and you’ll have to think of some other form of escape.
Does all this mean I don’t actually want to get published? Of course not. I’d love to see my work in a bookshop window. But with the future uncertain, I’m going to make the most of things the way they are, for as long as they stay that way.
*disclaimer: I have never written anything remotely matching this description. But if you have, I’m not judging.