Cause for celebration or commiseration?

Cause for celebration or commiseration?

(This is going to be one of those posts that might get on the nerves of the optimists among you, so perhaps bear with me rather than tutting. I could do with a bit of compassion and understanding right now.)

On Monday I completed a book I began more than four years ago. Coming in at a fairly slender 73k words, it’s provisionally entitled Belle Dame, and it’s the first full length work I’ve managed to finish in a whisker over six years. Someone said the other day that it’s the dream of many people to actually write a book and that finishing one is a cause for celebration, but I’m ambivalent about it these days.

But finishing this book is a bigger deal than that. Around six years ago, a variety of connected events pretty much ended me as a writer. They almost ended me as a person, and while I’m not going to go into details, they’ve left scars. Compounded with the insidious effects of Dexter my parathyroid tumour (now removed) and the effects of joint hypermobility syndrome (which is much more than being a bit bendy), I lost the flow and the joy of writing books. Belle Dame was a project that tied into my exploration of finding some healing for the original events and the knock-on effects, as well as more prosaically being able to say, “Yes, I am still a writer. I’m working on X book.” I’m actually working on about five other books too, but none anywhere close to completion.

Belle Dame was also a way of trying to find a kind of closure denied me in real life, and that function of the book meant that I could not think how to end the story that honoured my beliefs and philosophies, as well as being a satisfying ending to the tale itself. It was, to put it bluntly, a real conundrum. I set myself a final deadline of Monday, saying to myself if I did it, I would use birthday money to buy a special treat I’d been coveting for over a year. When I did type THE END on Monday afternoon, I felt flat. I’d seen over the last few years other writers on social media waxing lyrical about what a terrific feeling it is to type those epic words, and how fabulous it it. Yet I felt nothing more than a sense of relief, and a sense also of mild dread. No one has read it yet (except me of course and I don’t count) and I’m not sure I want anyone to. I can’t face even the well-chosen critiques of people who love me and love my writing. I certainly can’t face the idea of publishing it. To put it out there for anyone to read and rip apart, horrifies me. Equally, I’m not sure I can face the more likely reality of publishing it and having an echoing, deafening silence because no one buys it and no one reads it, because no one really cares (out there in the big bad world of books) how long a book took an author to write or what it cost them in terms of emotional angst and agony. The bottom line at present seems to be this: if it’s free, people might grab it but not read it, if it costs a few quid, a few might take a punt on it, and if it’s priced the same as a posh coffee, your friends might buy it to support you. There are too many books out there these days to have much of a chance of gaining attention if you don’t write in the really popular genres and if you’re not also an entrepreneur.

A friend made the suggestion that perhaps I should return to seeking traditional publishing deals, because getting attention and sales for my kind of books now is perhaps beyond the remit of self-publishing and my skills therein. That too I cannot face. I’ve been through that mill twice, with all the pain that entails. I’m also pretty anti publisher. I am, to quote the friend, between a rock and a hard place.

Little Gidding Girl is also stuck. I’ve decided that the only way of avoiding a whole world of trouble with permissions and copyright issues without basically supping with the devil, is to rewrite the last fifty pages so that they work without the quotes I’d originally used (believing at the time that a publisher would deal with that side of things for me. How naïve I was.) This will take more courage and energy I have right now. I suspect I’ll wake up one morning and think, today’s the day and just do it, but at the moment I cannot get my brain around it. Again, the feeling of dread persists. I don’t want to publish the book and after half a dozen kind friends buy a copy, for it to sink into the swamp of forgotten books. It boils down to this: people read for very different reasons from the ones I write for (if that makes sense). I’ve never written solely to entertain and while my books are entertaining, there’s more than that to them.

I bought my treat with some glee, but I don’t feel I have achieved any sort of inner celebration for this book and that’s dreadfully sad. This may be connected to the very persistent low mood aka depression I’ve begun to realise is probably my lot for life now; the inability to feel anything is a classic symptom of depression.

But all that not withstanding, I did it. I finished the book and next time you have a nice glass of wine, whiskey or whatever your tipple is, tip that glass to me and wink, and silently whisper, “Congratulations!” and maybe I’ll feel it too.

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8 thoughts on “Cause for celebration or commiseration?

  1. Also tipping my cappuccino to you. It’s both dreadful and ‘nice’ to type ‘the end’. I’ve never felt a huge exhilaration completing a ms. If anything, a low level anxiety about it being ‘out there’. Good on you for getting yourself a birthday treat 👍

    • Loved this post as it addresses the fears many of us, myself included, feel when trying to finish a book. Not that I know a lot about it but I have taken years to write a novel that is loosely based on my own life issues. The thought of others reading it both scares me and comforts me, but to finish it means a decision looms. Thank you for sharing your thoughts as it’s good to know I am not alone. Well done for having the courage to finish. Cheers!

  2. From a fellow writer I share your pain and concerns about releasing your book, and how best to do it. Or even whether it is worth doing at all. I too have several medical conditions, as well as intermittent depression, so I can sympathise greatly there also. Writing can be a brutal process – the endless hours spent on the laptop, the sometimes indifferent responses, the less than stellar sales – but if you are anything like me you cannot stop writing. I can’t give advice to other writers, because we are all individuals, with different needs and problems. All I can say is what works for me, and that is taking small steps at a time, so I don’t become overwhelmed with the enormity of what I need to do, and taking pleasure in small doses from wherever it comes. The usual stuff also applies – good food, plenty of sleep, exercise and time spent with friends and relatives all help me a lot. Good luck for the future, and congratulations on writing your book, which is a huge achievement.

  3. Writing books is honestly so hard, and I’ve always felt like I really respect authors for doing it. Especially because we have SO many books out there right now, and making it can be so hard. Even by the sheer numbers – some just won’t be noticed, maybe because of luck or timing. It takes a lot of courage to write.
    I also happen to be one of those readers who don’t think that books are solely for entertainment. Literary still exists. Some books aren’t written to be pretty or fun. Or to replace a TV show. I know I’ll always read books like that. Some books are written for a very narrow audience and aren’t even meant to really ‘make it’… regardless of whether you publish it or not, it’s a chapter closed and that should be good enough on its own. They say that sometimes people divorce because they have changed in different directions. Your story about writing the book reminded me of just that. Sometimes we can’t predict how we will change. And that’s okay.
    Either way, congratulations on finishing!

  4. Certainly this is a conundrum that others have gone through, and it’s important to find your own solution. When I fell into a similar pit of despair, I made a deal with myself to just gloriously write everything I wanted to write (essays, memoir, stories, “that novel”) and then leave a note to whomever survives me to either publish it or burn it. Ha! I was indulging in future fantasies, but it worked to release me from angsting over the present. We write because we can’t NOT write. What happens to the written project upon completion? Well, that’s none of my business, as the buddhists say with a smile on their face. Sometimes we get too attached to the results and forget the joy of just creating. Flowers bloom even when no one’s watching. Is it really important to get published and read? I wonder a lot about that.

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