The Joy and Angst of Writing by Lisa de Nikolits
|Lisa de Nikolits|
Ninety-seven percent of my writing life is angst and three percent is joy but, you may ask, if it’s that awful, why do I it?
Because, as Gustave Flaubert said: “Writing is a dog’s life but it’s the only one worth living.”
I guess that being a writer is like being an athlete; you train relentlessly, you push yourself as hard as you can and then even harder, you get up early, eat precisely prescribed foods, sleep regulated hours, limit your social life, fall down, get up, get injured, heal and start all over again… yes, writing is just as tough on the body, mind and soul as any of the rigors endured by professional athletes.
Of course, the long years of rejection are the most intense angst of all and I admit that once I The Hungry Mirror was published, things felt much better! But that happiness, like most writerly happiness (I’m sad to say) is short-lived.
Shortly after your book is published, you have the celebratory launch and you feel on top of the world (there’s 0.5% of the joy), and you fall into bed thinking that the world is the most fabulous place imaginable and that you’ll never ask God for a single thing again (you know, all those prayers where you promised God that if He (or She) just got you this contract, that you’d never ask for another thing again…) and you fall sound asleep; happy and grateful and relieved … and then you wake at 2.33 a.m. with a volley of thoughts hammering your brain, matching the hammering of your pounding heart.
I’ll never write again and even if I do, it’ll never get published and if it gets published, no one will read it and what I am thinking, never mind the book of the future that doesn’t even exist yet, what about this book, no one will like this book, no one will read it, bookstores won’t stock it, it won’t get reviewed, it will be universally ignored, all those years of effort and toil will be in vain.
You lie awake in the darkness, staring at the ceiling while to your right, your spouse snores lightly, oblivious to the viewfinder of horrors that have just flashed before you. You contemplate waking him to share but the poor man’s experienced enough of your post-midnight epiphanies about character development, plot twists and turns, not to mention the ongoing book title conundrum… no, you need to let the man get at least one night of uninterrupted sleep.
You decide to console yourself by thinking about the next novel you’re working on. Okay, so the book you just published may well end up being nothing at all but at least you have your writing, your happy escape into the world of your imaginary friends (this accounts for another 0.5% of the total joy).
You finally fall asleep, carried away on the dreams of some adventure and when you wake, things feel marginally alright.
You decide not to think about the book you’ve just published; you won’t think about it at all – it must find its way in this world – you decide you’re going the route of tough love.
You return to your novel-in-progress and a whole new angst floods your senses. The book is rubbish, the writing is puerile, have you learned nothing? You sit in your study, writing hat in place, gnawing at your lip, despondent.
But you force yourself to carry on, to just work on through it, and you bounce plots and ideas off your spouse, you write and rewrite and rewrite because you’re that athlete, aching, out in the wilderness of training, pounding onwards, because the alternative of stopping, is much worse.
Your study is papered with timelines and tips, pictures of the locale you’re talking about, photocopies of your research and you finally stop.
It’s time to send it to your publisher.
You email her and package up the hard copy and post it off and sink into gloom.
For three long months all you can think about is the oncoming rejection. You look for omens: there’s a hawk in the sky – is that good or bad? You avoid cracks in concrete, pluck daisies (she rejects me, she rejects me not), you try to manifest success, project positivity and try to converse with colleagues and friends without mentioning the only thing you can think about.
And then it comes. The evaluation letter. The manuscript is good but it’s not ready for publication yet.
You weep. Six years spent on this novel. You can’t do any more. You email your publisher.
“I can’t,” you say, “I just can’t.”
You go to bed still weeping. You wake, swollen and sorrowful.
“I can’t do it,” you tell your spouse, “I can’t.”
Half an hour later, on the way to work, you turn to him in the car.
“I have to try,” you say.
He smiles. “Knew you would,” he says.
And so you do. Another eight months, hat on, gnawing at your lip, grappling with sentences, characters and style.
You send it off again. And spend another three months waiting. Nothing about books is speedy.
Then you hear the great news. The novel has been accepted for publication! Another 0.5% of joy!
And you are truly happy! Ecstatic!!
Your thoughts return to the novel you published the previous year. It did just fine and you were amazed and gratified by the readers who emailed you and posted comments – their appreciation accounts for a whole 1%. And now, a year later, you hear from your publisher – it won an award! Notch up another 0.5%!
So there you go… the breakdown of three percent joy and ninety-seven percent angst of writing!