Here’s a guest post by author Tom Pollock, who wrote the fantastic City’s Son (and who was kind enough to blurb Under the Empyrean Sky). Here Tom talks about the fear all authors experience, and it’s a short but powerful horse-kick of a read. He nails it.
The truth about the fear is: it never gets any easier.
It’s March 2013 – I feel like I have a herd of specially miniaturized buffalo stampeding through my lower bowel and I’m sweating enough that if this writing gig doesn’t work out I could probably get a job as a water feature at Buckingham Palace. My finger’s hovering uncertainly over the return key on my laptop, pointlessly so, because I’ve already hit it, and even though I want to, I know there’s no way I can take the email I’ve just sent back.
I’ve sent in the last round of edits on The Glass Republic, the sequel to The City’s Son, which just enough people read and liked to mean that there’s a readership to piss off and disappoint if I’ve fucked this up. The book’s off to the printer’s tomorrow. That’s it. No more changes. It is now, officially TOO LATE. In my head, I can hear the typeset falling with the ominous thud of a coffin lid. This is the first time I’ve ever been in this situation with a book already out, and yet the sensation is eerily familiar. In fact this feels almost exactly like it did back in…
August 2012 – I’m sitting at my computer, furiously hitting refresh on Twitter as The City’s Son is about to break like a glorious, urban fantastical wave over the literary world. Anyone who has tried to talk to me for the past week has received a spew of hyperactive and incomprehensible mumbling in response, and I appear to have wholly lost the ability to hold objects in my hands. It’s been a year of eighty hour weeks, sleepless nights, and my fiancée pointedly referring to my book as ‘the other woman,’ and laying an empty place for it at the dinner table, a brilliant rhetorical tactic only slightly undermined by the fact she has to tell me about it on the phone, because I’m not at home having dinner because I’m writing my fucking book.
It all comes down to this. What if everyone hates it? Worse, what if no one reads it? Worse, what if they do read it, but simultaneously misconstrue and read too much into it and come away convinced that I derive sexual kicks from getting butt-naked except for a Nixon mask and choking the life from innocent penguins? No, you’re right, no-one reading it would be way worse.
GODSFUCKINGDAMMIT WHY WON’T TWITTER LOAD? I haven’t been this stressed since…
March 2009 – I’m sitting at my keyboard. The return key is still pressed under my index finger, and I know with a sickening certainty that no matter how slowly I lift my digit, even if I leave it there for ever and get catheterised and never leave my seat, it won’t get un-pressed again. There’s no getting that email back – the email that contains my query and the first three chapters of my novel. And even though in reality, if this agent rejects it, and the one after her, and the one after him, it won’t make the book any less worth writing; won’t make it any less a story I needed to tell, right now it feels like it would. I’ve spent a year and a half telling myself I can do this, and I’m terrified of finding out I was wrong.
It never gets less scary, I don’t expect it to any more. Also, I try not to let the fact that it never gets easier fool me into thinking it was ever really hard in the first place. Being a soldier is hard, being a miner is hard, being bloody nurse is fucking hard, and sure, being a writer can be hard too, but mostly it’s the “ Particularly Fiendish Sudoku” kind of hard, rather than the “I have to stick a catheter in this guy, then turn around and get up to my elbow in this other guy’s turd-canal, and then tell this guy he isn’t going to be around to see his daughter’s fifth birthday before heading home for three hours sleep before coming in to do it all again tomorrow” kind of hard.
Everything’s relative, and nothing worth doing is ever easy, and there are a million other things I could be doing, and so every now and then the question naturally arises: “If it never gets any easier, why carry on?”
For you, maybe it’s necessity, maybe your life, or your livelihood or your sanity really do depend on putting one word in front of another, in which case, like the soldier and the sailor and the nurse before you, go forth and do what you do. Godspeed to you. Power to your pen.
But if you’re like me? If it isn’t necessary, if you could be doing something else? Well then, I guess all you can do is smile maniacally at the backwards ‘QWERTY’ the keyboard raised in bloody bruising the last time you smashed your forehead into it, because apart from necessity, there’s only one other answer to ‘why carry on?’:
‘Because it’s worth it.’ And it is, I mean it really is.
What if I’ve forgotten how? What if the last one was a fluke? What if it doesn’t come, and still doesn’t come tomorrow, and again the day after that? What if I can’t What if I can’t What if I can’t?
It’s August 2013 and with a friendly herd of miniature buffalo thundering their way towards my colon, I sit down to write.