It’s the start of a new year, and what better way to get back on track than making a New Year resolution. Here’s a guest post from author, Sheena Wilkinson, on how she’s getting the year off to a good start.
Resolutions – The Magic Word
The mince pies are scoffed, and three squashed coffee creams lurk at the bottom of the Quality Street tin. New Year resolutions concerning exercise and abstinence have been broken/postponed. January again.
For the past two years I haven’t had time to make resolutions. I haven’t needed to: I had contracts for two novels, and as a fulltime teacher with a horse to look after, grabbing the chunks of time necessary to write two novels to tight deadlines was a constant, exhausting challenge. Grounded was commissioned in February 2011, for delivery in September 2011. Yes, it was an insane timetable but it was a YA sequel, and young adults grow up and out of things, so time mattered. Somehow it turned out well – it’s still the book I’m proudest of – but it was tough, involving a strict 5,000 words per weekend schedule, the abeyance of any kind of social life, no holidays except to writing retreats, and, perhaps inevitably, a bout of stress-induced shingles. When Too Many Ponies was commissioned, I had learnt some lessons, and that book was completed without notable deterioration of my mental or physical capacities – but the fact that it is a 35,000 word junior pony story instead of angsty YA Britgrit probably has most to do with that.
It was a tough time, but now, at the start of a new year which finds me in the incredibly fortunate position of having an Arts Council grant which will allow me to take a career break to write full time, I am nostalgic for the anxious word counts and the harsh discipline.
The magic word of course is contract. I don’t have one.
Too Many Ponies comes out in May 2013 and then it’s back to my agent lugging my wares around. It will be OK, I tell myself; it would be the silliest irony in the world not to get a contract now. You know that your WIP is good. But I also know that perfectly good novels are rejected. During those gruelling two years at least I was a real writer with a deadline.
And now –time, but no contract.
Like many writers, I thought that once I was published, all doors would open, especially as my first novel won a number of national and international prizes, but it hasn’t turned out that way. And it’s hard to keep going when you think it may all be for nothing. I’m past the stage of doing it for love.
But I have to do it for something.
For years, pre-publication, I gave myself deadlines that were as important to me as those imposed later by publishers. I did NaNoWriMo and learnt to press on with imperfect first drafts. I lived and breathed my characters and stories. And finally one of those WIPs turned out to be my first published novel – but I didn’t know, as I slogged at it, that it would be the one to break the cycle of rejection. I could only hope.
That’s what I need to get back – hope. And that total immersion in the story for its own sake. If I think of a year looming ahead without a contract, I feel so anxious that the temptation is to fill the year with writerly distractions – yes, I’ll teach that course/go to that conference/apply for that residency…
But this year is for writing. I have a potentially great novel started, and for the first time in ages I have time for the story to develop and grow without a delivery date looming. Yes, nobody may want it – but that’s a problem for another time. Fretting about it is not going to do the story any good.
Lots of writers are, like me, between contracts, especially with the current economic situation. Plenty more are still waiting for their first one, as I was this time four years ago, sending out Taking Flight, and hoping, always hoping.
So my resolution for 2013 is to try to forget about contracts and publishing. The time for that is when the book is done.
The magic word is story. Not contract. One thing at a time.
About the Author
Sheena Wilkinson‘s first novel Taking Flight has won many national and international awards, and was followed in 2012 by Grounded, one of the Irish Times’ Books of the Year. Her first novel for younger readers, Too Many Ponies, will be published in May 2013.