Friday 1 April 2011

Ambition and Anonymity

I saw on someone's blog that there's an A-Z April challenge. Everyday for the entire month, bar Sundays, you have to write a post about a topic that begins with that day's letter. Usually I find those things kind of twee, but as I'm new to this whole blogging thing I thought that it would get me into a habit of posting regularly. So I decided to take up the challenge.

I've decided to start with a double post on ambition and anonymity, since the two things are linked for me. My ambition, since I was a small girl, was to become a published author. My parents were both vociferous readers, and passed on their love of books to me. I read more than a hundred books a year, and I'd hate to see a tot up of exactly how much my habit costs me.

I wrote lots as a kid. I won poetry competitions, and short story contest at school. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but the cautious part of me knew that I had to have a back up plan. I went to college and studied history, and later the history of medicine. I started my novel dozens of times, but my critical inner-editor always clicked in and stopped me from progressing more than a few pages. The words on the page just weren't as good as the words in my head, and try as I might I couldn't seem to improve them. I didn't have enough confidence in my work to continue.

Everything changed in 2009. I finished my college finals, and got a pretty good result. I moved in with my fiancé, got accepted for a master's course, and was preparing for my wedding in August. It should have been the happiest time of my life, but it wasn't. I felt listless, and even small movements caused me pain. Some days it was an achievement for me to just get out of bed.

I enjoyed my wedding day, and had a great honeymoon in New York. The pain and fatigue still held me back to some degree, but I had a wonderful time and would go back in a heartbeat. When I came home I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disorder of the central nervous system, characterised by chronic pain and fatigue. My rheumatologist told me that while there was a two per cent chance I would recover, it would be healthier for me to accept the fact that I would probably never get better.

My first thought was relief that it wasn't something more serious. The relief was short lived as I came to realise just how much my life had really changed. College became difficult, it was hard for me to physically get to classes, never mind do the assignments. It came clear that after graduation, getting full-time employment would be difficult. I'd always been academic, and I felt that lots of lives paths were becoming closed to me. Being in pain all the time takes its toll on you mentally. I was in a very dark place.

In an effort to distract myself, I started writing short stories. Inspired by brilliant urban fantasy author Richelle Mead, I decided to try writing in a different genre. I started Ravensborough - this year's ABNA entry, as part of Nanowrimo and became so involved with my writing that it became a sort of escape. I was also reading a lot of women's fiction, their message of overcoming adversity to find lasting happiness spoke to me at that time, and I found a natural voice in both genres. To be honest I put more effort into my writing than I did to my coursework, though I still got a decent grade.

I now write my books full time, with the odd bit of freelance journalism thrown in on top. It suits me, as I can work it around my condition. On good days I can get a lot of work done, on bad days I mightn't write a word. I'm lucky that I have a supportive husband, he's encourages my writing and believes in me more than I believe in myself.

I haven't told anyone in real life that I'm writing. I'm quite a shy, reserved person, and the idea of putting myself out there and telling people that I want to be a writer makes me feel quite vulnerable. I want it so much, that failing will hurt me so badly that I'm not sure if I want other people to know that I'm a failure. That's where the anonymity comes in, I guess. I entered ABNA sure that I wasn't going to make it past the pitch stage, but thought that it would be a good way to practice the rejections that every writer gets. When I was lucky enough to make it to the quarter finals, I was overwhelmed. That coupled with my favourable vine reviews made me think that maybe I do have something.

Don't get me wrong, an awful lot of good books were probably thrown out unfairly, and a few bad books probably scraped through. But I'm still proud. It gave me the confidence to set up a blog under my real name, and a determination to get published somehow. In that sense, even if I progress no further, I've got a hell of a lot from this competition.

Telling other people though...I don't know. I'm still working up to that :)


  1. Congrats on making through to the Quarters! I got cut this year, after making the semis last year with an inferior version of the same book. Them's the breaks... Good luck in the next round. And with the blogging challenge. I thought blogging wouldn't suit me, but I found I love it.

  2. This is the first year I entered the contest (I wish I'd known about it before) because it's actually very encouraging, as opposed to all those query rejections.

    I understand you being reluctant to tell people you're a writer. I hesitate to tell people I'm a "writer" because they always want to know what I've published and then I have to stumble around and try to tell them I'm a writer at heart and mind but not quite there yet in the publishing aspect of it all.

    Good luck w/ the contest. I read your excerpt this morning and really liked it.

  3. Thanks so much Jeana! That means a lot :)

  4. I'm coming to this post late. I enjoyed reading about your mixed feels of ambition and anonymity. I on the other hand remember practicing for getting interviewed by Rolling Stone in high school. Just in case.

    The A-Z challenge is a good one. Will have to try it some time though I wouldn't do it every day. Good luck in the contest. Did you know that in 2008, I made it all the way to the Top 3? They flew me out to NY where I had dinner with the other finalists, and staff from Amazon and Penguin. It was fun though I didn't get the book deal.

  5. You made it to the top three! Wow, that is such an achievement. Was it with your current book or a different book? And did you manage to sell it in the end?

    I love the idea of you practising bring interviewed for Rolling Stone. You gotta dream big ;)

  6. It was for a book called Prospect of My Arrival. I didn't sell it, but I did get both a great manager and a good agent. Agent sent it to a dozen places and gave up. Manager got a great screenwriter to adapt it and it's almost ready for pitching to film studios. I'm self pubbing it with CreateSpace so it hopefully can be for sale late May. The book is about the first embryo who is allowed to preview the world before choosing to be born or not. A satire on the modern world.