There are times when I wish there was such a thing as a publishing confessor. Someone and somewhere I could visit, to rest my weary eyes as I cast them downwards in shame and ask for literary absolution.
It would save me the trouble of having to wrestle with my conscience the whole time. A go-to destination for all writing errors of judgement.
‘Forgive me,’ I would say. ‘I have committed that most cardinal of publishing sins, the mistake we are told to avoid more than most.’
‘Tell me,’ the confessor says. ‘What sin is this?’
I knot my fingers, wanting to share the pain but slow to admit my guilt. ‘Please don’t make me say it. I am ashamed.’
I can feel the eyes of my confessor upon me, a knowing glare. A shadow falls across the grill that separates us, the breathing deep and disappointed. ‘You mean impatience, do you not?’
The accusation is blunt and wounding. I was hoping for anger, at least allowing me defiance, but spoken so plainly it makes my actions feel worse. The claustrophobic confessional offers no place to hide. It’s time to ‘fess up and face the crime.
‘Yes, confessor. The worst kind.’
Silence so dark it hums.
‘And what form did your impatience take?’
There seems no easy way to say it. I try to edit the truth mentally but no delivery sounds promising so I resort to instinct, listening to myself in horror as the harsh recollection of events falls out of my mouth.
‘I have tried to engage with agents and publishers on social media. Specifically, Twitter.’
There is a cough. It is angst, I think, or learned sorrow.
‘You have Tweeted?’ the confessor asks.
‘Yes,’ I reply. ‘On more than one occasion I have attempted to interact with publishing professionals using light-hearted, sarcastic or falsely knowledgeable comments.’
The voice deepens. ‘You have tried to pretend you know something you do not?’
‘Yes,’ I sigh. ‘I have Googled. More than once.’
There is a rustle of clothing. And a tut.
‘Impatience is wicked,’ the confessor says. ‘All authors are advised against it, time and time again.’
I nod, sagely. ‘It is our nature to be impatient, I think.’
And it is. I know that writing a book takes time because I’ve done it. And I realise that editing should never be rushed or that finding an agent can be a relentless and mostly unrewarding process. Publishing is a long game, we are told.
But without impatience I’m not sure any novel would ever have been written. The need to move the story on, build a plot, dissect a character. The call for action is constant, relentless and obsessive. We have to let it out, get it down, move it on.
We are not built for what comes next. The waiting. The oh so painful waiting. If we were good at sitting back we wouldn’t be writers in the first place. Imagine if we were patient and half-way through a chapter our protagonist overcomes whatever obstacle happens to be in their way.
‘Right then, that’s that,’ a patient writer would say. ‘Well done MC, jolly good effort sorting that mess out. Think I’ll have some Horlicks and a digestive now. The End.’
NO! Our impatience drives the next obstacle, and the next, and the next until all hell breaks loose and we task ourselves with figuring out how to get our characters back on the straight and narrow. Or not. As long as it’s somewhere else.
Thankfully, like most conditions, there are things you can do to alleviate the symptoms. We can write (more), we can participate in competitions, we can communicate with fellow writers, we can read––yes there’s much we can do to pass the time. But like an aspirin, these remedies offer only temporary relief. They are merely ways of masking the symptoms and hiding the underlying problem. We are impatient. It is our nature. It is what makes writers write.
But all is not lost. I hear that there ‘s a cure. It takes time to work it’s magic and cannot be acquired lightly but I know writers who have benefited from it and I hope one day to find some.
It’s called confidence, apparently. (I think it’s pronounced CON-FEE-DENCE). And writers who have it seem not to suffer so much.
I’m told you have to earn confidence. You can’t buy it. I’ve looked and it’s not available on Amazon. It comes with craft. It comes with being noticed, for the right reasons. It comes with time and practice.
And for once, despite still finding my way, I think I can wait for that. Because I’m still trying to understand what makes good writing good and great writing great.
Or should that be what makes good writing great? You see, until I know the answer to that question, I’m not sure confidence would do me much good.