It’s stuck, I thought, mild panic and frustration itching at the back of my teeth. I can’t get it out!
The words wouldn’t flow through my fingertips. All these thoughts and feelings without names and faces were twisting in my gut, poisoning me one by one.
And still, my eyes scanned over the past storylines I had been feeding my soul to for the past three years. Three different stories with three different worlds and feelings.
And I didn’t know which one I wanted to go into.
Because that’s the thing for me. Writing is a coping mechanism for dealing with living in this reality. It’s simply to deal with the disappointment that Middle Earth and Narnia don’t exist.
The first disappointment came when I was nine years old and my mother told me Peter Pan wasn’t real. Further woe arose when my family told me, no, it wasn’t possible to become a mermaid. Of course, when I was a teenager, I realised these things, but complete misery hit when I discovered the world map was in fact, the entire world and there was nowhere else really to explore.
No new civilisations, no magic dimensions and certainly no Aslan.
Writing became the closest gateway I could create to go elsewhere. The closest thing to a reality I could dictate. It didn’t matter that I lived in the Midlands in England. I could be drinking in a bar in a medieval setting, about to steal a magical harp from the silent man sitting in the corner. I could be dancing in the 1920’s, sent on an undercover mission to get revenge on officers from the First World War. Or I could be sitting in an apartment in London with a glass of gin in hand whilst I solved a crime.
I could do anything.
My fingertips attempted to tap out a sentence for a dystopian London novel I’ve been working on for a year. But irritation soon flared at my own storyline. About how my main character lacked the depth that my other characters seemed to have. Of course, it was about building her up. She was the newest MC I had written about. But I needed instant gratification that only a three thousand word sprint with a fully released subconscious could give me.
I was stuck. So stuck.
Making a sound of disgust, I changed documents and decided to attempt to work on another novel based in 1922. Embarrassment hit me. Everything had happened too fast. Too fast for it to be believable. I had so much “bulking” and “backstory” to build. I’d dived in for the jugular too soon.
So clumsy, my brain wailed. Such clumsy world-building.
I took a breath, swallowing down the rising irritation. Just think of a scene you want to write, I told myself. Where is it you want to be? What is it you want to say?
But the events of the past week had drained me. It was like all power had been sucked from my hands and brain. I was reminded of the scene where Hercules loses his immortality as a baby. How the light from his skin slowly dims until he’s nearly mortal.
That is how I feel. As though the light has been sucked out of me.
But I need to go, my mind screamed. I need to go!
I’m a self-published author. I’ve been doing my own thing now since 2012. But after hearing a friend get himself a meeting with a literary agent at Curtis Brown – it highlighted my own failure to get represented. Jolted me out of my nightly writing stupor.
Could I wholeheartedly say that I had been fully applying myself to this journey?
Had I consistently been sending my work off to agents? Had I been polishing up my query letter? Synopsis? Perfecting my first three chapters/50 pages for the chosen agent’s approval? How was my writing CV looking? Was my pitch line still exciting? My blurb still intriguing?
The answer was no.
I hadn’t. It wasn’t.
There was such a deep-rooted fear that I would be turned down anyway. Sure, each time I finished writing a book, I would send it off to an agent with a flickering hope. But with the knowledge that only 2% of writers get published, I told myself not to be disappointed when the rejections came in.
And come in, they did.
It didn’t matter how much I “wanted it.” It didn’t matter if I thought other books were trash. It didn’t matter that I had a degree in Creative Writing. Or had been trying to get a book published since I was thirteen (I still have the rejection letter from Harper Collins rejecting my fantasy novel with hand-drawn crayon illustrations from 2001.) That meant fuck all if I wasn’t applying myself and making it a daily or at least weekly priority.
So I started taking things seriously. I took a short course in how to create the best “pitch” in my query letter. I began researching agents and their client list, what they were looking for, and if they were open for submissions.
I stopped waiting for perfection (there’s no such thing) and simply sent out my work. I learned recently that there is no such thing as “perfect.” There will never be a perfect product, a perfect time, or a perfect scenario. By waiting for perfection, you are putting off progress.
And so, I am sitting here, in the midst of waiting to hear back from agents with no energy spent on concocting new twists, new dialogue, new developments. I feel as though all of my creative ‘juice’ has been sapped into that vortex of hoping for a chance from someone.
There are times when you can battle through writer’s block. And there are times when 2am comes and goes, and all you’ve written is a paragraph of dialogue.
I closed my laptop. A sadistic pleasure twisted inside of me. A terrible, dark and ugly thing to take pleasure from something that’s been giving me misery for the past week.
You see – writer’s block serves sometimes. It creates frustration. Angst. Annoyance. You go to bed each night and drag out your dreams or nightmares and then mould them into serving you the next day. Maybe you’ll see an interaction in the streets. Maybe you’ll see how someone’s expression slowly changes, exposing some hidden vulnerability in their face.
Maybe you’ll become inspired by something new. Something old.
Something good. Something terrible.
Because that’s what it means to be a writer. To be a good writer, it’s not about writing whenever you want and having it flow perfectly. It’s about the journey. The highs and lows.
It’s about those dark nights with an empty bottle of wine and half a page of mediocre dialogue. It’s about staring at the screen for six days in a row, still not knowing how to develop your plot. Because with that also comes the days where 2k words fly from your fingertips in one morning when you’re so excited about your book that you barely even have lunch. When you read back your work and enjoy what you’ve written.
There is no such thing as perfection.
No perfect time. No perfect product.
And certainly no perfect journey.
It’s like what Ernest Hemmingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
And that’s good enough.
Elizabeth Earle is an author and artist from Warwickshire, England. After obtaining a BA (Hons) in Creative Writing, Elizabeth went on to self-publish six books, The Girl with Nine Lives, The Girl who Bit Back, The Girl with Ten Claws, The Contract of Maddox Black, The Hunt of Maddox Black and my latest being The Rising Shadow of Maddox Black. She spends her days as a professional watercolour artist and runs a blog/vlog at www.earlewrites.com, following her adventures renovating and sailing a storm boat in the Caribbean during hurricane season, and now exploring the English waterways on a canal boat with my rescue street dog, Leela. When she’s not playing pirate on a ship, she spends her nights in a 1920’s bar, solving a murder in a futuristic London, or pickpocketing in some medieval dance hall.