It was eleven pm and I’d finished a few hours working on a difficult part of my children’s novel. I’d run out of steam and my eyes were hurting. It was time to call it a night but the siren call of the internet, which I’d ignored all day, stopped me closing the system down. Ten minutes emptying my in-box was just good housekeeping and there might even be something important and life changing in there. Peculiar how you convince yourself to ignore your tired eyes and behave like a four year old who doesn’t want to go to bed in case they miss something. But I was glad I did because I came across this post and it made a great deal of sense.
Mark Manson’s question ‘what kind of shit sandwich would you be prepared to eat to realise your goal or dream in life’, isn’t something I’d ever asked myself because my drive to write was so strong that I was prepared to take any amount of rejection in order to succeed – and at the time, success was getting published. But what happens in the low periods, when inspiration or the so called muse escapes you, what drives you then – that’s where your eight year old self comes into play. Back then, when I scribbled stories in an old exercise paper, I had no idea of publishing; I wrote because just the very business of escaping into a world of make believe, all of my own making was worth it. I wrote the kind of things I enjoyed reading, reproducing the pleasure and the excitement over and over again. The writing itself was enough, even though it wasn’t very good but at the time I was happily ignorant of that. It wasn’t until I grew older and got distracted by puberty that I wrote less and when I returned to it at different times over the next few years, I’d find I’d hit a brick wall – not writer’s block – I just didn’t have the skills or the technique or the tools to carry on.
The shit sandwich of rejection that would be coming later, had a different filling to the one I had to chew then – I had to write in order to find how to make my writing work now I could see that it wasn’t good enough, wasn’t convincing or credible and that my reader wouldn’t suspend their disbelief. Looking back on things I wrote during that period, I can see some outstanding scenes and passages amongst the dross but at the time the sandwich of failure was hard to swallow. It was excruciatingly painful. You can take classes and join writers’ groups but the only way through this period is to keep on writing and I wanted to be a better writer so much I was prepared to do it.
If my eight old year self had been told I wasn’t any good and I should stop, would I have given up? I don’t think so. I was a very determined, bloody minded, ‘I’ll show them’ kind of girl – and maybe that’s what you need to keep going, because there are plenty of nay sayers along the way and plenty of cutting comments and the further you go in your career, the more vicious they can become. So it might have made me cry but it wouldn’t have made me give up. I’ve always taken heart from William Goldman, the writer of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” who said “Nobody knows anything.”
In his blog, Mark Manson asks what kind of olive do you want to eat with your sandwich. My olive has always been to get better at what I love doing because if I get better, then the chances of being published or produced are increased and also because at the end of a long day’s writing, I can go to sleep with an easy mind, a sense of fulfilment and if I’m not too tired, a quick look at the internet.