My sad tale opens with what is considered to be the worst closing sentence for fiction known to man:
It was just a dream.
I must have been less than eight years old when everybody around me started to assume I had a glittering literary career ahead of me. When I think back, I realise that I can’t be sure that it was my idea in to start with – I have a memory of longing from a very early age to weave the kind of magic that writers wove, but I may have put that memory in place afterwards. However it began, by the time I was nine, I took it for granted that a writing career would fall into my lap when I grew up. Nobody told me that I’d have to work for it, and it may have been that unpleasant realisation that put me off. I didn’t like school because the other kids thought I was weird, so I didn’t fancy college.
From the age of fifteen I enjoyed/detested a range of interesting/not so interesting jobs, and in between work and sleep I did all the things humans do, including writing for my own pleasure.
About six years ago I decided I would be a writer. I got a computer, and obsessively wrote children’s picture books and adult stories. After about a year I sent a reader’s letter to a health magazine, just for the practice. It was published, and was the star letter – I won £100 worth of posh cosmetics, which, I may add, I never received. However, my little success made me brave. I researched publishers and agents, contacted an agent who sounded right for me, and got an automated reply: the publisher was not taking on new clients. Any normal, sensible person would have been disappointed, shrugged their shoulders and found someone different. Not me – reason flew out of the window. I took the response to mean that I would never have any success in my venture. I knew I was being irrational, and I kept writing, telling myself I’d look for an agent next week or next month.
Four years, and many, many pages later, I still haven’t made any effort to be published. Last week, my thoughtful friend Lynn at Word Shamble suggested I submit to an agent who’s currently promising to read and respond to any work submitted on a particular date. I decided to submit something. Since my chosen genre is picture books, which contain few words, the agent asks for three stories. I knew immediately which stories to choose. I wrote all these stories between three and five years ago, and haven’t looked at them for a while.
I got the first one up on my office programme, read it through and hated it. The wording was all wrong. I edited it until I was happier with it – although I still wasn’t sure – and then I went to the next story, which is about a baby bird that doesn’t want to leave its mother’s nest. It’s a lovely tale, but again, I didn’t like the way it was written, and I had to play with it until it felt better. There was another problem – I wasn’t submitting illustrations. In itself that’s not a problem. A book without illustrations is more likely to be accepted than one with them, because it allows the publisher free rein with the choice of artist and layout. but it stirred up added uncertainty. I have a clear vision of the layout and the illustrations. Without my layout, at least, the stories don’t ‘feel’ right to me.
Having edited two stories, I wanted a rest from it, so I researched advice on formatting, and went back to the first story to format it, so I could attach it to an email, and leave it in drafts while I did the next one.
That’s when the real problem came to light. I had not considered my silly little rebellion
against the capitalist machine; my stubborn refusal to buy Microsoft word.My Open Office software can’t fulfil the agent’s exacting requirements for manuscript submissions. This may be something to do with my computer. I don’t wish to go into the reason I think this, but I’ve tried to put another Open Office issue right, and found my nose scraping a brick wall. The issue I was faced with yesterday concerned headers, and there is no way around it.
Although the agent guarantees that they will give my submission attention, I don’t want to send an incorrectly formatted manuscript.
I was so frustrated by this time that I got up and kicked the sofa a few times, then I went into the bedroom and kicked the mattress of my futon – it would have been silly to kick the futon, because it has a metal frame which would have hurt my toes. Believe me, I know…
It didn’t help, so I returned to the living room and kicked the other sofa.
This was getting me nowhere. So I calmed down, and meditated on the problem. That’s when the answer came to me.
Because my head has been so firmly
rammed up my own backside in the clouds, I haven’t faced up to the truth, which is: for whatever reason, something inside me is blocking me from making any real effort to succeed. It may be that the success I fantacise about is not right for me, or it may be that I have to smash down the wall. If that’s the case, I’m not ready, so for the time being I am saying I don’t want my work to be published, because however my conscious mind sees it, this is the truth. I write. That’s what I do, and that’s fine.
As for the rest –
(wait for it, here it comes… my astoundingly original closing phrase…)
It was just a dream.
©Jane Paterson Basil