It was just a…


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.

The end

©Jane Paterson Basil


50 thoughts on “It was just a…

  1. Well if it really was a dream, you learned something about yourself, didn’t you… (Secret… I was asked to write for an online publication. I told them no. I think it would take all the fun out of it for me.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No one will tell you your work is rubbish. Even the most famous writers have had dozens of rejections before an acceptance. I’m just too lazy to send work out.. Don’t let fear be your motivation to not send it!!

        Liked by 2 people

            1. That would suit me if only I could bring myself to focus on it.
              Maybe I’ll take a look at Mslexia and similar mags tomorrow – tomorrow as defined in India. When I had a retail business. I did a great line in Indian silk scarves. If I went to the wholesalers and found they were short of stock, I’d ask when they’d have more in. They always said tomorrow. Tomorrow often took a month or more to arrive 🙂


                    1. Haha!
                      Manana, and manana, and manana. Creeps in this petty pace from day to day. To the last syllable of recorded time… Macbeth – sort of 🙂
                      If you didn’t write that post, I wonder who did?


          1. It’s posssible that you’re right. If I ever have a really brave day I may take you up on that offer, and email the stories to you.
            I’ve messed about with them so much that, rather than improving them, I’ve probably ruined them anyway, .

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, let’s get serious here. Sending work out is scary. It gets rejected. Which feels like you got rejected. And which also feels like the universe just told you not to bother writing because your writing sucks. This is all total bullshit, of course, but that doesn’t stop some voice in your head from proclaiming it. Over and over again. Very loud.

    As long as you don’t send work out, there’s no limit to your dreams, so sending it out also means that you’ve got to pour yourself (at least somewhat) into those narrow little forms reality insists on. And that’s off-putting as well. How much sweeter to keep it at home.

    So why send it out? Because having an audience completes the circle–at least for most of us. I do know a writer who genuinely writes for herself. No problem, then. She doesn’t want or need an audience. Most of us do, though. The only reason I can think of for a person who wants an audience not to look for one is if she gives her work a cold, hard look and decides it’s not ready yet, and then goes back to work to become better.

    I’ve published three novels–conventionally. I don’t self-publish. I have no argument with people who do, but it’s not for me. And I’ve had endless amounts of work rejected. It’s part of the game. Some of it, in hindsight, should have been rejected and some of it was the wrong piece of writing at the wrong time in the wrong place. Or as a faked-up rejection letter a poet I know posted on his wall, “This is not the shit we are currently eating.”

    LifeLessons is right: No one will tell you your work’s terrible. The worst they’ll say is that it’s not for them. (Actually, the worst they’ll say is nothing. I hate it when they don’t answer.) And that means you should try someone else, because it’s quite likely that it really isn’t for them but will be for someone else. It took me ten years and I don’t remember how many rewrites to publish my most recent novel, so lots of rejections. Over time, your skin gets thicker.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe I’m suffering a crisis of confidence or maybe the work I was thinking of submitting is utter crap – when I read through it I wasn’t happy with it. Before I make any kind of a decision I need to know what I’m aiming at, and currently I have no idea. I don’t want my kiddy stories published and I have no desire to write a novel. On the advice of an author friend I wrote a book about the horror of being the mum of two addicts – and I believe it’s good, if rather depressing. Unfortunately, I don’t want the world to read it. It would hurt my family too much.
      So, no matter whether my writing is good, bad or indifferent, just at the moment I have nothing useful to offer an agent or publisher.
      One of the difficulties of having addicted children pulling at my skirts is that it takes so much energy just to stay positive. Little room is left for making plans and carrying them out. Such is life, as my beleaguered mum used to say.
      So, you wrote The Divorce Diet – No, seeing as you asked, I haven’t read it, but that’s only because it hasn’t turned up in the Oxfam shop where I work. I haven’t bought a virgin copy of a novel for myself since about 1998, when I ran out of reading matter in a cafe near Victoria Coach station. That day I bought Ian Mcewan’s Enduring Love, and it was so engrossing that I almost missed my stop when the coach hit North Devon. The next day, coming home from work, I did miss my stop, and had to walk a couple of miles. That’s what happens when you buy new novels.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You do have to be careful what you read and where. When I was a kid, I walked into a lamp post because I was reading as I walked. Then I apologized to it, which even at the time I thought was pretty funny. That would make me sound like a literary kid, but I was reading a comic book.

        I see what you mean about the nonfiction. The people around us have to come first. I know of writers who’ve put their writing and ambition first, with disastrous personal fallout. For the other stuff, it’s hard to judge our own work. One day it looks great, the next day we might as well wrap fish in it. That’s the value of traditional publishing as opposed to self-publishing: Someone will stand in the way of our worst misjudgments. That’s also the value of tough readers (as opposed to the lovely friends who’ll applaud anything you write because it’s yours). But they’re hard to find. If I knew more about children’s fiction, I’d offer to read it, but I don’t.

        Finally, about used bookstores: I have a very strange relationship with them. I love them and buy a lot of my books at them. But in the U.S. (I’m not published in the U.K.–yet) I always check to see if they have any of my books. If they do, I feel bad that someone had the book but didn’t want to keep it. If they don’t, I feel bad that I’m not in wide enough circulation for one to have turned up. This is, I know, completely ridiculous, but I do it anyway.

        Stay the hell off public transportation.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s interesting that while you’ve managed to grow a tough shell where publishers are concerned, you’re insecure about seeing/not seeing your books in second-hand bookstores. Few people keep novels, surely – I even got rid of my copy of the Fan Man, by Jerzy Kosinski, after I’d had it for about ten years. I lent it out several times, and always got it back (!) because nobody but me liked it.
          I’d love a copy of your novel – I know humour is your forte, and laughter is my favourite exercise – better even than lifting a coffee cup to my lips. I’d prefer a grubby one (book, not coffee) as I always feel I have to be careful with unread copies. I’ll email you- and refund your postage if you give me your details.
          You wan’ I should walk everywhere? That’ll bugger up my half-planned trip to Sussex.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, Jane I had my head so far up my own backside getting ready for the sub, I didn’t read this until today. I’m really sorry if my suggestion has caused you any trauma.

    Submitting your work is tough and Ellen’s right, it hurts. I get many more rejections than accepted work and sometimes that’s okay, but when I like a story and it gets rejected I sometimes lose faith in it and never want to look at it again. Subbing isn’t for everyone, . I do it partly because I love writing so much and would like the excuse to write even more than I do now (so greedy!) and partly, as Ellen suggests – vindication. I DO have an ego and want someone to say my work is good enough to be published and bought by other people. I’m not sure it is yet, but that’s my aim.

    But the main reason to write is because we love it, and you clearly do, love. Your work is sharp, often very funny, emotive and truthful and I want more people to read it. But what I want isn’t relevant. You absolutely made the right decision. And if in the future you feel differently, this agent and many others still look at work outside of these special open windows.

    The main thing is that you write, that you love it. That’s enough. All best wishes dear Jane X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Please don’t ever feel bad for having a generous spirit. You sent that link to help me out. I was, and am, extremely grateful, not only for your kindness, but because it pushed me into having a serious think about what I really wanted. I feel inspired now I’ve made the decision not to try to get published for the time being. For months I was writing because ‘it’s what I do,’ – and I often didn’t feel like writing, but i couldn’t concentrate on anything else, either. All the time I was thinking I should focus on my writing future and yet I couldn’t. I felt panicky every time I tried to do something useful. Now I’ve got my head sorted and I’m enjoying writing. I don’t feel I HAVE to as I did before. I haven’t felt so happy or positive for ages, and the ideas are flowing. This is all down to you 🙂
      I mean it – it’s all down to you. I wanted you to read this post, to give me the opportunity to say that in context.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooh, Jane. You’ve got me all teary. I do hope you feel happier.It’s so great to hear you feel freer and more relaxed about everything.
        It is hard when the pressure from your own head saps the joy of the process. You write because you love it, because you wanted to share your experiences with people who might benefit from them. And you make me laugh, too – not your motivation but a pleasant by product. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I hope those tears are tears of joy 🙂
          I like it when my serious writing is appreciated and enjoyed, but I love inducing laughter. I love laughter more than anything.
          As for happiness, I don’t think I’ve felt this comfortable with myself and the world for years 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I know quite well the feelings expressed in your last paragraph. I have succeeded in some ventures, and failed in many more. But every time that I have failed, the failures were mine, not someone else’s, not a conspiracy or an attack or even unfairness in the system, but simply a failure to believe in myself, to invest in myself, to make myself do what needed to be done. And my successes were achieved by the reverse formula; by seizing opportunities and moments, using my strengths, and pushing forward. Not everything lies within a person’s grasp; failures are a part of life. But the difference between success and failure begins in your own confidence in yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true I have little confidence. It’s improved since I started blogging, but I’m fighting a lifetime of low self-esteem. Thank you, Paul, for taking the trouble to read and to comment – you’ve isolated the root cause of my problem, and now it’s up to me to do something about it.

      Liked by 1 person

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