Quite a long time ago, with a lot of sweating and swearing and yelping, I hit the deadline for the manuscript of my current book. I whacked it off to the agent, after staying up all night, and then collapsed in a heap.
After all the rushing and striving and grand-standing, I had to wait quite a long time for a response. This sometimes happens, and I have learnt to deal with it. I am a pro, after all. At least the thing was done, and I could fill in the time by working on my other book, and, lately, on the new secret project, because I must always have a secret project.
There was, at last, good news. She loved it; she was very happy; she was fired with enthusiasm. She had plans.
Then there was a check. She thought perhaps it needed more work. A change in emphasis might be needed. A little structural tweak. She wanted to go away and think for a while.
I am a pro, I told myself.
Then, finally, finally, an email arrived. I read it so quickly that I did not fully understand it. I was clearly much, much more terrified than I had allowed myself to believe, and this seemed to blur my very vision.
What I thought it said was that she was losing faith. I thought that she was trying to shuffle me off, that really she did not like it any more, that she did not trust me to fix it.
I went into a wild defensive crouch. I kept trying to do the new draft, and could not. What price that famous professionalism now? I had many good excuses – complicated life mostly, but then everyone has a complicated life. In my experience, you only don’t do a thing when you don’t want to. The excuses are always bullshit, however good and shiny they might seem on the surface.
It took me two weeks to realise what was going on. What was going on was that I was FURIOUS. Not with the poor agent, who is a brilliant woman and who has stuck with me through vicissitudes which would have sunk a lesser human. I was furious with the whole shooting match. I was livid with the process.
Writing daily for the internet is a really good discipline. It has keen personal pleasures. I get to meet Dear Readers from around the world, and learn about other views and other lives. I can keep a record, which I like very much. There are precious jewels on this blog, which would have been lost to memory had I not written them down – there is the day Kauto Star won his fifth King George; there is Frankel in his pomp; there are my dear, adored old canine ladies, whom I still miss. The writing itself is important, as it keeps my fingers moving, locking the very act of writing into muscle memory.
But it is also horribly spoiling. I can write what I want, and it can go out into the world as free as a bird. There are no mediating market forces, cultural shifts, publishing shake-ups, economic turbulences to wreck it. It has a lovely purity and immediacy and ease to it. I write it; you read it. I am sometimes proud of it; you are sometimes bored by it. If it lags and sags, I must try harder. If I’m in the zone, it sings its song, and the Dear Readers smile.
I don’t have to do a tap dance, or a dog and pony show. I don’t have to edit and revise and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I don’t have to have any bloody meetings.
The perceived doubt of the email brought all those old rejections, imperatives, wilderness years into one ball of rage. Fuck them all, the childish voice in my head was yelling. I was not even sure who or what I was cursing. The fates, the demands of the job, life itself; the whole buggery mess and muddle.
I was so angry that I then refused to write at all, and listened to the Ashes instead. The voice of Blowers on Test Match Special was the only thing which made me feel as if my fragile world was not rocking on its axis. That, and the red mare, who rose to the occasion, and was more sweet and funny and responsive and adorable than I’ve ever known her. Each ride was more enchanting than the last, as if she knew that something was up, and understood that it was in her sole power to give me the gift of peace for two hours every day.
But then the Test Match was over and I had my deadline to meet and I had to stop being such a sulky fool and do the damn work. Otherwise I cannot keep the mare in hay. (I had tried, over the weekend, to win thousands of pounds on an accumulator so that I could retire on the spot, but it did not go well.)
Crossly, after too much coffee, I went back and read the email again, to see what it was the poor agent really wanted.
It said not one single thing I had inferred.
It was still filled with enthusiasm and belief. She just wanted a few small changes, and then it was all guns blazing.
I read it again.
What had I been thinking? She had written one thing; I, in blind fear, had read another.
I sat down and did all the major edits in one session.
I’ll still need to do some more pondering and have another polish and sharpen up some of the self-indulgent parts, but all is not lost, my career is not yet over, light is shining through the tunnel.
I often say that I am an idiot. Then I have to remind myself sternly that I am not quite an idiot, but an ordinary human who sometimes does extraordinarily idiotic things. There is an important difference. This is one of those idiotic things. Will I ever learn? Back to the drawing board I go, back to the schoolroom, back to learning yet another life lesson that I don’t seem to have imbibed.
Read your emails carefully does not sound like a lesson for the ages. But in this case, it really is.
Just one today, because I’m exhausted with all these revelations of my own folly. But it’s a good one, because it’s how I feel. Born free. And also because it’s of the person who has stopped me collapsing from mild hysteria into the very depths of the abyss. She really does have that power.