“The time has come,” the Writer said,
“To talk of many things:
Of agents--and publishers--and checking facts--
Of what you can offer and bring
To the agency’s list. And what they want to see,
And whether your story has wings.”
My first encounter with the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook was in the reference library time forgot. I pulled it down from the shelf by the dusty window, and stately carried it to the wooden table to sit opposite the man with the hacking cough. He didn’t put me off - there were a lot of people time had also forgotten in the reference library. Besides, I was told all authors consult the Yearbook at some point in their literary life, and I was desperate to join them.
And so my love affair with words, and the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook began. At first it was a shy courtship. I would visit it every so often in various libraries, bringing with me gifts of a pen and a scuffed notebook in order to jot down addresses and various nuggets of wisdom. I then progressed to photocopying pages, and using a highlighter pen, making multi-coloured wish lists of agencies and publishers.
I didn’t contact anyone though. I was still flirting at that stage, not ready to commit. Besides, I was poor, and buying the book was like buying the ring. Then, at least.
I first took the plunge towards the end of my illustration degree. I had written and illustrated two children’s books – both done with joy in my heart and naivety in my head. This showed when preparing the book to send out (and by preparing, I mean dashing off the first draft).
The next year, I decided to buy the book again and actually read it. I then somehow translated all that worthy advice to ‘I only need to write three chapters and send off my idea – the ending will come later!’ It appears joy and naivety still rocked my writing world in my early twenties.
I still bought the Yearbook when I didn’t actually write anything. Somehow real life swept me into a computer-filled corner for five years, where spreadsheets and phones and emails and cross-linking and management systems loomed large, and my own writing didn’t loom at all. But I continued buying the Yearbook, a pilgrimage to my secret dreams, an affirmation that one day I would return.
Then came a year when I didn’t buy it at all. It felt strange not to have it on my shelf, but I couldn’t bear seeing the previous years’ accumulating, each one reminding me of what I wanted to be once upon a time. So I hid them all, and tried to pretend it didn’t matter I wasn’t a writer. But deep down, it did matter. It mattered so much it hurt.
That year without the Yearbook swung it for me. I couldn’t do that again – I had to give writing a proper go. Put everything into it, all my money, all my time, all my energy. Make or break. And so this blog, and novel, started… yet I still didn’t buy the Yearbook. I wanted to prove to it, and to myself, that this time I have changed. That I’ve learnt from my mistakes; that I’ve listened to what it tried to tell me all along. I know I have to work at my writing, I know how hard it is to keep going, I know that I have to redraft and edit and polish and dust and do it all over again. I know that I have to be very sure when I send it out again that it is ready for someone else to read. And somewhere along the way the main point of being a writer changed – for so many years I thought it was about having a book on a shelf, and instead it was always only about writing a book I’d like to read. Now I understand.
Last week I went out and bought the Yearbook again.
Bad parody at the beginning of this post taken from excellent poem 'The Walrus And The Carpenter', by Lewis Carroll