Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England
About 12 years ago my husband bought me a laptop so that I could 'write that book I had always wanted to write'. This was the most thoughtful and ridiculous present he had ever bought me. I was a relatively newly qualified solicitor; I was busy all day and tired all evening. Anyway, I had a deceptively angelic looking little dog and we had to spend our evenings together wrapped in a blanket watching West Wing. I won’t labour this point as I have laboured it continually since I started this column but then two things happened that made me realise what 'busy' and 'tired' really meant. I only used the laptop to buy shoes online and update my CV. About three years ago, he bought me another laptop so that I could write my book. Because I think there are lots of frustrated writers out there, and maybe (hopefully) some people that might read my book one day, here is my experience of the writing process.
The first thing I did was to buy lots of stationery. This is, of course, essential. I think it was Dickens who said that before you start writing a book you should go and spend £50 on pretty notebooks and post-its in Paperchase. I also bought a huge piece of card to outline the plot and timelines.
The problem was, I was too scared to write on the card. I’ve looked at it again recently and there are a few words on it, but they are written in very faint pencil in case they were all wrong. Apparently I am a lot less confident as a writer than as a lawyer.
I read a number of guides to writing. The tips are the same in all the books, the first being to read lots. I read Grapes of Wrath for the first time and decided the best thing I could do was put my laptop in the bin and burn the big piece of card. My husband (who you may have worked out by now is an actual hero) bought me some rubbish chick lit to read and I realised that maybe I could do this. I yearn to be as good as Steinbeck, but maybe I don’t have to be.
Because mood, confidence and all these things really matter when you are trying to be creative, I have continued to yo-yo between writing as furiously as I did that day I emailed Keir Starmer about…I can’t remember what it was about but I know I was enraged…and staring at a blank screen wondering who the hell I think I am.
In these moments I have found a number of houses on Rightmove that we really should probably buy despite us not needing or wanting to move, scrolled endlessly on Twitter (my new recommendation being @SellingAMirror) and diagnosed myself with various illnesses on the NHS website. I’ve also made the mistake of watching late 1970s Bruce Springsteen videos on YouTube (distracting, but also see above re Steinbeck).
Again, the writers’ guides all say the same thing - just write. It doesn’t have to be good (as you may have noticed over the last few years) but it does have to be written. They also say to write every day. Now, this is a difficult one as I spoke to the people in Greenwich but they have refused to add in a 25th hour. But they are right. My biggest tip is to just write, and write regularly. It is much harder to pick up the threads after even a few days.
So now I have a manuscript of 80,000 words. I think I could make it 10% better if I stared at it for another six months, but equally at the end of those six months I might want to try to make it another 10% better. Is there any worse combination than being a lawyer and a writer for perfectionist tendencies?
The next stage is for me to get an agent. This is only one step towards publication but in itself is a hard one. If you think conveyancers get a lot of emails, try being an agent. I attended an evening class on making a good submission - depending on the agent this roughly includes a cover letter, a synopsis and about three chapters - and then, one day when I wasn’t expecting it, something came over me and I made my first submission.
It was rejected. I have made two further submissions but the advice is to make about eight to start with. I’m making them slowly because, like with job applications, I don’t want to rush and get the agent’s name wrong or not meet their submissions criteria - you can guess that those submissions go straight in the bin. I am not deterred. Malorie Blackman had 82 rejections before she had a book published.
It is hard to do something you might not be good at, to put your heart into it and then send it off for someone to reject out of hand, and I am only telling you about it because you don’t know me. My friends think I catch up with work on my days off and work thinks I am involved with the PTA on my days off. But I know I need to write, I needed to be able to look back on that little girl that wanted to write and say I wrote a book. I want to make it clear to my kids that you can follow your dreams even if they don’t make you lots of money, that being expressive creatively is important in its own right (even if they do try to beat it out of you at law school) and - admittedly, they don’t need any further lessons on this - that if you are persistent enough you just might succeed. Thank you for sharing this experience with me, and I will keep you updated.
*Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article