Friday, August 30, 2013

The road most traveled

It has been an eventful summer. I have completed the writing of my novel and I have withdrawn from the writing competition which initially prompted this blog.

There is something inherently selfish in completing a novel. I have created a book filled with imagined characters: a scarred girl from Northern England with a fiery temper and a story-teller's tongue; an abandoned young boy who lives in a world filled with polar bears and ice-caps, motor cars and flying machines; a middle-aged Irish cook with a lust for good food and tasty men; a Liverpudlian giantess who thaws the heart of a frozen Slavic serving maid; an eccentric Russian doctor who is the founding member of the New York Optimists' Society. It is a book about immigration and story-telling, a book about how we fictionalize history as a route towards imagining an alternative future, a book about how far we can escape from the truth before it catches hold of us once more.

Alongside the final stages of my writing, I was also imagining my own future: I thought I was destined to take part in a reality television show in which I could showcase my story, improve my craft, and explore ways of marketing my book. I imagined myself as an apprentice to the publishing world, learning valuable lessons from a wide-ranging panel of literary experts. Imagination can be a valuable asset in dreaming of one's possible future, but it is not a reliable planning tool when one is dependent upon the whims of other people. Since May, the competition has changed dramatically: it will no longer be filmed for television, the competition winner will be awarded a prize which has shrunk considerably over the past four months, the format of the show has shifted, and the financial costs of involvement have increased exponentially. Whereas I imagined something akin to American Idol where the judges would coach contestants, it now seems (although it has been difficult to gain any clear information regarding the actual format of the show) that the judges will have little impact upon participants' professional development.

Participation in this competition demands a significant investment of my time and money, and it no longer represents the best possible investment for my own writing career. I don't doubt that this remains a good opportunity for the right person - the winner is guaranteed publication and a national book launch -  but it is no longer the kind of opportunity I want. If I was a successful contestant on American Idol I would be a better singer by the end of the show because of the judges' expert input, I wouldn't only build a brand for a song I could already sing.

I wish the remaining four contestants the best of luck, and I know all their books will be well worth reading. In contrast, it is possible that I am taking the road most traveled: over the coming months I will be following in the footsteps of the majority of first-time novelists, many of whom never reach publication. I will be attending conferences, meeting with agents, and sending out my manuscript (knowing the statistical likelihood of it ending up in a slush pile). I'm one among many, but I have imagination, a hunger to learn, a good tale wrapped up in the pages of my book, and the same degree of optimism as the characters in my novel. This blog will continue to tell the story of that journey: it might be another path, but I'm continuing to move forwards.