When I was a student and balancing the joys of food against the luxury of taking the bus in wet weather, I was on intimate terms with the secret language of Positions Vacant ads. Flexible hours, for example, meant the odd one when we feel like it or work all night and be grateful, and physically fit meant we really want men but we’re not allowed to say so.
But some ads spelled it out with unequivocal bluntness. Experienced sandwich hand was my favourite. Certainly I had experience in making sandwiches. Who hasn’t? But there was no escaping it. I lacked that special flair – that slap-scatter-spray-chop expertise that marks the pro from the amateur in the heady art of sandwich-making, and no one out there was going to help me get it until I already had it.
I feel the same about writing.
Until you’ve been published, no one will publish you. Work submitted seems to disappear into that apparently limitless void that spits back only a standard thanks but no thanks rejection slip from time to time to prove there’s somebody there. Or worse still, submissions are met with a vacuum of silence that sucks your soul into its stygian depths and returns it sometime later finely minced. There’s no suggestion as to why you’re not what they want: no pointers to say ‘give up’ or ‘keep going’.
If I had never published anything at all, I might resign myself to the fact that what I write is rubbish, badly constructed and boring. I wouldn’t give up, because writing is rather like breathing – once you stop, you’re dead. I wouldn’t be happy, either, because writing is about communication, and communicating with nobody but yourself does tend to lack that X factor. But I might be prepared to shrug, go back to being a closet writer and do my communicating by joining the local Scrabble club. Although when I think about Scrabble and clubs, perhaps not. But as it is, I’ve had enough success to want more, and the frustration of this creative Catch-22 is starting to get to me.
There are those who’d suggest the Universe is trying to tell me the whole journey was doomed, but the message I’m hearing, rightly or wrongly, is life wasn’t meant to be easy.
Perhaps one day I’ll be resigned to the fact that what I write just hasn’t got what it takes. Perhaps I’ll develop a consuming interest in the nightlife of ants and have no time for writing – or alternatively, develop a captive market in myrmecology magazines. But meanwhile all I can do is persevere, secure in knowledge that what doesn’t kill us makes us strong and at this rate, sooner or later I’ll be Superwoman. I’d still like answers, though. Then at least I could join the Scrabble club knowing I’d done my best…