A necessary delusion

I believe in myself. I have to have some sense of self-worth to show the public my face each week, writing and publishing this blog; I have to have some sense of self-belief to submit my writing to publishing houses and agents across the world. Each attempt is a little part of me craving for attention. ‘Look at me! I can do this – in a way that no-one else can.’

Every writer that puts their work out there is the same, and that’s no bad thing. You need a little ego to survive, to push yourself onwards; it’s a bold step, trying to get yourself published, and you need to be bold to make the attempt. But I’m worse.

I read a lot of proofs of novels that are about to hit bookshops. Some of them take my breath away, are so accomplished, so innovative, that I’m in awe of the authors. I read these. I work on them, try and give them that final spit-and-polish so the final product is as perfect as perfect can be. I go through all this, I see all these wonders, and I still think I’m good enough to sit on the bookshelves alongside.

Problem is that self-belief and self-delusion are very hard to distinguish between. I do believe in myself. But I’ve got to weigh that against the fact that I’ve been rejected by hundreds of agents over the years. I just can’t cut it, on that front at least.

So maybe I am delusional.

As time goes by it seems to me that my chances of being taken on by either the publisher of my dreams (to whom I submitted Oneiromancer in their yearly open-submissions period), or the agent with whom I got a personal recommendation, are inexorably slipping away. The former has silence equating failure; the latter… well, no news is bad news?

So: I am delusional. And that’s fine. I will take that delusion and use it for the betterment of mankind. Or at least it’ll make me persist, to keep thrashing on, to keep sending my work out into the world.

The problem is that I believe. I believe in Oneiromancer, even if it has a shonky title, even if it turns out to need a good editing. It’s better than anything I wrote before. And in my belief – in my arrogance – I want it to be read.

I just don’t know how to help that come to pass.

The publisher of my dreams achieved that status by having a great network of nice writers and an excellent social media team. I want desperately to be part of that world. Ego again?

I just want to be read. I desperately wish I could do something to make that happen – something that, hopefully, involves other people doing the marketing work. I’m just no good at it, as can be evidenced by the lack of sales of the otherwise excellent New Gods.

I believe in myself. I am delusional. I just need someone in the business to take a risk on me.

All these things can simultaneously be true.

Today’s delusion

I’ve just written the best book ever. No, really, I have. It combines depth with a rip-roaring story. It’s an adventure and a psychological study and it’s desperate and it’s terrifying. It’ll grip you for days. Unputdownable. Devastating.

This is a lie. I’m not sure in what way it’s a lie, but I know it’s not true. I’ve finished a draft and I know it’ll be filled with errors. Huge, great, monstrous mistakes that’ll have any civilised reader reaching for the red pen with sonic-boom generating alacrity.

I’m not an idiot. A dreamer, yes, but not an idiot. I want to write well. And I know that in five year’s time I’ll be hideously embarrassed by what I’ve done. It’s painful to think that I sent my first novel out to publishers and agents; it was so bad, or at least so not good enough, that it’s a wonder nobody advised me to get a second day job so I’d have no more time to write. But right now I’m in love. I’m infatuated. Every blemish is beauty; every imperfection a charm. As if I’ve learnt nothing at all.

It’s impossible to be objective about the work you’ve just written. I’ve scrawled my way through seven novels and after each of them I thought I had a contender. This’ll be the one to break me, I thought; this is my masterpiece. I’ll make my name. I’ve felt this after every single draft, no matter how I’ve known that there’s still much work to do. Every time I’ve been wrong.

So what’s today’s delusion? Are my characters cruel clichés? Is my dialogue parade-ground parody? Is my plot as obvious as an elephant in a fishtank? Or will it be a combination of evils that just add up to a sense of ‘bleuch’-ness. I don’t know. I can’t see my errors. It’s too fresh, too real.

I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m learning. I can see all the mistakes I made in previous novels – wince-making, agonising torments – and I’ve tried to avoid them. But there’s always a new way to grow. Always a skill to improve, a new craft to master. I just can’t see what it is right now. I want to believe. It’s so clear, so beautiful.

It’s a good job I know people willing to break my heart.