The Waiting Game

Patience is a virtue, they say... and they could well be right, but having just been through an extremely busy period in what for want of a better phrase might be termed my 'day job', I have been unable to do any writing for several weeks and that, as anyone who feels the compulsion to write will appreciate, is a BAD THING. In fact, as I look back over the busy-ness of these past few weeks, I find myself musing on the way in which time evaporates and weeks rocket past, lost amidst the whirlwind of everyday life.

All my life I have worked in what might be described as the 'Creative Industries', and as I take a swerve into yet another, i.e. the world of the fledgling writer, it becomes increasingly apparent to me that we who 'create' for a living are held in an almost continual state of anticipation. Once a piece is finished (and I use the term loosely... there is an argument to be had over whether a piece is ever truly completed) we offer it up to whichever person or organisation we believe might see merit in it, in the hope that eventually it might reach a wider audience. And then we wait.

If the creative process is akin to giving birth (and it is often couched in those terms) then like all new parents, we wait nervously to see whether the world will treat our offspring kindly, or pour scorn upon our small, vulnerable baby trying to take its first tentative steps into the great unknown.

When I started out as an actor, I swiftly came to realise that I would get nowhere if I couldn't handle rejection. If you can't deal with being turned down, you shouldn't throw yourself into the ring in the first place; it is part and parcel of the job. But another thing you learn early in the auditioning process is that rejection does not necessarily mean you were awful... just that there was someone who was better. Or, more to the point, someone who was better suited to the role. (As in almost all areas of the Arts, competition is fierce. I remember being on the 'other side of the table' at an audition once where we were looking for just one actress. We auditioned sixty, which we whittled down to thirty, any one of whom could have done the job.) So what do you do? You bash on until finally you are the one is best suited for the part, and the snowball starts to roll. It is axiomatic in all walks of life that it is easier to get another job once you are already working, and if you are good at the networking, keeping up contacts side of things, then you are much more likely to grow and thrive. As the old adage states, 'it's not what you know...'

However, putting yourself into the hands of others means that they will always have the power over your destiny, so I can understand why many performers (and I have done this myself) create their own companies so that they can take power back into their own hands. Fine for those who can hack it, but not everyone is a natural entrepreneur. More often than not, the scenario goes like this:
I'm not getting the sort of work I want to do, therefore I will form my own company to enable me to create the sort of work I am interested in. But I am now so bogged down in the admin of running the company that I no longer have the time to do all the creative stuff I wanted to do in the first place. In other words, the trappings that come with being in control are exactly the things that steal your time away. It is so much easier if someone else is prepared to take on all that day-to-day stuff, but then you no longer have autonomy. So it is always a trade-off. (I am reminded of Steven Berkoff, who famously said that the reason he started writing and appearing in his own plays was because no one else would give him a job. He seems to have done quite well though, doesn't he?)

So what this means in practice is that most of us walk a middle way... we create, (often alongside another career which actually pays the bills) then we try to sell our creation. If we are lucky enough to have someone who picks up our work, we have a quick celebration of the fact that we have succeeded against seemingly overwhelming odds, and begin the process all over again. (I realise that this is a gross simplification... in reality there are very few people who take such a linear approach to their work. Most 'creatives' are, in fact, constantly creating, spewing out the stuff like there's no tomorrow, but you get the gist.)

Anyway, I digress. Now I am trying to get myself out there as a writer, I've discovered that once again, patience is the name of the game. Send your work off to a publisher or an agent, and you'll usually wait a minimum of three months for a reply, often much longer, and sometimes you won't hear back at all. Send it to a competition and you'll easily wait six months before they publish the winners, and you'll probably have to search out the winner's names yourself as usually, unless you're one of them, you won't be contacted. (I have a spreadsheet which helps me keep track of what I've submitted to where which, let me tell you, is invaluable.)

So I can see why the self-publishing route is so appealing. You have control (see above), you have a firm date for publication, and you can ultimately have boxes of your shiny, sweet smelling books piled high in your living room that you can sell to whoever shows an interest. There is also evidence to indicate that publishers these days will watch how a self-published book does, then step in to take it to the next level (cf. 50 Shades). After all, taking a chance on a new author is a risky business. There is an obvious parallel here with the music business, where new bands will pay to have a recording done which they can then sell at their self-promoted gigs as 'merchandise', increasing their income and raising the possibility that, if they do well, a major label might just come knocking...

I suppose in the great way of things, I've not done too badly so far. I've won a couple of writing competitions and had a couple of stories published... a small enough start, but a start nonetheless. Now what could be my debut novel is out there for consideration, and its fate is out of my hands. The baby is taking its first few tentative steps, and all I can do is sit... and wait.


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