The Colours of Guilt is not my first attempt at writing a novel. It is my third. I’ve written a novel called Prelude and another titled Dark Dreams. Both novels, I tried for months to find a literary agent. I emailed over one hundred literary agents in my search for representation and received some polite, and some bordering on rude, rejections. I’ve personalised emails, found literary agents that are *looking* for books of that particular genre, even paid someone to help craft the perfect query letter. But nothing. No emails saying that they loved the premise, wanted to read the whole manuscript. No phone calls begging to re-present my work. Just the horrific chasm of no response.
There was two ways of thinking about it. One – that I was a terrible writer, doomed, would never get published, and should give up now. Or two – that my writing wasn’t currently *good enough* and I still needed to work on my craft, and that one day I would achieve my dreams. This is the hardest thing about being a wanna-be novelist; that you write in ignorance. You don’t know if you will finish writing the novel, or give up. You don’t know if it is any good. You don’t know if anyone will want to re-present it or publish it. You don’t know if anyone will want to read it. You have to work on faith. And faith is a precarious, mutable substance. One day of great writing and you dream of your noble prize winning speech, and then the next day you re-read your work, and the specter of failure breathes hot and stinky over the words, and you begin to doubt.
Doubt is a killer. It is one of the most destructive poison of the mind and is the biggest battle one most constantly defeat to achieve success.
When doubt strikes, I think of the Bene Gesserit Litany against fear from Dune:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
So when I doubt that I will one day be a novelist, published and celebrated, I face that fear. And I remember that it doesn’t matter if it happens or not. My love is the act of writing, and I wish to create a life were I write, and write, and write. External success is not the why. It would be appreciated and make my life easier, but it is not what drives my writing. Writing is my communion with the creative and spiritual forces. I love getting lost in the horizons of the imagination, I always have. Writing is my act of love, self and worldly. It is my contribution to society and my joy. So when I doubt, I come back to why I write and the feelings it produces. And I am home, re-connected to my desire to write. And once again, I pick up the pen …
At the moment, I am turning my honours novella (10,000 words) into a young adults novel (40,000-60,000 words). Writing takes time. 1,000 words takes between two to three hours to write. But for me, I need to set aside time around it – four to five hour block. I marinate with ideas, steep myself in the characters, what I want to write, words, sentences until alchemy is achieved and I want to put my thoughts and inspiration down. Sometimes I will go for a walk or to the gym without music so that I can really tune into what needs to be written next. Writing is a journey that needs to be savoured, appreciated, and not rushed. However, I was struggling with motivation and I’ve found one of the best things to do, when procrastinating or hitting an uninspired patch, is to match motivational videos on you-tube or read ‘success’ or ‘achieve your dream’ self-help books. If you’re not motivated, you’re in charge of getting motivated. With achieveing goals, or your dreams, it ultimately comes down to you. The choices you make every day. If you’re not achieving your goals in life, then look at your actions, do they match your intention? If not, action is what produces results. It’s the most important ingredient in success.
To help with my motivation, last night, I had the honour of attending a Game of Thrones night, with George R.R. Martin who spoke about writing. In his thoughtful, considered way, he answered the question why every character in the series is put into crisis. He quoted Faulkner’s noble prize speech, saying that ‘a human heart in conflict with itself is the only “good” writing’.
The full quote from Faulkner is:
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands. Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.
I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
This speech helps us to decode the Game of Thrones, to understand better what is driving the author, the character and the series. For those who write, it helps us to understand that a human heart in conflict with itself is where the power of writing comes from. But, for you, whatever your dreams or goals are, motivation is vital in the days, months, and years it takes to achieve them. So don’t give up, or give in. You will achieve with effort, alignment, and time!
Penelope Jane Jones.