Writing can sometimes be a lonely profession. Of course there are plenty of days when you are out and about doing research, talking to people, visiting schools and so on, but when it comes to working on that final manuscript, there are weeks, sometimes many on the trot, when it is a very solitary business. In fact, there are lots of days when, in between waving my kids off to school and welcoming them home again at tea-time, the only other human being I see is the postman. We always have a quick chat through my office window when he gives me my post and that keeps me sane. It also gives my dog a break ’cause he does get tired of me chattering on. He has way too much sleep to do.
So yes, writing can be lonely. There’s no one there on the other side of the desk who you can bounce ideas off; no one to show your work to, no colleague to brainstorm with. You just have to knuckle down and keep bashing away at the keyboard, reading your paragraphs aloud to yourself every now and then, and waiting until you have that precious first draft which is shaped enough to share.
I have never been one for writing groups, but lately I have met a couple of potential writing partners… people brave enough to swap their unpolished ideas and also hard-skinned enough not to hate you when you make a few critical (constructive, of course) comments. One of these contacts is a fellow member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) which I have recently joined. It’s a great little organisation and, to us lonely writers, can offer a real life line.
Last night I went to my very first SCWBI event – an Agents’ Party – at the Frontline Club in London. Imagine filling a room with 100 hungry kids and dropping in a dozen ladies giving out free ice creams and you get a sense of how it worked. Slightly manic, but certainly a unique opportunity to spend a precious couple of minutes with an agent or two, to pitch ideas and find out what they can offer – and perhaps most importantly, to realise that they are human, and some of them are actually quite nice!
I have heard plenty of authors debating whether or not having an agent is a good or a bad thing. Yes they do take a slice of what can be a fairly meagre cake (yes, yes, I know, unless you are JK), but the right agent can open up doors and can be a friend and a sounding board, giving some important editorial guidance. I often say that writing a book is like giving birth to a baby, so I guess that makes an agent a kind of birthing partner, without the gore (although knowing my books, there might be some of that too!). And let’s not forget, of course, the fact that literary agents can help with some of the less pleasant aspects of publishing, such as negotiating contracts. Who likes doing that? Yes, I have to admit, having an agent is starting to sound very appealing.
The trick, though, is finding the right agent for you: finding someone who, like one of the agents said last night, will love your books as much as you do (and remember, they are your babies). It’s got to be a good relationship and an equal one. If in any doubt, there’s nothing really wrong with being a single mother. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself. You’ve got this far on your own, haven’t you? Your books really haven’t turned out all that badly. Just make sure you don’t miss the postman when he calls!