I’ve been writing fiction for many, many years, and during this time I’ve met numerous aspiring authors. It doesn’t matter whether we write detective mysteries or period romance, we all tend to have one thing in common – self-doubt. We constantly wonder whether an agent will like our work, whether a publisher will accept our work, and most of all, whether the readers will relate to our work and take our characters to their hearts.
So, how do we overcome this demon?
For my own part I remind myself of the high praise I received from one of the world’s top crime writers, P.D. James.
At the time I was living on the Isle of Wight and an active member of two exceptionally good writing groups. One group focused on critique and perfecting craft, while the other had built a strong list of famous authors who were willing to attend as speakers. When this latter group decided to run a nationwide competition, they invited P.D. James to judge the finalists, and select the winner. Graciously, she accepted. The theme was: The First Chapter of a Novel.
As a group we were all encouraged to enter something to support the competition, but as it was we needn’t have concerned ourselves about lack of entries, because we ended up with well over a thousand submissions. The piece I submitted was from a work in progress, a rather complex novel I was busy plotting, that had three time-lines I was trying to thread together. I’d written about 15,000 words. For the competition I decided to polish my first chapter, which started, “I know I am in a dream,” written from a man’s first person viewpoint. I was happy enough with my submission, but with so many entries flooding in, didn’t concern myself over winning or losing.
When the big day came for the winner to be announced, and the prize to be handed over, the only person who knew the outcome was P.D. James herself. Not even the writing group’s chairman was privy to the result. The meeting hall we’d booked for the occasion was packed, and the event started with P.D. James giving a talk on her writing methods, and explaining how she drew inspiration from newspaper headlines. A story would pique her interest, usually a topic that had social impact, such as adopted children being permitted to trace their birth parents; then she’d set to researching facts and building characters.
Once we’d all taken a break and afternoon tea had been served, we sat down to hear the results of our competition. Third prize: not me. Second prize: not me. P.D. James started to say how very much she’d enjoyed the winning entry and how extremely well written it was. Then she named the winner. First Prize goes to… Oh my goodness me! That was my name! I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned.
P.D. James asked if the winner was in the room and would they like to step up to the table. I stood.
“I don’t believe it!” she exclaimed. “I thought this piece was written by a man.” She stood, her face alight with excitement. “You’re a woman writing in a man’s viewpoint. I was completely convinced it was a man’s voice. This makes it an even stronger winner. I read your name and assumed you were a man!” She applauded me. This great crime writer stood and gave me a standing ovation. Then she shook my hand and handed me the best prize ever, her praise.
This took place back in the late ‘80s. Shortly after this amazing occasion, life events hit me hard and I suddenly found myself thrust into having to cope with exceptional circumstances. My writer friends told me not to worry if I couldn’t find the time or concentration to write, and assured me that I was building a storehouse of experiences which one day I would draw upon and use in my novels. They were absolutely correct.
I never did finish the complex novel P.D. James so loved, but she gave me the confidence to never stop writing. Since then I have written many other novels, and never given up on my dream of becoming a published author. In 2014 when Booktrope accepted Visiting Lilly, my dream came true.
Book 2 in the Jake Talbot Investigates series, Saving Anna, is due for release this autumn.
If you’re an aspiring author, what keeps you going, and pushing beyond self-doubt? I’d love to hear your story.