Inside the Fiction Factory – Part 38

Mental Toughness

I attended a cyber security conference yesterday and the keynote speech was given by Penny Mallory with the theme of Mental Toughness. It’s a welcome feature of many conferences to have an inspirational speaker, providing insight and takeaways for your own life situation, without specific reference to the cyber security industry. I can recommend looking her up and seeing for yourself.

As she was speaking I was thinking about my own mental toughness and what it has taken to continue to write novels – thirteen in thirteen years and now starting my fourteenth – while having the first ten rejected by agents and publishers. Actually, when I say the first ten, some of these I did not even query. Since being published, I’ve then had to move on from negative reviews, accepting that I cannot please everyone and do my best not to look at any reviews. That takes discipline, but it is a habit I do break now and again. The positive reviews far outweigh the negative, and I am grateful for that, but as most writers will tell you, the bad ones can and do hurt no matter how hard you try and brush them off. It’s a fact you need to accept as a writer. If you put work out, you need to prepare for the good and the bad and if it’s going to impact you negatively, then you do need to try and ignore everything online once your writing is out there.

This week I’ve had two messages from people who have read my work and enjoyed it and these are so welcome. The fact they took the time to read and let me know is amazing and a tremendous boost. Of course, as a writer I can’t allow myself to be carried away by this. I think it was Stephen King in his book On Writing that said

“You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”

Words well worth keeping in mind.

It takes discipline and a degree of mental toughness to keep going, to keep up the habit of writing most days, while looking after yourself and doing all the other bits and pieces you have to do in everyday life. Balance can be tricky. Whether I have that right or not, I don’t know. I suspect it’s not perfect, but I’m doing the best I can and believe I’m improving. I am intending to up my productivity from one novel a year to two. That’s a big ask, but it’s a target, and even if I manage to realise half of a second novel I will take that as a win. I should say that is drafting two novels. There is a big difference between drafting two a year and actually completing two. If I can draft two novels a year I will be happy.

I’m reading Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami just now, and I continued with it after the conference. To my delight, the next chapter dealt with the subject of mental toughness. I love it when these connections occur. Some will say it’s just coincidence, and that’s fine. I look at the world differently. I have the hardback edition – I have all of Murakami in paperback as it turns out – and on my Bookbub email that evening the ebook was the first one on offer. More connections.

Murakami discusses mental toughness and the effort it takes to keep going and to keep writing novels, not only over a sustained period of time for the novel itself, but then to keep at it over several decades as your body changes both physically and mentally with age and experience.

I started writing later in life and that’s the way it turned out. However, looking back over what is now my fourteenth year of taking this seriously and putting in the effort to keep writing, I am starting to believe I am in this for the long haul. There will be triumphs and failures, positive and negative reviews to come, but the most important thing will be the joy and excitement I will experience of having written a new story that some readers will enjoy and take the time to tell me.

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