by Kim Kelly
NERVES OF STEEL
It’s often said that to be a writer you need nerves of steel. Not just to write, though I seem to need to find my courage there daily too, and the effort of holding it steady is often as exhausting as writing itself. But rather, it’s when you’ve finished the hard graft and handed the manuscript baby over to agent or publisher or The Reading World that you need to whip off the spectacles and don the cape of Super Authorlady, who has those nerves of steel. Somewhere… Perhaps I’ve left my pesky nervy things in the shed…or hidden in the back of the pantry.
I seem to have waited an eternity to learn the fate of my next novel, my beloved Hill End story. It’s only been with the publisher about five weeks now (a nanosecond in traditional publishing terms), but not a waking hour goes past when I don’t feel my heart suddenly belting out the prayer: please, please love my manuscript. Please. I’ll die if you don’t. I even had a dream early this morning that someone from the sales department spotted a one-star review for one of my previous novels somewhere online and thereby decided that this was the end of my career. Kaput. Kim Kelly – gorrrrn. Entirely pulped from human history. Just like that.
These jelly nerves of mine are particularly silly in this instance as I know this novel is a goer. I know that it will be published, like I’ve never known any such thing before. More than any of my previous stories, this one seems to have leapt straight out of my soul and onto the page. It’s richer and deeper in voice; it’s more mature and steely in its narrative resolve. It’s more me than anything I’ve written so far. And perhaps because of all that, the stakes are raised even higher, and I need more derring-do, not less.
Maybe this is why we also often hear writers say that, while technical aspects of the craft might get easier the more you practise them, writing novels doesn’t ever really get easier. Recently, another writer mentioned in passing on a facebook post (so passing I can’t remember who it was!) that she felt every new novel was like starting again at the bottom of a mountain she’d never climbed before. And it is very much like that for me, too – a completely new adventure each time, and undertaken somehow mapless. Daunting from the first step. Perhaps it’s one endeavour in which the easier it gets, the harder it gets too because, with each new story, you want to travel further, take new risks, see new things. Fly those stakes higher and higher.
I love it. I wouldn’t swap this writing caper for quids (just as well, given the usual remuneration it brings). And I wouldn’t swap it for those elusive and possibly mythical nerves of steel either. Somehow, being perpetually terrified is just part of the deal, for me anyway.