Writing, for me, is as much an act of survival as it is a hobby. I can’t not do it – and even when I’m not physically or literally putting pen to paper, I’m going over things in my head or jotting things in note-form on my phone. For me, writing has always been essential for addressing the issues in my life: loss, love, mental illness, sexuality, and more. Some people go to therapy; I write.
I applied for WriteNow at the encouragement of my friend and colleague Katy, who has always been very good at passing things on to me. Writing can be very lonely, and the process itself is gruelling. I dread to think how many hours go into a first draft alone. After that, there’s the editing – which some find cathartic, but I think of as sifting through trash to extract microscopic diamonds, and then trying to create a necklace worthy of a Kardashian with what I find. So knowing that I came under the umbrella of under-represented writers, being an LBGT woman, I thought that as I had a very rough semi-first draft that I was previously embarrassed to talk about, I may as well give it a shot. I had nothing to lose, so why wouldn’t I? I applied within days of the deadline, thinking that my chances to get any further were next to nothing. Five months and a fresh draft, a longlist and a shortlist later, an email pinged into my inbox: I was one of 12 out of over 2,000 writers to be selected. To say that coming out the other side of the application process like this has been exhilarating, emotional and life-affirming, would be a massive understatement.
The programme is still very much in early days for me; I met my mentor Jillian Taylor, from Michael Joseph, a month ago after some very encouraging emails and a phone call, and it was brilliant. I came away feeling positively buoyant: finally, after however many years, I had not just one of the most formidable and encouraging editors behind me – but also the largest publishing house in the world.
Meeting the other mentees – and some other writers who weren’t chosen – has been particularly helpful with the writing experience. With the help of Spread the Word, some of us based in or within reach of London have set up a writing group, which makes the whole process feel much more social. Writing is, as I’ve said, often lonely. I’ve gone from doing it totally alone and wondering whether my work is any good, to having a support network of other writers, a Society of Authors membership, and a brilliant editor – all an email or text message away.
My first lunch with Jill was everything I could have wanted. I was very nervous at first, of course; to speak about something that means so much to me is terrifying. Writing is a supremely personal thing; we usually write for ourselves before we even consider anyone else, and knowing that Jill had read my work and had thoughts on it was frightening – but exciting as well. Once I settled into our conversation, I felt totally at ease; she does, of course, meet first-time writers often enough to know that I was probably nervous, and I found that we fit together very well (thanks to Siena for assigning me to her!). What was particularly helpful was the questions that Jill both asked me and recommended I be asking myself throughout the writing and editing processes. One especially that I hadn’t given enough thought was where I consider my book should be sitting in the market. I’ve since returned to my manuscript with that question at the fore of my mind, instead of shunted somewhere in the corner, and it’s brought a lot of clarity to the whole thing.
Above all, for me, the best thing has been to participate in the experience. It’s been anxiety-inducing – it’s terrifying to put yourself forward, and then wait to hear back! But if I hadn’t thought myself worthy, or taken the plunge to meet 49 other writers on the insight day despite being terribly socially awkward, I also wouldn’t have walked out of a restaurant in Covent Garden with an editor who understood my work and who was as excited as me to be getting started – and that, really, is worth a million moments of self-doubt.