One of the first experienced-based pieces of advice I’ve always given to aspiring writers who seek my help at workshops or through my editorial consultancy is take care of your teeth. It’s a very rare and exceptional writer who doesn’t need strong ones, because we get kicked in them so often. Another equally useful tip is grow a couple of extra skins.
Unfortunately, as age creeps up on us, along with all the other bits which shrivel up, develop holes or otherwise cease to function as they should, teeth begin to hurt, and the extra skins seem to fall away.
So now I have another piece of advice, based on more recent experience: don’t delay or procrastinate; do it now, while you can still absorb the punches.
Quite a few writers have passed through my life over the years, and some of them were, still are, hugely talented. The ones who had that something special needed no help from me or anyone else, though some of them thought they did. What they really needed was someone who would urge them to go for it, do it, take the knocks and persevere.
I like to keep an occasional eye open for familiar names. The ones with the strong teeth and extra skins as well as talent are still around; they’re the ones who made it. Plenty of others, just as talented, have quietly faded out of my world. I can only assume they fell victim to something I’ve recently detected in myself.
Cowardice. Or possibly the ageing process. Even more possibly, one leading to the other.
There are currently two finished pieces of work on my computer. Well, finished insofar as any piece of writing is ever finished. Let’s say they’ve arrived at the point at which I need to step back if I’m not to spend the rest of my life tinkering. I like them; I gave them my best shot, and feedback from people I trust leads me to believe they work well. I have places in mind to send both of them. But every day I put them on the screen and stare at them, change a word here and there and do nothing else. A couple of times I’ve composed query e-mails. But that’s all.
Well, almost all. It doesn’t help when people don’t respond to tentative can-I-send-you enquiries. Especially when they’re people I had reason to believe were primed to at least take a look. There was a time when I had no problem following up on a dilatory reply; my brain seemed to be wired to reach for the sorry-I-know-you’re-busy-but-I-wondered-if-my-email-had-gone-astray format after about a month. These days it stops at sorry-I-know-you’re-busy – if it ever gets that far – and my teeth start to hurt for no obvious reason.
But people have always not responded; in the past I just moved on to the next target on my list. So that can’t be the real reason those two pieces remain unsubmitted. The truth is that the courage, chutzpah, brass neck, whatever you want to call it, which, not so very many years ago, helped me persevere and build a not insignificant track record of short story and feature article publication appears to have deserted me.
Maybe seven years on the other side, doing my best to let people down gently, has taken its toll.
Or maybe it’s just that it isn’t just physical teeth and skin that wear out.