At Rio

Four years ago, on this blog, I wrote a post entitled Heading for Rio. At that time, having been inspired by the Olympic Games in London, I set myself the challenge of writing a novel and finding a publisher for it by the time the next Olympics rolled round in 2016. I also mentioned my habit of wasting time on Twitter and Facebook instead of spending time writing. As I write, the Rio Olympics are coming to a close and I’ve been revisiting the goals I set myself in 2012.

In 2012, I wrote this:

What I want to achieve by 2016 is not only to have written the book, but also (no doubt after many rejections) to have found a publisher and got it published… my aim is to finish the book in 2014, two years from now.

Significantly reducing the amount of time I spent on social media certainly freed up time for other things, including writing, and since 2012 I’ve written two and a half novels, as well as a number of short stories. Back then I also wrote this:

I know that I can do something difficult if I put my mind to it and want it enough, but in order for me to have any hope of achieving it I have to have those two elements: determination and desire.

I very much wanted to prove to myself that I could write a novel. Keeping going was a struggle at times, but I had the determination and desire to carry me through to the finish. What I hadn’t given so much thought to was how I would feel when I had finished writing it.

Since completion, the first novel has undergone numerous revisions and edits, processes I found neither easy nor enjoyable. In some cases, I had to re-read the same passages many times in my quest to sharpen them up and make the story flow. It was laziness that made the task so difficult, but putting in the effort did give me some satisfaction.

By the time I had spent a year or more editing and re-writing the first novel, after taking a break to write the second, I began submitting the book to agents, and then to publishers. Most of them replied to say they weren’t interested, and one or two of them didn’t reply at all. It’s now nearly three months since I last submitted the book to anyone, and I haven’t had a reply from that submission.

Although I found the first rejections difficult, I was determined enough to keep on trying. After a while I branched out from submitting exclusively to agents and started sending the book directly to publishers instead. I hoped this change in approach might yield better results, but it has proved no more successful.

This leaves me wondering what to do next. I’ve looked into self-publishing but it’s not the route I want to take at the moment. If I were an outsider giving myself advice I might tell myself to keep going and never allow the dream to die. There’s nothing wrong with that opinion and, indeed, I can fully see the sense of it. To have dedicated so much time and effort to the project already makes it seem only sensible to refuse to give up until I find a publisher.

In order to do that, however, I need to have some motivation, a real desire to find a publisher, whatever it takes. At the moment, the motivation isn’t there. Who knows if it might return, perhaps it will after I’ve taken a break to do other things, but until I get it back I don’t think I’m going to make any progress on that front. Far from feeling sorry about this, I feel surprisingly content.

Watching the Rio Olympics, I possibly have even more admiration for the athletes now than I had in 2012. Even if they don’t get a medal this time around, many of them – having already dedicated years to training – will keep on trying and hope for better things at the next Olympics in 2020. Maintaining such long-term goals, with an unrelenting desire to succeed, are character traits I stand in awe of. To want something so much that you’re prepared to wait however long it takes to achieve it is quite mind-boggling.

All of the top athletes I’ve heard interviewed in Rio have given their own reasons for wanting to succeed, citing different motivating factors that have driven them on. Mo Farah, the British runner who last night got the gold medal in the 5,000 metres, after achieving the same in the 10,000 metres, winning both in London before repeating the feat in Rio, has often said that his children are what motivates him. He has four children and now has an Olympic gold medal for each of them. For Usain Bolt it was the chance to do something no other athlete has ever done before, getting gold in three track events at three separate Olympics. That desire to be possibly the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen has driven him on and got him through the tough times because it was something he wanted so much.

My own desire to become a published author is a far more modest ambition, and yet from my point of view it will take something of the same sort of drive and determination to achieve it. Without that determination I’ll find it impossible, so do I still want it enough? The past four years have taught me many things about myself, some of which were completely unexpected.

One of the influencing factors in the way I view things now has been what happened to my eldest brother, Fergus, in September 2014. He was a highly intelligent and enthusiastic person, and although he suffered from various mental health problems for many years he worked hard to fight depression. He made a considerable effort to join a variety of groups, and gave a lot of his time freely to help other people. He was 51 when he went missing in Switzerland, and nothing has been heard from him now for nearly two years. I have come to the conclusion that he suffered a fatal accident in the Swiss mountains and, sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we never find out what happened to him.

Fergus achieved a great deal in his lifetime, and I’m sure he could have gone on to achieve a lot more. Having been made acutely aware of how fragile life is, I might have expected Fergus’s experience to make me more determined than ever to achieve my own goals while I still can. In fact, it’s almost had the opposite effect. I realise how lucky I am to be able to enjoy each day and get something good out of it, even if I do nothing of earth-shattering importance. I would still like to become a published author one day, but my attitude to life, and a possible future, has changed. To appreciate what I have today, seems to me far more important than striving for a position I might or might not attain in the future.

That isn’t to say I’m giving up on goals and dreams, far from it. I’m still hugely inspired by Olympic athletes, and indeed anyone who sets themselves difficult goals and achieves them through grit and determination. I still dream about the future and imagine the things I would like to do if the opportunities arise, and it’s these dreams that keep life exciting and inspiring. Inevitably, I sometimes think about what will happen to me if I don’t achieve my writerly ambitions, but I try not to dwell on such thoughts. There will always be things I wish I had done, or still want to do if I get the chance, but being thankful for what I have today makes the present a blessing, whatever the future holds.

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27 thoughts on “At Rio

  1. Well done, Lorna. On this rainy gray Sunday morning with the whole day ahead, You inspire me. I like the idea of spending less time on social media to accomplish other goals. I hope to read your book in the future.

    I’m sorry for the loss of your brother.
    Thank you for sharing with all of us.
    Your header is one of my favorites!

    • Thank you, Ruth. Social media can take up such a lot of time and energy, not only in the actual amount of time spent on it but because it interrupts the flow of other things. I’m glad you like the header. 🙂

  2. Hi Lorna,
    It’s good to hear from you again. I’ve had many of the same thoughts as you about life’s “accomplishments.” Since I retired in December I’ve had to learn to relax and take each moment as a joy in itself. We can’t literally acknowledge every single moment…we’d never get the dishes done. But every day something makes me stop and notice.
    I had a lot of plans for the things I wanted to accomplish once I had the time. Like you, I’m beginning to feel that finding joy and satisfaction in my life, by simply living it the best I can, is an accomplishment.
    By “living it” I don’t mean racing from one “important” task to another, like I did all my working life when I lived on deadline. I mean actually living. I spent some time relearning to meditate. My involvement in martial arts years ago introduced me to the practice. Going back to it has helped enormously during the past 8 months.
    When I retired, I found myself feeling guilty if I didn’t “get something done” every day. So guilty I had trouble sleeping. I still find myself anxious over what I “accomplish” or not every day.
    It’s a process. We are learning to live a different way, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
    You finished your novels, what an accomplishment! Good for you! Getting it published is your next goal, I can certainly understand that. How many publishers have you researched? Probably a silly question, but there are lots and lots of them out there. And not all publishers are equal. Make sure the ones you submit your hard work to publish your kind of writing. I know this is probably information you are already familiar with, so please don’t take offense.
    Also, there are many, many small presses that you might consider. This is a link from Poets and Writers that offers the database for them
    http://www.pw.org/small_presses?perpage=*
    Another link to independent book publishers
    http://www.newpages.com/books/publishers
    Please don’t give up, and don’t stop writing, regardless of the publishing fate of this book. Many well-known writers have a first book still tucked away in a drawer. Others admit submitting many, many times before finding a publisher willing to take a chance on a first time writer. So, don’t stop what you’re doing.
    And don’t stop taking in the brilliance and glory of every single day of life. We don’t know how many we have. Once I realized it was OK to just sit on the deck, with Annie in my lap, and watch the breeze through the trees, I realized what a true accomplishment that was, and is. Love your life.

    • Congratulations on your retirement, Kathleen. I can relate to your feeling of needing to achieve things, but it’s great that you’ve got back into meditation and can appreciate just being in the moment. There’s nothing to beat it. It’s very kind of you to go the trouble of sending those links and I’ll certainly bear them in mind. There are so many publishers and agents that if I were to attempt to contact each of them individually it could easily become a full-time job. It’s not so much a lack of potential opportunities that’s stopping me now as the lack of desire to put in any more effort. When something stops being an inspiring challenge and instead becomes an unenjoyable chore I think it’s time for a new perspective. I’m getting a lot out of life in other areas, and I don’t feel sad about putting the publishing dream on hold. Not every dream is fulfilled in the way we might initially hope, and that’s okay because flexibility allows you to reap other benefits you might never have considered.

    • Thanks, Gitanjali, I completely agree with you about balance. Sometimes happiness and fulfilment are found unexpectedly en route to a goal rather than in the completion of the goal itself.

  3. Lorna, I totally understand your reaction to the loss of your brother. I lost my brother when he was only 46 years old. The death of a sibling is a profoundly painful experience, and for a while it stopped me in my tracks. Now, 10 years later, I also enjoy “the simple things in life” more than I ever have. Loss teaches us just how precious every-day life is. It also teaches us gratitude – one of the most powerful forces in the universe.

    Two and a half novels and several short stories? It seems to me that you’ve been quite faithful to your goal. I hope to read some of them one day.

    Lucinda :0)

    • I’m sorry to hear about your brother, Lucinda, that must have been very difficult. I’m right with you on gratitude, it has incredible power. Thanks for the encouragement, I feel pleased about what I’ve achieved, even if it wasn’t exactly what I set out to do. Aspirations change over time and I think that can be a good thing.

  4. Lorna, not surprisingly, my advice is first, don’t give up, second, spend the money on submitting your novel to a Literary Consultant. Two good ones are Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and The Literary Consultancy. I have used both of these and they taught me more than any other source about writing, because they addressed the problems in my writing. The cost is a big ouch moment, but the pay-off is possible eventual publication.

    • That sounds like wise advice, Hilary, thank you. It’s certainly something I’ve thought about in the past although I’ve never pursued it. I’m grateful to you for naming those two consultancies and, should I choose to take that route, I will certainly bear them in mind.

  5. Your post is very poignant, Lorna. I’m so sorry no news of your brother has come to you. It must be so difficult for all of you.

    In terms of your novel, I’m in the same boat. I wrote mine a number of years ago now, and for a long time after the initial rejections felt it wasn’t worth carrying on, a dispiriting experience, certainly. However, I got it back out recently and have (mostly) enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to make it better; I was fortunate to get good feedback from the places I submitted it to. Have you considered a writer’s group, or Wattpad? I’m just getting started on Wattpad, so don’t have any sense yet of how helpful it will be, but it was recommended to me by an editor as a place to “see and be seen” in that context.

    I may go the self-publishing route; it is no longer the last resort it used to be. I am also considering setting up my own website as a place to put my work. Perhaps a similar option might work for you? I’ve enjoyed your writing for a few years now, and think you should absolutely carry on and don’t give up.

    Take care,

    Tracey

    • Thanks, Tracey, and good for you getting your novel out again. That might be what I do, put it away for a few years and then have another go at it. I haven’t had any feedback from the submissions I’ve made (just standard ‘thanks but no thanks’ letters) and I haven’t joined a writing group although it’s something I’ve wondered about. I haven’t heard of Wattpad, but it sounds interesting. That’s a good idea about setting up a website for your book, and exploring self-publishing options. As you say, self-publishing isn’t necessarily a last resort, and it can be done surprisingly cheaply, particularly if you go down the e-book route. It’s great that you feel inspired to pursue all of that and I hope it proves successful for you.

    • Thanks, David. I’m really pleased that I managed to achieve my goal of completing a novel, and I’ve got the satisfaction of knowing that I did it, even if the end result hasn’t quite gone to plan. Who knows what may happen in the future? An open mind is a useful thing.

  6. The fact that you have goals and work to achieve them puts you ahead of most people. I hope you get your book published because from reading your blog I know I would enjoy it. As always the best of luck to you.

  7. An attitude of gratitude is the best way to get through life and you seem to have it in buckets. I say, well done. To have completed two and a half novels and a number of short stories, in the space of 4 years, is a great accomplishment. Finding a publisher is always the hardest part. It took me 5 years to find a publisher for my first Amanda book. (and I was already in my 60s) Just keep trying, the right one will come along. I would suggest entering some of your short stories in writing competitions. That helped me a lot. You are definitely in the Olympics!!

    • Thank you, Darlene, I often think of you and your achievements. You’re an inspiration and I greatly admire your determination to succeed. I have entered short stories into various competitions, but haven’t had any success. It can be demotivating, and when I get to the stage of feeling deflated I feel it’s time to forget the stories for a while and do something completely different to reinvigorate myself. That seems to work, since I enjoy change and variety, and you never know what might be around the corner. Patience, hope and an open mind are perhaps the key to the whole thing.

  8. Life is so full of unexpected stuff, Lorna, both good and bad, and no one (perhaps luckily) has any way of knowing what is to come. So I am glad that you’re not beating yourself up about not finding a publisher yet. You’ve achieved a huge amount in those four years, and gone through awful sadness, and I can appreciate the mental effort it must have taken just to focus on happiness once again. I can only agree with the other readers here, that there are many options open to you, and sometimes things happen only when the time is right. I think also that sometimes the real thing that we thought we wanted will change imperceptibly into something different. I guess the real answer is to be open minded and gentle with yourself, and just allow things to unfold. What you say is so true, that mindfulness and being appreciative of what we have is the most important thing we can do for ourselves – so simple but so easy to overlook. Meanwhile, do what you want to do, and just write for the sake of writing!

    • Thank you, Jo, I completely agree with you, you never know what’s coming next and it’s just as well. What you say about desires changing is so true, sometimes you think you want something to happen in a certain way but it turns out very differently. I can look back on things that have happened in the past and see how actual outcomes differed from what I originally wanted, and so often for the better. Keeping an open mind is valuable because it allows you to explore a variety of options, and you’re right that it’s important to be gentle with yourself. I think writing what I want to write when I want to do it is the way back into it for me. I’ve spent quite a bit of time forcing myself to achieve a certain amount in terms of writing, and I don’t regret that but I do feel it’s time for a break.

  9. Hi dear Lorna,
    First of all congratulations. You have completed novel/s – heck TWO. Most people just walk around with stories in their heads and dream of writing a novel. So procrastination and laziness is clearly not your problem. Here is some bits of advice I can offer that have worked for me:
    1) Form a Writers Critique Group. You can try joining an existing one if you find one and like their vibes. I formed one of my own. I wrote out the guidelines (very strict – almost Hitler-ish). It was a very successful group and we all became better writers. Sadly I had to break away as my writing deadlines became much shorter after I got the 3 book deal plus a lot of my time was used up by author events. Without my Writers’ Group I could not have done this. I have the guidelines we developed for our group and I can send them to you.
    Check out Nanowrimo (you must have heard of this?) to find writers in your area.
    2) I also did a Novel Writing Class to help me get started as I had no idea how to plot or craft a novel. My two writing bibles are Steven King’s “On Writing” and Francine Prose “Bird by bird.”
    3) Thirdly please for God’s sake, stop expecting to be rejected. All my writer friends have this self-defeating attitude and then they wonder why they get rejected. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and you will sabotage yourself. You must act like you KNOW and BELIEVE you are going to published. Fake it till you make it. I acted like I was hot tamales – even though I was full of doubt and trepidation. Try EFT Tapping (google it) – believe me, it sounds totally hokey but it works to trick you out of self doubt. We all have self doubt –even the lost established of writers.
    Sending you big hugs and good mojo. Let me know how best I can help.
    🙂 Shona

    • Thank you, Shona, your advice is much appreciated. The writers’ critique group is an interesting idea. There is a writers’ group in my local area but they meet at an inconvenient time for me so I’ve never joined it. Perhaps starting my own group is the way to go. I would certainly be interested in reading the guidelines you came up with, thank you for that generous offer. I have heard of NaNoWriMo, although I’ve never got involved with it and didn’t know it could connect me with writers near me. I’ll have to check that out. The novel writing class sounds like exactly what I need and I have often thought I’d like to attend such a course. I’ve done an online one, which benefited me a lot, but it was for short stories rather than novels and I could really do with some proper tutoring in plotting a full novel. I’ve heard of that Stephen King book but I haven’t read it. I will seek it out, as well as the Francis Prose one. I’m absolutely with you on the self-fulfilling prophecy business, it’s so true and I recognise it in myself. I know from other life experience that successes come, at least in part, from having sufficient confidence and belief. I would love to apply that to my writing, and in fact I did feel very confident when I finished the first book and later when I sent out edited versions to agents. Things started going downhill when I received nothing but repeated rejections in the form of bland letters that told me nothing, other than that they weren’t interested. A bit of constructive criticism might have made a difference, but agents often make the point that they have too many submissions to be able to critique each one they reject. I can understand that, but it perhaps explains why so many struggling writers develop a self-defeating attitude. On the plus side, there is always tapping. 🙂 I know exactly what you mean, and I’ve tried it although I haven’t quite got the hang of what it’s supposed to do. I do use other NLP techniques to good effect though, so I’ll give it another go. Thanks again.

  10. This is a very thought provoking post. I think the way you have related your perseverance with your novel to the perseverance of athletes who are determined to succeed (and never seem to give up when they haven’t managed to achieve their ultimate aim of an Olympic medal) is great. It must take a huge amount of strength, and belief, not to feel like giving up after several rejections. I’m so sorry to hear about your brother – it must be very hard not to know what happened to him.

    • Thanks, Elaine. I’m in awe of sports people who slog away day after day with their eyes on a possible four year prize. It takes such an inordinate amount of dedication, and even if they do work very hard there’s no guarantee they’ll be picked for the national team, let alone get a medal. I think the only way it’s possible is to surround yourself with people who encourage you to keep going and help you to get there. Sustaining self-belief and determination to succeed on your own is surely impossible after a while. It is difficult not knowing what happened to Fergus, but sadly there are a lot of people in the same boat. I’ve been amazed to find out about the number of people who go missing each year, both at home and abroad. There must be families and friends all over the world bearing this sadness. On the up side, as with the athletes, it’s other people who help you through difficult times and I certainly have a lot to be thankful for in that department.

  11. Hi Lorna, I have been wondering if you had any news of your brother. I’m sorry to hear that you haven’t, but I pray that one day you will. I finished my first novel, one of many I have begun over time, and now I am beginning to edit it. I have a second novel in mind, so I would like to polish the first and send it somewhere. I too have considered self-publishing, but marketing it might be difficult. I don’t wish to end up with a basement full of unsold copies. I admire your pluck in sending your manuscript to publishers. One will be interested one day and then we can celebrate your success. In the meantime, keep writing. Blessings, Mollie

    • Thank you for those kind words, Mollie, and many congratulations on completing your first novel. I think you’re absolutely right about marketing being a big problem when it comes to self-publishing. It’s hard enough for the major publishers to get novels into the public consciousness. I read something recently about the tiny percentage of debut novels that make any sort of impact, even with big marketing machines behind them. I hope your editing goes well, and the second novel starts to take shape. I think once you’ve written one novel, the second one doesn’t seem so impossible because you know you can do it. That’s not to say it’s easy, mind you.

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