It's a chrysalis thing, writing. We start out life as a florist, a nurse, an accountant... then we wake up one fine day and feel the winds of change drifting across our paths. We start to inchy pinch our way up a narrow branch towards the light, towards the sun, towards our True North.
It might have started with a bedtime story. Your kids love it - an adventurous tale you've been telling them for years- they blissfully fall asleep listening to your voice taking them to the furthest reaches of your imagination. Your mother overhears you telling it to them one night, and suggests you write it down...
It could have started with a blog that went viral. A piece from your heart that was picked up and scattered to the networking winds like springtime seeds. The people love your words, the people want more, the people are baying like wolves...
So you start to write, and you find that you can't stop. The words tumble out of you, unbidden, finding their special place upon your empty screen. Suddenly, you're creating visions of splendour that nobody else has ever seen, that you didn't even know you had. You wonder where they came from after you've read it out loud to yourself. Are they your words, or were they mysteriously channelled? From whither didst thou groweth?
Your partner wonders why you aren't joining them after dinner anymore, what's so important on your computer that you can't see the final episode of your favourite show... Your friends wonder why you keep scribbling on their napkins... Your children can't understand why they're allowed so much television. Something is happening to change your life.
Along that long, crooked branch, are lumps and bumps - impediments to your journey. Naysayers who tell you that there's no money in writing. That not everyone can be J K Rowling. That publishers get 1000 (yes, 1000) manuscripts a day to sift through. That your dream, years of your new life, will sit at the bottom of someone's slush pile for months and months and months.
So you stop telling people what you're doing. You keep it a secret. shhhhhh......
Your neck starts to hurt. Your back gives way when you empty the dishwasher one day. You learn what RSI really means. But you soldier forth, mesmerised by the whisper of your inner compass.
Until one day, the sun looks like it will peek out from behind the clouds. A magazine editor sees your work - they offer you space in their e-Mag to display your wares. Your ego lights up, you feel heard, you feel read! And then you discover the true meaning of FREElance. The offers start to roll in: "Whilst articles will be unpaid, we are happy to credit your article back to the source which will appear on our e-Mag and will be promoted out across our huge network of readers...". You take them up on it, because you still can't see your worth.
Another ray of sunlight shines through... a new Publisher wants stories, just like yours. You send one in - your favourite - hopeful, and you wait. And wait. And wait. Every ring of the phone hurries your heart beat. Every bling of your e-mail gives you a start. Until one day, unbeknownst to you, a hand reaches down to touch the small red clip that you've attached to your story to set it apart from the rest. A beautiful hand, no rings, no lines, no experience. They cast their tired young eyes over your words, stopping at the second line. You've mentioned 'pirate'. Uh oh...too many pirate tales this year. A hundred hours of your life fly through the air as the new recruit gets their 47th slam dunk of the day. You are still waiting for the postman as the recycling truck rumbles down the street with your story inside it.
We sit, we write, we think about writing and we keep on writing. In offices, in cafes, in bathrooms- wherever we can achieve peace and calm. Our friends and family give us feedback, if we're brave enough to share. They say, "Wow! You should be published!" but you know they love you and don't have a critiquing bone in their body. You still have no idea whether you have what it takes...
And then you hear about a competition. For a small fee, you can anonymously send in your stories for a panel of judges to read. All you can see is that someone wants to read your work. Someone who will tell you if it's ready or not. Someone who knows something about books!
So you spend all month tidying up your work, rewriting 500 words a hundred different ways. You check the submission guidelines a thousand times, and still worry you'll make a mistake. "Did I make it 14 font or 12?", "Oh no, I forgot to double space!", "Aaargh, only 23 minutes until the deadline!"
And at one minute to midnight, you send them in.
And then you wait. and wait. and wait.
The day approaches slower than your wedding day, slower than exam results, slower than the birth of your first child. The most highly anticipated event of the year... Your first feedback sheet.
Somewhere in your heart, you know you'll get a place. You might even win! They may even offer you a contract from a top tier publishing house. How could they not?
Because the rest of your heart knows the truth. The e-mail blings when you least expect it- your writer friends all call you to see if you've heard? You open the e-mail with trembling fingers and a hammering heart. This is it.
The judges have given you a score of 25... out of a possible 50. That's barely a pass, for those of us who remember school. Oh crap. Once the number fades away and the knot in your chest starts to dissipate, you begin to see the words... The ones that tell you where you went wrong and what you should do to get it right. The ones that tell you that they enjoyed reading your story, but that work needs to be done to get it to a publisher's desk. The ones that tell you not to quit your day job but to keep on writing...
Those words set you free. They either reinforce your cocoon or point you towards another branch. You can justify some of their words as subjective, but that's no panacaea for the pain of the truth: Subjectivity is what we want as writers. We want our readers to feel our stories, breathe our words and live the journey we set them on.
And so, we use the feedback sheets to paper our chrysalis. To keep us warm as we grow, and learn, and read and write and write and write some more.
Until one day, another hand takes us down from that branch, an older and wiser hand that cradles us in its warmth, and watches until we emerge as a glorious and wonderful author...
...and then they offer us a contract and a new day begins!