Aspiring writers in a ‘holding pattern’

Permission to land?
Permission to land?

I’ll be posting a review of Lisa Genova’s remarkable first novel Still Alice over the weekend. In the meantime, some interesting advice from the author.

‘I know so many aspiring writers who are sitting in a holding pattern, with a work completed, waiting to find a literary agent. They’re stuck, unable to give themselves permission to write the next book because they’re waiting to find out if their work is “good enough”, waiting to find out if they’re a “real writer”. This state of waiting, of not writing and self-doubt, is the worst state any writer can be in.

My advice is this: If you don’t find a literary agent falling into your lap quickly enough, if you feel like your work is done and is ready to be shared with the world, self-publish. Give your work to the world. Let it go. And keep writing. Freedom!’

Genova’s powerful novel about Alzheimer’s was a special case, which followed a unique path to publication. Before the book was published, the Harvard neuroscientist contacted the marketing department of the Alzheimer’s Association, thinking they might be interested in some way, “perhaps endorsing it or providing a link to it from their website”. She sent them the link to the book’s website, which she’d created before the book was published. The marketing rep got in touch, asking for a copy of the manuscript. Even though they didn’t normally considering “partnering” books, they loved it and wanted to give it their stamp of approval. The association asked Genova to write the blog for an awareness campaign they were launching at the end of that month.

“Realising that I’d created something that the Alzheimer’s Association thought was valuable, that could help educate and reassure the millions of people trying to navigate the world with Alzheimer’s, I felt an urgent responsibility to get the book out immediately.” She said yes to the blog and yes to the affiliation and went ahead and self-published Still Alice in 2007, which went on to become a New York Times bestseller.

Two books later, you can find out what Lisa Genova is up to now on her website:

Two blooms for a penny

Four months ago I finished the first draft of my first novel. Finally I had kept my perennial New Year’s resolution – not just to write something but to finish something. This meant putting aside two to three writing sessions a week, taking my idea and pursuing it to the air-punching end. Now being a good aspiring writer I had read up on what should happen next and I dutifully left my manuscript to settle. I knew I was supposed to get some distance and tackle it again with fresh eyes after a break. But breaking my writing stride like that was quite difficult. There was suddenly a void. Like a jogger used to running regularly, I was itching to put on my trainers again and get out there. I missed the writing process and the material itself. I started reaching for the manuscript and tinkering around with a red pen. It was way too soon.

Then a colleague of mine went on a journalism assignment to India. She set up a blog for her trip and hey presto we could all follow what she was doing. And though I’d never been drawn to blogging before, I realised that this was the next logical step for me and definitely worth a try. I was amazed by how easy it was to set up on WordPress and how soon everything fell into place. My first post Unrequited Spite was also my first short story ever to be read by the outside world. A small number of bloggers “liked” it – people I’d never heard of – and I felt encouraged.


Blogging could be seen as the modern day equivalent of rushing up to people on a busy street with print outs of your work and thrusting the pamphlets into their hands. I remember people doing this in Dublin when I was young. But of course not all people have that zeal. Some, like myself, are more at ease standing in a quiet side street, patiently waiting for the right passer-by to come along, occasionally calling out ‘two blooms for a penny’.

Since I started blogging I have discovered a host of interesting people, some similar to me, others whose lives are a million miles removed from mine. It’s been an eye opener. I’m very grateful to regular visitors like the inspiring 5kidswithdisabilities and the adventurous lesleycarter for their interest and encouragement. In terms of visitors, two recent posts which were picked up by a site for the Irish diaspora brought a big spike in my viewing statistics. It was nice to reach a wider audience without having to shout at the top of my lungs.

The time has now come for me to put some serious work into the novel again and apply some of the editing advice I received, especially the valuable input from fellow WordPress writer beanmimo. I’m also going to focus a bit more on submitting for publication. But I still think there’s a place for this blog. There’s a debate about whether writers should bother with blogging. From a numbers point of view it might not be the best use of resources but like many other pastimes, the bottom line is do it if you enjoy it. For me the freedom of expression is the main attraction. Anyone else tempted to start? And for those already blogging – what keeps you posting?