Thursday, 18 October 2012


Not much happens in a hurry in this game. There aren’t many I-had-to-pinch-myself: one-minute-I-was-pulling-pints-in-the-Dog-and-Duck-the-next-I-had-a-three-book-deal moments. There’s an apprenticeship to be served, Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule, if you like (though fortunately for writers, many of these can be chalked up by reading IMHO). It brings a smile to my face when commentators bestow a debut author with sycophantic reverence, as if the words in their book were the first they’d ever written. Likely they have three or four terrible manuscripts clogging up a drawer at home, their craft learned painfully and without brevity. Likewise I groan when people say 'Oh, I don't read debut authors'.

And so, in a week that’s brought some brief reflection on my own writing journey, I thought I’d give you some key dates by way of example, to show success rarely comes overnight, that a week where I’ve seen the cover for my debut novel (coming here soon), signed the sale of foreign rights, and learned that the BBC want to meet to discuss some writing projects, was a long-ish time in the making.

2005 – worked in world’s dullest office, grinning inanely every day while plotting escape
2006 – enrolled on creative writing MA, wrote a short story
2007 – short story becomes a collection
2008 – decides first short story has potential to be a novel
2010 – collection is published, wins a prize or two
2011 – send completed novel to literary agency who like it and sign me
2012 – agent submits novel to publisher, sign for two-book deal
    "    – drove past window of world’s dullest office, unable to resist vestige of smugness
2013 – debut novel to be published
2014 – followed by #2

The reason for this, (honest), is not to bask languorously and egotistically in some small (okay, medium) literary success: it’s to (crudely) document the path, how in 2005 I’d not yielded a solitary word of fiction, but was hungrily seeking some seismic artistic endeavour. What you can’t see are those 10,000+ hours woven in between the dates, the self-doubt, the rejection letters, all that was sacrificed, the blood and sweat, the temptation to slink sheepishly back to said office.

I won’t dare be so facile to say ‘If I can do it, etc’. But, well, you know. There are no shortcuts. Get banking those hours.


Tania Hershman said...

Spot on, Mr V! I like the timeline idea, mine starts in 1997 and has the first 7 years with no publications at all. Yes, it is about putting in the time, probably something harder to remember in our everything-now society! Brilliant about the BBC, when they come to you you have every right to look smugly at dull office!

TOM VOWLER said...

Hi Tania. Yes, there's a danger of thinking it can happen through some lucky break, of who you know, or conversely thikning the publishing world is closed off to most. What I also meant to say (though not to you!) was even if publication / a book deal is a goal, no more than half an eye should gaze its way; it's about the long, lonely hours (years) put in, which of course, while not guarenteeing sucess, make it much more likely. Build up a body of work that can't be ignored.

Sue Guiney said...

Time is a funny thing. While you're in the midst, it all seems so slow and long. But looking back at your timeline, it looks like hey -- that wasn't too bad. I find I keep thinking of myself as a new writer, but I have to admit I started thinking about doing this "seriously" back in 1992, then started to work with a teacher so I could "do" it seriously in 2000 and now here it is 12 years, two novels, two poetry collections later. But man, it's felt like pulling teeth all along....

Carys said...

Great idea re. time line. Maybe I need to make one too to cheer me up! And congratulations again.

chillcat said...

Very accurate photograph. Is that how you are feeling as you are about to launch your book? I also don't believe in lucky strikes, I rather think a long passage of work and dedication is involved, usually years of it. Congratulations and look forward to reading the novel.

chillcat said...

So much time involved! And yet it is really like practising any instrument. Every day, small steps. Congratulations on your swift and successful path and good luck with the novels. No more dangling from cliffs!

TOM VOWLER said...

Sue, here's to pulling more teeth.

Thanks Carys. Gonna email you.

And thank you Catherine. Looking forward to reading some more of your stories.

Paul said...

Does reading blogs count as reading time for the 10,000 hours?

I'm afraid to look at my timeline. So many unpleasant gaps along the way.

TOM VOWLER said...

Definitely, Paul. As long as sipping a pint in my local counts too.

Rachel Fenton said...

This is a good way to remind me things are actually moving forwards. First article published when I was at school; first (awful) novel written and stuffed in drawer in '95; creative writing course taken in 2004; serious writer head goes on in 2009. Must have racked up thousands of hours along the way, but it's only since consistently putting in 36+ hours per week that I've seen some success. Have to say, though, there are worse jobs to be plodding along in - we're lucky!

TOM VOWLER said...

Indeed, yes, Rachel. And we all have awful first novels in the drawer. The trick is to leave them there post-book deal, even if agent or editor asks to see them.

Rachel Newcombe said...

That's so true that are no short cuts and a lot of hard work involved en route.

Congratulations on the two book deal - the book cover looks fab!