If you write fiction, it’s likely that the stories you tell are not confined to your books. We all have narratives by which we live our lives – versions of ourselves we think of as true, but are more likely just the various sweet melodies we have learned to play by heart and to which we love to dance. (“This is the kind of person I am”; “These are the things that I need”; “It was love at first sight”.) Writers have a greater choice of melodies than other people – their imaginations make them better musicians, you could say.
Any person who has the imaginative power to cast themselves into a different life, to take on someone else’s voice, to create worlds within worlds, cannot be expected to colour strictly within the lines when they are not writing, but living. Many of us can report fleeting encounters with alternative lives: “Have you ever wondered what would happen if you…”; “For a second I considered stepping off the edge…”; “When the phone rang, I knew it was him, it was like it had all happened before….” If you’re a writer, you might do more than wonder; you might step off the edge; you might know the phone has rung before, in some other life you dipped into just last week.
It is no wonder that so many authors are beset by anxiety. If anything could happen – if endings can be happy or sad – well then how can we be sure that when one foot goes in front of the other, it will find sure ground? Things authors have said to me in the past two weeks: “I no longer trust my instincts”; “I’m not sure who I am any more”; “I have made a conscious decision to be different”. Stories can defeat us – if we let them. One author I know is desperately worried that if she writes something in a novel, it will come true. (It did, once or twice before, but of course this was just an unfortunate collision of dream and reality). Another client fears that if she writes down what she wants the most, it will never happen to her.
But, happily, most of the writers I know are essentially hopeful people. They know better than us that, even if they have a bad day, tomorrow can be different. Unpublished writers in particular are expert story-collectors, combing the world of publishing and social media for stories to suit their needs. The author who was turned down by thirty publishers before she was commissioned. The phenomenon who couldn’t find an agent before she had sold 100,000 books on her own. The bestseller who had to live on starvation rations while she wrote her book but now dines at all the top places with all the top people. The author who was rejected by her publisher but went on to find a new one and to enjoy her best ever selling book. These stories give other writers hope.
I represent all the writers in those stories – they are all true. Each of you who is an author should write your own success story: a heady mixture of dreams and experiences. Reject the old melodies and find new ones to dance to. As a reader, I’m grateful to you for believing that anything could happen. As an agent, I will try to prove you right.