The last few months I’ve found myself wishing for some kind of device that will tell me the right path to take, some sort of satnav for life, if you like.
Whatever you want to do career-wise there will be decisions to make, moments where the path ahead forks with no way of knowing which one to take, and being a writer is no different. Sometimes these decisions are small and inconsequential, such as which competition to enter, should you really edit that story after a glass of wine, or how will your character react to her husband’s infidelity? But there are others you just know are the game changers, the gut-wrenching heart in your mouth while you plunge into the darkness decisions, like can you afford to give up work for a year to concentrate on your writing, should you write that steam-punk sci-fi gangster novel that’s been bothering you for months, or should you go with an agent/publisher or self-publish and become an independent writer?
If you take the self-publishing route the decision-making seems to be constant, often without the necessary knowledge or experience. At each stage of the process the ramifications of a bad choice is all the more scary because if it goes wrong you only have yourself to blame. I had all this going on in the back of my mind when I started working with The Illustrator on my book cover. We developed ideas together, with several drafts before we settled on what the final image would look like. There were various problems growing along the way, but I’d already started on this path and I was hopeful that we just needed to keep going and things would come right. But then the whole process faltered and I found myself having to make the decision — keep on this path even though I can see it’s probably not best for the book, or go back, admit defeat and start on a new path?
I make it sound easy, summing up the situation in one paragraph, but it was tough even getting to the point where I acknowledged a decision had to be made. I also had to face the fact that my expectations were too high, I’d done the wrong thing and most crucially I’d wasted time. Where was my inner satnav when I needed it?
In the end I called a halt, turned around and trudged back to the starting point, feeling despondent and defeated. But then I made a few new contacts and had a tentative conversation with a graphic designer. I love what I’ve seen on her website and started to feel excited about how she would interpret the story. I realised I’d already started on a new path, my inner satnav rerouting me without me knowing it.
I still feel the loss of that time, and my relationship with The Designer is at an early stage. I won’t know if this is the right path until I’ve travelled along it for a while, sussed out the scenery, got the vibe of this new journey, and I’m trying to look at my mistakes in a positive way. Steve Jobs once said, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever…’ And I suppose the way we connect up the dots is by making mistakes, taking time to reflect and then learning from them. Apple have not (yet) created a device that will tell us the right thing to do, so we just have to have faith and if it feels right in our gut, just do it anyway.