In late 2009 I signed a two book deal with Viking, Penguin, and I honestly felt like the luckiest little rabbit in the writerly stratosphere. It was the kind of thing I hadn’t even let myself dream about, especially in the years prior where I’d experienced the slew of rejections all writers do. Yet even as I signed the contract I had a nagging voice in the back of my mind wondering about book two – the book they’d contracted based on Squish Rabbit. An undefined book I hadn’t even written yet. But of course this thought was quickly overtaken by everything involved in getting Squish out into the world. And all the excitement. And maybe the champagne.
Flick forward to early this year. Squish Rabbit was but months away from appearing on bookshelves and suddenly my publisher was asking about book two. They wondered whether maybe I’d considered doing another Squish book? Now I had tried to prepare for this moment. I had certainly considered other Squish stories, as he’s so alive to me and I know much about his little life. I had some notes about other possible stories and even some very basic drafts. But nothing I had done really prepared me for my first experience of writing to contract. Cue dramatic music…
Before that point, every story I’d created I had written for myself. Sure, I’d hoped to get published and I certainly had readers in mind, but in real terms I was following my own whims and ideas. No matter how determined or focussed I was in my writing, ultimately I was just chasing around my own muse. And besides the whole ‘not knowing whether I’d ever get published or not’, it was really quite glorious.
Writing to contract was completely different. My first book had a sell-in to bookstores that was encouraging enough for my publisher to ask for a second Squish story. Suddenly I had an editor with hopes and expectations. In fact I had a whole team I’d worked with. What if they didn’t like anything I sent them? If the chances of getting one picture book accepted were so rare, what was the possibility of me writing two they’d love? What if I only had one publishable book in me? What if they began to regret signing me up for two books? Would I have to give back the money? Oh horror of horrors … every iota of self-doubt I’d ever experienced kicked up into a dust storm inside me. So instead of ambling through the creative fields of my mind, I was paralysed. I couldn’t write a word.
Self-doubt always settles in me eventually. And with time, I realised a number of things that helped me push through this:
- Always write for yourself first: No matter where the story is going, no matter who it is for, always begin by writing something for yourself. Something that moves you, that pulls at the strings of your mind, that calls to that secret little place where your inner child hides. I honestly believe that if you write something you love, you’re much more likely to write something someone else will too. And besides, editing can come later…
- No story is brilliant from the beginning: You have to write crap before your story can get better. I’m sure this is a rule, written somewhere in the vast and dusty annals of ‘The Craft of Writing Awesome’. We can’t help but compare ourselves to all the amazing writers out there, and yet their picture books and novels that we read have often been through years of rewriting. Nothing we write on day dot will ever come close to it.… It. Takes. Time
- Your publisher is not all seeing: I had this weird and creepy feeling that my editor could see everything I wrote. Every time I tried to write something down, my mind would conjure up how she would respond to it. My poor delightful editor (sorry Tracy!) turned into the voice of my inner writing critic. It was actually a revelation to me that she couldn’t see my first draft! Once I realised this, it freed me up to play again – to try out all sorts of different story options and to toil through many drafts