Survival Story: A Brush With Creative Death

Six years ago I stopped writing prose. I was writing everything else, but I’d become so jaded that I couldn’t be bothered with prose. I’d started on the path to creative death.

When it comes to creative pursuits, writing is my first love. As a youngster I spent hours on it. I didn’t leave the world I was creating until I needed to go eat, or some other human necessity. I was kind of arrogant too, thinking I knew all, end, cause hey, “My Stories Are Awesome!”

That’s the feeling I had for much of my younger life. I happily wrote and wrote, completing multiple stories a year with no end in sight.

I started submitting stories to publishers nearly two decades ago. I still lived in Barbados then and there wasn’t much information on how to do any of this. I had to try to figure out most of it on my own, and I’m pretty certain I was the only teen writer doing it on-island at the time.

Against the info-odds, I sent my first novel to a publisher – or rather what I thought was a publisher (an anime studio really). Give me a break, Google wasn’t the almighty search engine it is now. On top of that, I later learnt I’d actually sent a novella (25k words)guess I didn’t know it all lol.

As the years passed I submitted some more, mostly to agents, and by 2015 I was no stranger to rejection. Some days it still kicked me in the stomach, but I always thought this is just a part of it, it’s okay. Harder still was the fact that more and more agents were getting plugged in to my work, but despite full manuscript requests left, right, and center, “no” was the final response. Still, I kept saying to myself, don’t worry; keep going.

Meanwhile I was reading all these articles and taking tons of writer advice that kept telling me I was doing everything all wrong. I was submitting all wrong. I needed to write what was trending to be relevant. I needed to write the way the people in my genres did. I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to if it stepped outside the “norm” for prose.

All this information seeped in to my psyche. It mentally battered me. Everyone else seemed to understand what the best way to write was and I started to think all I’d thought about writing prose was wrong. I couldn’t do things the way I wanted. I couldn’t show the worlds I wanted, not if they weren’t done “just so”. They had to follow the right pattern determined by a mass of people I’d never even met.

I slowly began to feel creatively crippled and second-guessed nearly every “writerly” decision I made.

Another thing I wondered about and that stressed me quite a bit, was if my location was working against me. Most Caribbean-born writers represented or published by big names, were those who’d migrated elsewhere.

So, I did a little experiment with a story. I put it out there and even did a Twitter competition with it. In the end I sent it to maybe thirty-five or so agents and only a handful didn’t want to read more after the pitch and first pages. I thought, this is it, someone’s going to get me and the kind of writing I’m going for and pick it up. In the end, no one did. Despite multiple glowing responses to the story, they all said “no”. Random side-story: One agent even said to me, “I don’t know why I’m passing.”

After that I spiralled. I was pretty much over it. I thought, what’s the point of writing prose all the time, giving my all and getting told in not so many words, “your work isn’t good enough for me” over and over? I wasn’t mad or frustrated anymore, I was deflated.

I was done.

I got swept away with all the other things. Writing for client projects. Script writing, course creation, etc – but no prose. Nope, you can stay over there sir, was my thinking.

Sometime in mid-2019, I started to breathe life into myself again. You see, while going through my whole “say no to prose” debacle, I’d also been doing the life thing and having some tough times in between with that too. Two years ago I made the choice to catch my breath and start fixing what was wrong inside.

I started working on me and in time, saw the real reasons I’d given up on writing prose after twenty-two years. Yes, 22. I started before I was in double digits, fun little short stories and essays that I’d probably laugh my head off at if I could read them now.

I’d given up on it because I’d fallen out of love. I’d let myself forget why I enjoyed writing so much. Why it’d been my passion. I let myself be bombarded with so many outside influences, I no longer had a say in my own head. I had to look back so I could move forward.

Yes, I still cringe when I see errors in stories, or ways I could have made them better, but something else has happened too: I’ve remembered why I love my stories.

I’m still madly in love with many of my early stories. I love the characters, the worlds, and they’re uniquely me. Reading them and realising just how free I used to be while writing was therapeutic. I didn’t think about if every single grammar rule was checked. I didn’t care about what anyone else was doing, or how they told me to write. I just wrote.

Simple as that.

I discovered that though I’d written great stories since those earliest days, I’d been bound. I hadn’t been allowing myself the freedom necessary to truly be who I am as a writer. I’d forgotten myself and allowed that part of me to fall by the wayside.

In early 2020, I finished my first prose story in five years. Since then, I’ve sent it out to a few agents and those that’ve replied so far? Glowing responses – “great book”, “so fun”, “etc, etc” – but they haven’t picked it up.

This time round I’m not beating myself up. I’m not deciding I’m not good enough based on what they can’t or won’t see. I know my story’s a good one and it will find its place.

As a writer, it’s easy to feel like your fate is dependent on becoming represented by an agent or being picked up by a publisher. Sure, this may make some things easier, depending. But, I choose to believe my stories will always speak for themselves and I’m writing prose now in the way I want, to tell stories that are a part of me.

I won’t walk the thin line of creative death again.

The next Pages Unforgotten post is February’s newsletter on Feb 2. Until then, try: Let’s Go Forward With A Look Back | Inside Worlds: “Eye of Storms” Quick Look | How I Got Here and Why I May Not Stay | Flash Fiction: Sacrifice

Chapters 1 – 3 of my epic fantasy/carib speculative novel Eye of Storms, available in February.

Multi-genre reads available on my Fiction page :).

For more info, questions, or comments, share below or contact me :).

4 thoughts on “Survival Story: A Brush With Creative Death

  1. Maybe your stories already found their place: in the hearts of us who read them and loved them. Doesn’t pay the bills yet but it might help to know that you’ve touched many of us (not in a creepy way). I still feel Sumiseran vividly, think about Praesidium and feel like I’m living in The November Incident right now.
    I’m confident the rest of the world will catch on to how awesome your words are soon but for now, your loyal readers love your stuff and want more.

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