The perils of not being able to say 'no' by Sandra Horn

I am untangled!

I am, constitutionally, a weed. A sad ‘people-pleaser’. A gal  who cain’t say no and is always overly optimistic. Consequently, at great cost to my writing time and energy, I tend to get enmeshed in endless proof-reading for friends, mentoring other friends and, of late, writing a story based on a man’s sketchy recollections of bedtime tales his mother told him almost 70 years ago.

It was great fun to write, I should say, knitting the fragments together and extending it all into a magical adventure, but there was a HUGE snag. He knows nothing about the publishing world and has not even read any children’s literature – or anything about it – since he was a child himself, but he is convinced that the book will be a best-seller and Walt Disney would be bound to want it for a film and we’d end up being millionaires. I had several increasingly firm attempts to tell him how it really is in the publishing world, none of which he listened to.

I have sent the finished version to an agent. We haven’t heard anything yet, of course. It’s a long shot anyway. Meantime, he went ahead and commissioned an artist to illustrate it, at huge expense, in spite of my saying until I was blue in the face that it doesn’t work like that.  Finally, I had to make it absolutely clear that writing the words was the beginning and end of my involvement (we do have a Memorandum of Agreement which says I’m not putting any money in) because I couldn’t bear the nonsense any more. He is very angry and has cut communication – for which relief, much thanks. It’s been exhausting.
What now, though? I’ve also just finished two lots of proofs and some subbing for different people. The new ‘The Silkie’ is just about ready for publication and I’ve even managed to write the back-cover blurb, with some help (why is writing blurbs so impossibly difficult??).

 The Silkie final illustration: Jeannie giving back the Silkie's skin and setting him free. Anne-Marie Perks' lovely delicate work

So, freedom! I’m still on the 52 Poems challenge and am, at present, a week ahead, so at last some headspace to get back to some other writing. After several attempts – opening the file, closing it again in a panic – I have gone back to a YA novel I started more years ago than I care to think, and which I thought I’d finished at least twice. Readers’ comments on the last revision but one were along the lines of ‘some lovely writing but it doesn’t quite work’. Perhaps it will never work, but I have never quite been able to let it go. Some of it is in the first person of one central character but the other main protagonist is mute, so it switches to narrative. I now think that’s OK, but at some point I tried to make him speak so as to overcome any problems the switch between formats might have. It was hopeless. He doesn’t speak and that’s that. He has an extraordinarily rich inner life, verging on the mystical, and it stays inside his head. That’s just how he is.

Reading it again after a very long time with sinews duly stiffened, I can see some inconsistencies that need ironing out, and some places where the continuity needs to be clearer. They are relatively straightforward to correct. I’ve read it with as fiercely critical an eye as I can muster, and I still like it and feel good about it. The next step is to take it to my writing group for their input. After that... who knows?  Just feeling that it is finally complete and I’ve done all I can with it will be something - and perhaps it will be enough.


Bill Kirton said…
Familiar feelings, Sandra. The only thing I'd add is that, if I find I AM able to say no, it's probably an indication that my writing's going well and I'd rather get on with that. On the other hand, if I'm struggling, answering a request for help with almost anything is a great displacement activity.
I too have a YA epic that I started years ago and 'finished' at least twice, but now is back into editing for a condensed version that is going to be published in paperback next April. I think some books and ideas just take a while to settle, and trying to rush the process only results in a rushed end product. Good luck with your rewrite.

PS. That silkie/selkie? drawing makes me want to cuddle a seal!
glitter noir said…
That's a sad story that I'm sure a lot of us can relate to. The worst experience I had was with a couple of friends in Charlotte. We had an informal agreement that I would be compensated for my work in helping edit a philosphical work on the husband's study of the Torah. Not my expertise, to say the least. But the guy's ideas intrigued me though the writing was long-winded. Anway, I worked for months...never saw a cent...and suffered the final indignity of having the college-age daughter rewrite my input. I was told that we had nothing in writing.

And I did learn to say no.
Anonymous said…
Reb, that is horrendous. I'm guessing these are not friends any more. You just don't expect friends to take advantage in such a calculated, dishonest way.

Sandra, your chap sounds more complex, possibly even mildly autistic (?). I'm glad you managed to extract yourself after so much input, and can get on with your own work again.

It can be fun working on other people's books (up to a point, as you show!). A friend asked me to help with shaping a memoir written by his father, who'd spent the last 3 months of WW2 in a Gestapo prison in Austria. The friend had translated his father's account into English (quite a feat in itself) and I was intrigued. The story was fascinating and I divided it into chapters with cliff hangers at the end of each (not difficult to arrange), tightening up and rewriting in places where the English didn't make sense. What I didn't haul in was that another writer had also been asked for help - a bit awkward. The book was eventually (self) published and I was glad to see that while none of my edits made it, at least they kept my chapter divisions.

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