I really should stop telling this story.
I really should stop telling how I was amazed that I was accepted, for starters. This was a master class that usually only accepted published writers. It was run by a bloke who used to run a very prestigious degree program for writers, a bloke who was a published writer himself and a regular on the writers festival circuit (and could therefore pepper his sentences with statements such as “My friend Peter Carey said…” and “When I was interviewing Salman Rushdie…”). The publisher who’d been reading my work recommended I attend and it seemed her recommendation was enough to get me a foot in the door. Then, of course, I had to apply like everyone else.
I really should stop telling how much it work it was. There were eleven of us. We each had to submit an excerpt for workshopping. We had to read every excerpt and annotate it where we felt was necessary. Then we had to write a letter to each participant to accompany the annotated excerpt. We did all of this twice.
I really should stop telling how I had enjoyed the first bit of the workshop. How I liked most of the other participants, warming to one or two right away. How I heard myself contributing my perspective that, in addition to all the usual stuff about writing being excruciatingly hard work, that it also brought unmitigated joy. How I’d finished my manuscript, revised it and was even proud of it.
I really should stop telling how my excerpt was workshopped on the first day. How I’d submitted the opening few pages as I’d really wanted some feedback on whether they were suitably arresting.
I really should stop telling how I was told:
You need to make smarter decisions about what your narrator observes. A ten year old boy just would not say that.
If we gave a book like this as a prize, we would get calls of complaint from parents. You just can’t have pools of blood in the opening pages of a middle grade book.
You poor love! You thought it was finished.
Why are we hearing about his mum here? We don’t need to know about his mum. We need to know about him. What is his problem? We need to know what his problem is. What is his problem?
I really should stop telling how the woman who kept asking about my protagonist’s problem would not stop picking at a grody great bandaid on her finger. She was seated at the top of the table, on the left of the bloke who ran the master class, because she had once been shortlisted for something.
I really should stop telling how in the midst of having my work shredded, the bloke who ran the master class informed me that he had been discussing my work with the publisher who had recommended me. My writing, in her opinion, was really lacking. So maybe, if I took on the feedback I was receiving, I might get closer to publication some day.
I really should stop telling how the master class was framed as “three thousand dollar’s worth of free advice”; three thousand dollars being the usual cost of obtaining a professional manuscript assessment.
I really should stop telling how we were told that some previous participants had moved to rural New South Wales, binge watched Play School whilst drinking whisky, never to write another word.
I really should stop telling that this last anecdote was hilarious.
I really should stop telling how I cried all the way home, I cried all that night, then for the next two days straight. How I felt like my manuscript — and my life — were worth nothing. How I had no idea what I was going to do next because, as far as I’d known, my book was closer to being published and the year that followed would be about knuckling down to help get it out into the world. How I regretted telling everyone how much I loved by manuscript and how proud of it I’d been. Because that was the most stupid thing I could have possibly said, under the circumstances.
I really should stop telling how I went back and finished the master class the next day and the day after that and the following weekend. How I was fully complicit, shredding others’ work as they had shredded mine. How I was told by one participant that he was sure I would go far because my body language had been so open to all who had criticised my work. How I thanked him but smirked on the inside, knowing that he had completely misread the signs of an oldest daughter people-pleaser.
I really should stop telling how I wrote a passive aggressive check list to accompany the next excerpt I submitted and it went like this:
Now that I have read your second excerpt, I would like you alert you to the following shortcomings in your narrative and in particular the bits that:
a) didn’t make sense:
b) a certain publisher probably found half-assed because I know I do:
c) frustrated me much I wanted to slap this character/that character/you:
d) are irredeemably naff:
e) I will send you my child’s therapy bills for:
In addition, you really should be more (please circle) vigilant/mature/realistic when it comes to:
Finally, may I recommend that you: (tick all that apply)
o trash this draft and start afresh
o don’t give up your day job
o keep going with the revisions despite your suspicion that sticking a pencil in your eye would be more pleasant/profitable
o other (please state):
I really should stop telling how the woman with the grody bandaid told me off for including that check list. We’d been accidentally-on-purpose partnered up for the morning’s exercise and spent most of the time talking in breathy high-pitched tones and not making eye contact. Then she told me that I should be more careful writing things like that, because it really threw her. I shrugged and said that I’d written it to amuse my favourite workshop participant, a yidcore punk lawyer with dreads down to his knees and tattoos of his ferret’s footprints down his arm. I did not tell her how I held that dude in my heart because everytime he spoke of my manuscript, he just said, “I loved it”.
I really should stop telling how I felt absolutely nothing when I received an official(ish) rejection from the publisher who’d been reading my work. And how, when I mentioned that she had not encouraged me to rework the manuscript and send it back — as they had in the past — the bloke running the master class offered to send it to her on my behalf. Because he and the publisher had had another conversation during the week and arrived at the consensus that I was SO talented.
I really should stop telling that story, eighteen months later.
Because I have finally returned to my manuscript. I can finally read it and feel awe for all the love and effort I poured into it. And reverence for the story that wants to be told.
I am no longer going to tell that story because — with a lot of support and encouragement from people I love and respect — I have moved far beyond it.
I am returning to the story that I really want to tell. And it will be told.