While I was in London for the Breast Cancer Care fashion show recently, I also attended the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards. I was a finalist in the Inspire category and I know that some of you voted for me. I’m enormously grateful for that. My friend Lydia came as my plus one, and the whole thing took place on an evening cruise along the Thames. We met Celine Bell (who blogs as Bell from Bow) and her friend early on and the four of us sat together, taking full advantage of the canapes. It was a fun evening, but I didn’t win (here’s the blog that did). I truly was honoured to be a finalist, but still, not winning is always disappointing. A door closed.
I’ve been entering a lot of writing-related things recently: competitions, mentorship opportunities, submissions to agents and magazines. I’ve been in something of a frenzy, constantly working on one thing or another, with the new novel always on the go as well. One thing this has led to is a higher number of rejections. Recently, a handful of agents have said thanks but no thanks to my last novel. I didn’t make it through to the mentoring stage in the Penguin WriteNow process. I’ve been sending stuff out, pretty relentlessly, and most of it’s coming back. Return to sender. I know from reading about other writers’ experiences that that’s normal. But a closed door is a closed door, and it still hurts.
The other side of it is that I’ve had more positive responses, too. With the blogging awards and the WriteNow scheme, I was delighted to get as far as I did. As I’ve mentioned before, I gained a wonderful mentor, Gillian McAllister (whose new novel is out today), through the WoMentoring Project. I had a short story, Not Only Mine, published in a new online literary journal, the Same. And I found out last week that a non-fiction piece of mine has been selected for what’s hopefully going to be a print anthology about recovery.
The nice thing about having so many submissions out there is that you tend to forget what you’re waiting to hear back about, and when. So instead of getting anxious and checking your emails constantly on results day (ok, I still do this sometimes), you’re often taken by surprise with the responses. I find that makes it easier to shrug off the negative ones and delight in the positives. The email about the recovery piece came directly after a particularly tricky solo bedtime with the kids, and my stress lifted instantly.
This morning, I saw something online about menopausal anxiety, about a celebrity saying she wasn’t able to leave the house for weeks. I didn’t read the article, but something clicked inside me, and started to make sense. I am frantic at the moment. Not just about the writing stuff, but about everything. Despite having three days when the children are at nursery and not currently working, I feel overwhelmed by the things I need to do. It’s partly because I try to fit a lot into those three days: writing 2,000 words of the novel per day, blog posts for here and other sites I write for, visiting Rach, cooking for the kids, food shopping, all the washing, exercise, life admin etc. Often, things fall by the wayside, and I feel like a failure because no-one else I know has three days a week to herself. It feels like mild anxiety, this perpetual worry. Just one more thing I have to thank cancer for.
There’s another door that’s closed, recently, but I shut this one myself. I decided to withdraw from the creative writing MA I was planning. Things had changed since I’d applied, and I’d somehow naturally found the writing community and motivation I was seeking, through having a mentor, using Twitter in a different way and just getting my head down. I realised that I was going to have to put off writing the current novel to do the reading and work required for the course, and I didn’t want to pay all that money and end up feeling frustrated, desperate to get back to the novel I could have just carried on writing. So, I told them I’d changed my mind, which was tough, because I hate committing to things and not following through on them. But it felt like the right decision and it still does.
It hasn’t escaped me that I’m writing less about cancer and more about other things, these days. I’ve considered putting an end to the blog, drawing a line under it. But I think life after cancer is rarely documented, and it feels important to show people what someone like me is left with, after the storm has passed. I still live with fear and with side effects, with fatigue and aching and hot flushes. I don’t sleep as well as I did, though I need that sleep more. I am frantic, a little manic, at times. I am trying to make something good from something bad. I am mostly succeeding. I am not closing this particular door just yet.