What do ANY of us have to say? A writer’s neurosis – Anna Mansell

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By Anna Mansell

I’ve been thinking about this for days. What can I write, about writing? What can I say that might be of use to anyone, someone like me, someone like you… if you’re reading it now… whoever you are. *waves* hello! But I’ve sat here for hours, the dreaded blank page staring back…

The thing is, I don’t think I have a top five list of writing tips that hasn’t been done already. Or advice for the notoriously difficult second novel, or the inner sanctum on getting an agent… I don’t even have an agent! They all turned me down and believe me, I tried… oh lord, did I try!

Brilliant websites, just like this one, are packed as jammily tight with wisdom, as the suitcase I took to Puerto Rico when I turned twenty-one. Okay, that was less full of wisdom and more chocka with fourteen bikinis and a sound system… unnecessary, given that I was in a particularly loud Corrs phase at the time – turns out my singing along was not to everyone’s taste… Never mind, the point is: there’s such a wealth of tips, tricks, and advice; wisdom, experience and golden nuggets of brilliance from those in the know, what can a woman without much more than a laptop and a two-book deal have to offer? And depending on when you read this, my debut isn’t even out yet/has only just been released! What experience do I have? What can I bring to the table?

And then I read that back and see I’ve dropped in the words ‘a two-book deal’ like it was easy. Like I hadn’t spent the four years prior to signing on the dotted line in a fixed state of foggy neurosis. Like I hadn’t jacked my job in on a massive whim and was beginning to think my husband’s patience was about to run out. Like I’m not massively grateful, and hugely aware that this opportunity is something people – me included – dream of.

51dRbGJVqhL._SY346_Which leads me to think back a year. When sure, I had the old whirring laptop, but the rest of my dream was as elusive as my ability to belt out a rendition of Runaway without losing all dignity… this extended Corrs reference is dubious, google them if you’ve no idea. But I’d finished my fourth novel, I’d received another round of rejections from agents, the route I was committed to taking: agent, book deal, success. I had decided self-publishing wasn’t for me because I just didn’t have the confidence I was writing anything worthwhile. I didn’t want to put something out there that wasn’t the absolute best I could make it. I couldn’t do this alone! In fact, my chosen route to publication was so immovable, and my confidence in what I was doing so shady, that it could very well have all stopped there.

Until I talked to Miranda Dickinson. She of many, many book sales and generosity of spirit as large as the suitcase I… sorry, I’ll stop that now… And she pointed out some alternatives. Different routes to achieve the same goal. And I realized, not only was my neurosis holding me back, but so too was my immovable route to publication!

So, I sent my book out to Bookouture. Two days later I got an email. Two weeks later I got a book deal. I was in the frozen aisle in Asda and couldn’t choose from the many fish finger products on the market because I was simply, just too giddy. And in the space of no time at all, after four years of grafting in to a literary abyss, my dreams were coming true. For no other reason than I didn’t give up, and I ignored the neurosis that said I couldn’t do it.

So maybe I do have something to say, and true – it isn’t necessarily new – but then they say there’s only seven basic plots in the world too. If that’s the case, we each tell them in our way, with our choice of words, just as I have here. So, I suppose there is something I can offer: don’t give up, don’t think you’ve nothing to say, don’t stick rigid to a single way to achieve your ambition, and don’t, above all don’t, let neurosis dictate your future! It’ll hover like that irritating smell after you’ve microwaved kippers, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of it. Or ignore it. Or spray some lemon to mask the smell.

I’m sorry, my metaphors may need some work… still, it could be worse. Despite thinking I had nothing to say, and nothing to offer, I finished writing something, and I can always go back and rework it, right?

Anna Mansell had a brush with ‘fame’ was as a magician’s assistant back in 1977. She later decided that being sawn in half by her father, at barely 6 months old, was too submissive a role, vowing to channel the trauma in to something much more pro-actively creative. Having failed at acting, singing and professional murder mystery parties (she was ALWAYS the one to die!), she fell to something much more solitary: writing. How To Mend a Broken Heart is her first novel and her life was not on the line in order to write it. Anna lives on a dairy farm in Cornwall with her two children, her husband, and her ex-racing greyhound, Olive Dog.


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