Knowing when to let go – Nicola Mostyn

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By Nicola Mostyn

I’ve always had a strong sense of my next step in life. This little voice inside was the reason I was determined to take English, and not Maths, at A Level. It was why, in my twenties, I took the leap of faith and became a freelance writer. And when, aged 30, the magazine I was working for folded, it spoke up again, asking me whether it wasn’t time I began that novel I’d always talked about? ♥

Obedient as ever, I got to work. I had a good idea for a story and an even greater drive to get it written. After a couple of years of intense writing, into which I sunk considerable time and money, I finished the book and began to pitch it out, heart pounding and everything crossed. My first attempt, I had no idea whether the novel was good enough, so when I received an offer of representation, I was ecstatic.

It was soon after this that things began to go awry.

My agent took me on because he believed in the potential of my writing and my idea. But I was very inexperienced and the novel needed work. A lot of it. This would have been fine had I a clear idea of what I ultimately wanted the book to be. But I did not have this clarity. Added to this, I was overawed and desperate to please. I so wanted to make good on my agent’s belief in me. I also really, REALLY wanted a book deal. And so, as my agent made various suggestions, I set about implementing them all, indiscriminately, and without any real idea of what I was working towards.

I rewrote the book and I rewrote it, and then I rewrote it some more. Twice from scratch at 120,000 words each. But a funny thing was happening. The more I worked on it, the further away it seemed to get. Time ticked on and I started to get desperate. This is not good. There is a reason why ‘Be desperate’ never turns up on anyone’s list of Top Ten Writing Tips.

After handing in what I imagined was my final draft and receiving in return some (absolutely correct) suggestions for more substantial changes, something in me broke. And that quiet, calm voice of intuition finally got a word in.

Stop writing this book.

I couldn’t believe it. Give up? I had an agent? This was my dream! How could I stop now?

But the voice would not be deterred. Let it go, it said. This is not your next step. Calm down. Get on with your life. You’re writing about what love isn’t? How about you try finding out what love is?

My creative calling had never asked me not to be creative before, but I didn’t doubt its wisdom because I have trusted that voice all my life, and because even I, in my manic state, could see that I had wrung all the joy from this process. I was holding on too tightly. I had this novel in a goddamned headlock. Whatever I came up with in this panicked, agitated state was unlikely to be a novel I could stand by.

And so, I made a pact with myself. I would let this book go. If it was meant to be, then the story would come back when the time was right. And if not, well … so be it. Most people don’t publish their first novels, I reasoned, and, anyway, maybe I wasn’t even meant to be a writer? Really letting go meant that, although it devastated me, I had to allow that possibility too.

Letting go of that novel broke my heart. But like all heartbreaks, there was something better waiting on the other side. I started copywriting and editing for a living and rebuilt my client list. I moved to a new flat. I met my now partner. I started new stories, practised my craft, but I held my work gently. No more headlocks.

And then, four years after I let the novel go, it came back. As clearly as I had known it was time to stop writing it, I now knew it was time to start again. And more importantly, I knew how.

I wrote The Gods of Love in a joyous burst over five months. My agent had by now moved overseas (nothing to do with me, I’m almost sure), and so I pitched out again, got my dream agent, and signed a two-book deal with Piatkus.

My novel, The Gods of Love, was published on February 1.

There’s something magical for me about this book now. Holding it feels like a miracle, or a promise kept. Mostly, though, it will always serve as a tangible reminder that even when you don’t know what you’re doing, even when you are flailing and off track and utterly desperate, your creativity always knows which path to take.

And if you let it out of the headlock, it will tell you.

Nicola Mostyn was born in Manchester and has worked as a bookseller, copywriter, journalist and a columnist, most recently for the Big Issue. Her tongue-in-cheek agony column Dear Kitty was nominated for Best New Blog in the Manchester Blog Awards. She has a Master’s degree in English Literature and has spent more time immersed in the works of Philip Larkin than is strictly healthy. Her debut novel The Gods of Love, is published by Piatkus and was named by inews as one of ten debuts set to make a buzz in 2018. She is represented by Susan Armstrong of C+W Agency. She lives in Manchester with her partner, Nick.

1 Comment

  1. Elisabeth Hyde

    March 9, 2018 at 6:10 am

    I too had to let a book go. I’d rewritten it several times over, but as my agent said when she saw the “final” draft, “I think you’ve written the life out of this book.” I was crushed, but she was right. I didn’t come back to it the way you did, after a long period, but certain themes and characters found their way into subsequent work, and that’s just fine with me.

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