Spending the $50million

I’m sure you’re familiar with that marvelous feeling, after you have bought a lotto ticket but before the draw, where the possibility of winning the $50 million dollars is so real and tangible you can taste it. When you are making lists in your head, spending your winnings, deciding which holidays to go on, which homes to buy, which magnanimous donations you will be making.

I am living the writers equivalent right now.

I have written the stories, entered the competitions and between now and the time the long lists are announced I can indulge in daydreams about winning the prize. In reality, I probably have more chance of winning the lotto than one of the many literary prizes I have entered, but until the lists are announced anything is possible. And what are we as writers, if not able to visualise a future with written-to-order happy endings, specifically designed to meet our own requirements for maximum pleasure?

The literary equivalent of spending of the $50 million prize is dreaming about your story as a physical book. It is seeing your name in print. It is imagining yourself running your hand over the cover, smelling the fleeting new book scent.

It is imaging your acceptance speech, the welcome cramp in your hand signing books for readers, the pride of seeing your novel in the window of a book shop.

It is imaging a future where you can move from saying I am a writer to I am an author.

The disappointment that comes with seeing the list of names on which yours is missing, is real but blessedly brief. Reality quickly crowds back in. You may spend a day or two deflated, dejected, rejected but then you take a deep breath, swallow that lump away and push forward. Pick up that pen again, keep writing, do it all again.

No one ever actually expects to win the $50 million lotto prize. I don’t expect to actually win any of the writing competitions I have entered.

But I can still dream, and until I hear otherwise, I’m spending the fifty million.

Why You Should Never Google Yourself

Faced with a list of tiresome chores and no writing mojo to be found anywhere, I decided to indulge in a little private time this morning. I did something we all do, but rarely admit to.

I Googled myself.

The first page was pretty much what I expected. My blogs shannonmeyerkort.com and Relentless came up, as did my profile on WeekendNotes. There was my LinkedIn profile, gathering cobwebs and dust, various reviews and old academic papers, plus lots of mentions of my Brutal Truth About the Third Child.

I was chuffed to see my Master thesis get a mention on Google Books. Zero reviews and zero stars… probably because the only copy is sitting on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.

I had really begun to enjoy myself. No nude photos. No websites dedicated to destroying me. No embarrassing Facebook shots that someone else had posted.

But then a site came up that I didn’t recognise, and I got a little squeezy sensation in my stomach. Had someone stolen my words or had they written someone awful about me?

This is precisely why they say don’t Google yourself. Sometimes it’s better not to know what others are writing about you.

But I had to find out. Besides, it was in Italian.

There was a picture of me and my family (a picture they don’t have permission to use, but we’ll ignore that) and my name. I could guess at a few of the words: ironia, testimonianza, blogger Americana.

Uh, hang on.

I went back and hit the Google translate button for the page. Then, in a fabulous mash of Italian and English, appeared an article that was designed to look like I had been interviewed, but really was just a bit of a cut and paste of my Brutal Truth article.

The translations are even better than my original article: “You can doze and sleep all day and as a priestess stroll touching your belly waiting for a football.”

Some of it is pretty funny because it still makes sense:

“Are you happy of nausea and vomiting because it means you can have five minutes to get you in the bathroom?”

And other parts are completely mystifying:

“Rilavi reluctantly the vestititi used with a normal detergent, throw some broken play, refreshments sheets cradle. Your son has already managed to dismantle all sure that you put in the house and survived, so it is not necessary to reposition the newcomer.”

I liked how the Italians automatically assumed I had sons.

The French version of my ‘Letter of Apology to my Middle Child’ described it as “a mother issu[ing] an apology letter to his middle child”. And I thought I had difficulty with French pronouns.

“Shannon notes that this has forged the character of its small second. She teases threats, disputes, compromises. All you seem to want, and that is so hard to give is my complete attention. It’s hard because I have three children, a house to manage and my writing.”

I particularly liked being referred to as an ‘its’. Thanks French people.

The Portuguese translation of The Brutal Truth was possibly my favourite, especially how they introduced me:

“Shannon Meyerkort is a writer, blogger and mother of three girls under seven years. His love for writing is not simple, because it implies that you are sitting to do so.”

I love how they aren’t beholden to gender assumptions about mothers being women. How refreshing.

The translation seems to make things worse than they really are:

“It seems that is six months pregnant by the time we hit the second quarter. Sit persecuted and cries a lot.”

And then go a little hard-core with the language:

“People who have just given birth, begin to upset her with all the talk bullshit about babies.”

Then they go hard-core with the parenting:

“Push your child out of the crib, take them cuddly and dispose of them in a weekend.”

That’s a bit rough, even for me.

I haven’t yet ploughed deeper into the world of Google to see if the Chinese have their own translations of The Brutal Truth, but if it’s ever found, please let me know.

My Failures As a Writer

If you peruse a writer’s website – like this one – one thing strikes you. It is all about achievement. Writer’s websites – like this one – will detail the things that have been published, the successful pitches, the commissioned pieces.

Very rarely do they talk about the failures.

When I first decided to not to return to my former career as a health researcher I spoke to a friend who was already a successful writer. She passed on some sage advice to me.

The first was that rejections are not face to face. I had commented that I wasn’t sure I could make it as a writer as I was relatively thin-skinned and the constant rejections could be wearing. She agreed that rejections always stung, but unlike the traditional workplace, you could experience your failures in private, sitting at the computer at home, or in front of the letter box as you tear open yet another rejection letter.

The second was that even the most experienced and published writers get rejected. And while it never got any easier in that moment you realised you were being told ‘no’ and not ‘yes’, over time it was easier to move on and submit the piece somewhere else.

As a new writer it can sometimes be dispiriting to regularly read about the success of others. By that I do not mean that I don’t want others to succeed, but it can be a misrepresentation to assume that between those successes there were not failures as well.

So in the interest of openness, I wish to talk about some of my failures.

For example, a few months ago I attended a workshop run by the Perth food critic Rob Broadfield. It was advertised as an opportunity to learn about food writing but more tantalisingly it was also a chance to submit a piece of work with the possibility of being selected as a food writer for the next edition of the Perth Good Food Guide.

I thought to myself: I write food reviews all the time, hundreds of them. Award winning reviews! I’m a shoe-in, I thought confidently.

Probably every person in the room, 150 of us, thought the same.

Two weeks later, and no congratulatory phone call had come. I was genuinely surprised to miss out.

One way of looking at this is that I am confident. What would be the point of putting myself out there if I did not have a firm belief in what I was doing. Another is that I am a bit cocky, and there is a world of difference between writing for a website where there is minimal editorial input, and a published guide which must stand alongside equivalent national and international books.

Another recent failure was a picture book which I submitted to a local publisher. Again, I thought that this was a certainty. In 2010 I wrote a short story which won first prize in a writing competition.

I rewrote it into a picture book, creating clues in the illustrations which could be followed to show an observant child that the climax of the story would be Christmas. Awesome! I even engaged the help of a professional editor and writer to help me get it to a point where I thought it would be of a publishable standard.

When the rejection letter arrived in the mail I was disappointed, but not as crushed as I feared I might be. I have edited it some more and today I will post it to another publisher. I keep telling myself J.K Rowling was rejected by 14 publishers before Harry Potter was finally picked up by Bloomsbury.

I have a lot more than two rejection stories. A lot more. I have a database where I keep a record of all my submissions: articles, picture books, competitions, job ads. Next to the vast majority of them I have written ‘unsuccessful’.

The things on this website – my piece in My Child, the dental practice articles, my shortlisted stories – are the things that have a ‘successful’ written next to them. At this point in my career, they may be in the minority, but all those ‘unsuccessfuls’ have the bonus of teaching me one very valuable lesson, a lesson which is essential if I want to continue on in this field:

It turns out I am more resilient than I thought.