I am broke and I don’t care

I should be worried, stressed, panicked even, but a strange calm fills me. A serenity that the reality of my financial situation cannot penetrate. I am chasing leads on a number of writing projects, none of which seem to be in a hurry to materialise.

Meanwhile, my dwindling bank balance flashes like a neon light, which a year ago would have had me teetering on the edge of panic. I wonder why I am so calm. Then it hits me.

I finished writing my second novel, My Father’s Son (250 pages). The sense of completion and satisfaction outweighs everything else that is happening around me. I could die today and be happy. It is said that on their death beds, people do not regret their failures or mistakes. They regret the things they never tried. The dreams they didn’t have the courage to pursue.

I don’t have to worry about that. I may never become a millionaire. Writing novels may never become a financially viable option for me like Chimamanda Adichie, but at least I tried. And in trying lies the triumph. To know that I did my best. There will be no deathbed regrets about not following my dream.

At this moment, I know that the publishing journey for this particular book has just began. It began with heartbreak actually. The agent I had set my heart on has declined to take me on as a client. When I got that email, it felt like a dream had died. Then I shook it off and began to mine my networks in the hunt for an alternative agent. I have contacted several and I’m patiently waiting for their feedback.

I also sent the manuscript to the publisher of my first two books. The first step will be to get reviews from two or three readers who will each write a report that the editor handling fiction will combine with his own assessment into a report that will be presented to the editorial board of the publishing house to deliberate on. That initial first step – deciding whether to publish or not – takes at least three months.

The agents I’ve contacted will probably take just as long, perhaps longer to read the 30 pages I’ve sent them and decide if they want to read the rest of it.

Publishing is a game of patience. My first novel The Unbroken Spirit took more than a year from the time I submitted it to landing on bookshelves. The editor said they’d fast tracked it. He wasn’t kidding. I’ve talked to friends whose manuscripts have been lying with publishers for 5 years. In comparison, it seems miraculous how fast my first book got published.

Lest I imagine that would become the norm, my second book A Profile of Kenyan Entrepreneurs, co-authored with Evans Majeni took 4 years to be published. Never mind that the publisher commissioned the book and paid for all the research and logistics to collect the material. Publishers are a strange lot sometimes. The only explanation we got for the delay was “economic circumstances had changed and the timing wasn’t right”.

My third book was an even stranger experience. We went through two publishers for the autobiography of SK Macharia, founder and chairman of Royal Media Services. The first demanded too many changes that would have watered down the book completely (yeah, it’s a political hot potato), so SK moved to a second publisher. The book was published in December 2012, two months after A Profile of Kenyan Entrepreneurs. Imagine my excitement, with two books about to be launched, the memoirs certain to generate a lot of publicity, marketing both me and my two other books. I was sure I was on the verge of a breakthrough. No longer would I be an unknown author.

Then politics reared its ugly head and we decided to push back the launch until after the elections to avoid the book being politicised. After that one thing led to another and two years later, 3,000 copies of the book lie in a store at the publishers. More and more it looks like that book may never see the light of day, for reasons I cannot disclose in this blog post.

That’s the point at which you start questioning your calling as a writer. Does it make sense to keep doing something that brings so much heartbreak? I did for a while. And then I realised that nothing in my life went right when I wasn’t working on a book. It may not have delivered the financial rewards I hoped for, but the process of writing brought me such joy and peace that I could never give it up. So I decided to focus on that with the help of a talented life coach (this is her blog).

With Ronni’s help, I realised that I tied too much of my writing to the expected rewards (books sales). I needed to separate the writing process from the publishing process. That’s what had prevented me from working on my second novel which I started sometime in 2007, but by May 2014 when I started the coaching, had only written 11 pages. I kept putting it aside to work on writing projects that actually generated income. I decided to live on the proceeds from one such project and spend 3 months finishing the book.

Ambitious to say the least. The first month (May), I wrote nothing, still struggling with my demons (why write? What’s the point when it may take years to be published, never get a proper launch, never become a best seller?). In June I began to write and by August I had hit my stride, although nowhere near finishing. I reached my target (175 pages – I assumed it would be the same length as my first novel) in October, 5 months after I started writing and completed the book on December 27th.

It was the best 7 months of my life. For me, creating has always been the most fulfilling part as opposed to dealing with clients or doing research. To do so continuously for those months was a special gift that I’m glad I gave myself. I wrote two books in 2014. One for the EU which subsidised the second, My Father’s Son. To wake up every morning knowing that I had nothing else to do but write to my heart’s content was thrilling.

My target was 2,000 words a day. Sometimes I wrote as little as 600, often I managed between 1,000-1,500 words. A few times I surpassed the target and on two days managed over 4,000 words. What bliss. Some days all I managed was to edit what I had written the previous day and that was fine. It was all part of the creative process and I happily immersed myself in it.

Now that it’s over, I’m suffering a little from withdrawal. I’d like nothing better than to get started on my third novel but reality beckons. My rent is not going to pay itself. I’m broke but it was worth it. The best part is now done and it’s time to deal with the inevitable headaches of publishing.

I’m not worried though. My preferred agent may have passed on the book, but I know I’ve created something good and there’s a market for it somewhere. It’s now in the hands of the universe. All I can do now is pray that it gets into the right hands that will shepherd it to its birth and that it’s not a stillborn like SK’s memoirs. At the end of the day, I want people to read my work, even if it’s only a few people.

Thank you My Father’s Son for giving me the best 7 months of my life and for reminding me why I love to write.


8 thoughts on “I am broke and I don’t care

  1. Very encouraging, success might not come the way we envision it, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t achieved what we set out to achieve. Brilliant article,


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