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The Weight Of Hope


a monthly feature

The Weight Of Hope


Kate Dowling

I think I’m among friends who will know what the feelings I express here are like. We write because we have to, but everything that comes with trying to achieve success as a writer can be so bleak. Are you with me sisters (and brothers)? Then I’ll begin.

I have wanted to be a writer since I was a child. Although it was my plan from that point into adolescence, I was basically told I shouldn’t just be a writer and should be a journalist instead. Cutting a long story into bite sized chunks, I did typing and shorthand alongside the rest of my school exams, and ended up a secretary.

The different jobs have come and gone, and from being head hunted to redundancies I have always written away from my paid work. I’ve never stopped trying, but there comes a point where after thirty years of that trying, the hope of possibly getting somewhere becomes a grate to the brain.

I am hundreds of submissions into trying and hundreds of rejections into failure. I have annoying conversations with writers who have got publishing deals who tell me I am just around the corner from a similar fate. I see that Lin-Manuel Miranda refers to himself as a “Former substitute teacher”. Whilst it’s good to see people acknowledging their humble beginnings before massive success, In The Heights opened on Broadway when he was 28 years old. You know that failure thing? It’s all relative.

Failure is a double-edged sword. It’s a blow, but the news is a revelation that what you’ve written has not made it. You can move on from a rejection and dust yourself off when you find out a submission has failed, but if there’s no news, if your work is still out there, the hope is almost crippling. There’s the prospect albeit one that is ever dwindling over time, that the news you’ve not yet had is going to be good. Without that news there is hope.

Hope is stifling. It’s like being in a vacuum until the news comes. Sometimes it means that I can’t focus on getting any new writing done. What if this latest batch of submissions means I have to stop any new work and rally something serious this time? What if that submission turns into a shortlist for a prize or the need for an edit?

Hope is suffocating. Hope grinds you down. Hope feels like chopping off your own arm and beating yourself into a pulp with it. As I’ve been saying for a while now, it’s not the failure that’s the problem; it’s the hope that kills you.

I get good news sometimes though, my inclusion in this blog being a lovely example of me flinging an email out into the ether and a fantastic “Yes!” coming back. I have never not written and I will never not write, because words are just too damn good. In saying all this, my hopeful heart is heavy now and the weight bows me over like a lead in my chest. As I get older I suspect I’ll reach a point when I’ll make a decision to stop, rather than die trying and ever-hopeful.

Writing, submitting and being rejected is tiring and time consuming in equal measure. I think most writers working to get some sort of publishing deal or paid work must be in a constant cycle of trying, almost giving up and then trying again, and being so sick of being hopeful. I suppose what I’m aiming for is to for someone to see one of my calling cards, know they love what I’m writing and say “Come on in. You’re home.” I hope. I hope. I hope.