Anna Spargo-Ryan: Writers on Writing
'Don't despair. That's a funny joke, because most writers I know despair at least once a week, but don't let the hard work get you down. It is hard work. Most writers start writing because they love it, and then they realise how much it's actually like work, and when it starts to feel like work, they want to stop. Writers often think ‘hard work’ is the same thing as ‘no talent’. It's not true. Keep going.'
Anna Spargo-Ryan is an award-winning writer living in Melbourne, where she writes about brains and love and people and family and food and creativity. Her work has been published by Black Inc., The Guardian, Overland, Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, The Lifted Brow, The Big Issue, Daily Life, and many other places. Anna won the 2016 Horne Prize for her essay The Suicide Gene, and is a widely acclaimed writer and speaker on mental health. Her first novel was The Paper House and her second, The Gulf, will be published by Picador in June 2017.
For background, read the first chapter from The Paper House published by Pan Macmillan: https://tablo.io/anna-spargo-ryan/the-paper-house-ch1
For some exclusive additional material, read a deleted scene from The Paper House, which was not included in the final book: https://tablo.io/anna-spargo-ryan/the-paper-house-grace
When you first started out as a writer, was it hard to get published?
I've wanted to be a writer all my life, but it wasn't until about five years ago that I decided to take it seriously. That's the first thing you should do: take it (and yourself) seriously. Not too seriously, not Hemingway seriously, but quite seriously. Once I did that, the writing took a lot of work, which was sometimes hard. It's true what they say about no one else being able to write the words for you.
The publication process wasn't as hard as I expected. The thing was, I didn't know how to ask to be published, which I've since learned is really important. It's very unlikely that a publisher will call you before you've had any work out and say, ‘please let me publish whatever it is you're working on’. Once I knew how to pitch my writing to publishers, it was mysteriously much easier than when I was wandering around in a bog, hoping to be published by telepathy.
Any ideas on how to cope with rejection initially?
It's so important tobe able to separate yourself from the rejection. There are so many reasons to reject a piece of writing that are NOT, ‘this writer is the absolute worst, I hope they stop writing and maybe even reading!’ That is hardly ever the reason. Lots of the reasons are to do with the publishers themselves. After a while, I started to think of rejections as favours. Like, thank you for not publishing this under-baked piece of writing. Or, thank you for letting me know that the characters weren't fully developed. Or, thank you for knowing my story wasn't actually finished. Like constructive criticism, rejection is a kind of compass. It helps you know where you're at. But the flip-side of that is: you have to be submitting to get your bearings. One rejection on its own is almost meaningless. Don't invest your creative energy into it.