A book editor I’m following on Twitter had a question for her followers yesterday, one I’ve reflected on myself from time to time.
I’m not sure I ever figured out why I write. There is the Maya Angelou quote I have as my tagline. It’s painful having a story inside me without being able to tell anyone. It’s hard to explain to outsiders why I keep doing what may look like insanity to them. Writing a book, getting it published, and achieving success is hard, as Keidi Keating pointed out, so why do we put ourselves through it?
Personally, I find “I’ll show them” to be a great motivator. I used to get sad when people labelled me, or assumed things about me, but I have replaced that with a motivation to prove them wrong. It’s not just about them, but more about what I want to do. I don’t want limitations to stop me. I keep most of my personal life outside the garret, as that isn’t the reason people read my blog, but it’s no secret that life with nonverbal learning disability (NLD/NVLD) hasn’t been all fun. This disability isn’t fully understood yet, and there is some disagreement about causes, but Byron Rourke’s hypothesis from the late 1980’s (built on Myklebust’s one from the 1960’s) is accepted. He referred to it as white matter (brain tissue that transports messages), right hemisphere deficit. It isn’t quite that simple, but my point is that I’m motivated to succeed where people assume I can’t.
I’d be lying if I said that writing was about art and nothing else, that I had no interest in making money. There is an element of both, because I do dream about being able to make a living from writing. It may look like borderline mental illness to outsiders. After all, we continue doing something that hurts us. Some find writing to be easy, but it isn’t to me. I have long periods when it’s a lot of fun, but it also requires discipline, and sometimes the struggles for a solution to a particular problem can be torture. Considering some of the ridiculous diagnoses the American Psychiatric Assocoation has added to DSM, perhaps writing should be there as well?
I’m just joking of course. This is my preferred method of communication, and it seems to be necessary for thinking. I find many ideas to be elusive, but when I start writing, I’m able to identify and harvest them in a way I couldn’t before. Still, when I think about it, it doesn’t make sense that so many of us put ourselves through this.
I read a list once of successful novels that almost didn’t get published, and one of my favourite children’s novels was on it, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. She tried no less than 26 publishers before Ariel Books accepted it in 1962. I think many assumed children wouldn’t be able to understand the concept of evil. I believe J. K. Rowling also had some difficulties in convincing the publishers, and one of the objections to Harry Potter was the length of the manuscript. I think the last book in the series was close to 200 000 words, so young readers clearly didn’t feel intimidated by the thick book. On the contrary, whether readers are young or old, they don’t want their favourite books to end.
One of my local book shops had this rather strange gimmick. I’m not sure I’d buy a book with so little to go on, but authors are in a way in that situation, because how do we get publishers’ attention? How do we get a date with an editor?
I’m glad someone was willing to take a chance on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and A Wrinkle in Time. It makes me wonder how many good stories we never hear about, because someone didn’t think the target audience would accept them. I didn’t find it easy writing the first book in my series, and I never really thought about what would happen once it was completed. The real struggle is being told it’s not good enough, or worse, being rejected without any hint of what went wrong.
We don’t have agents in Norway, or rather, they have a different function. Oslo Literary Agency is the biggest one, but it’s owned by one of the old, traditional publishers. It’s meant for translated authors trying to reach an international audience. Norwegian publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts, which means they read a lot of them. I’m not sure which system is more likely to get the right people to read your mansucript. Personally, I like the idea of talking to the publisher directly. The manuscript I’m going to show them isn’t the final version, so I like the idea of a certain cooperation between author and publisher, but perhaps that’s a naive attitude.
Maybe the statement I ended my comment with on Twitter is the best reason for writing: Life is more when I write.