How would you feel if someone told you you were unlikely to ever see your work published? Would you give up now? Or would you say, I’m going to write anyway because I love writing? Or would you say, I’m going to write and be published no matter how long it takes?
The answer to the question, if you were able to give it honestly, might contain the key to your writing life. Many people write for pleasure with no thought of publication. Emails, letters, diaries, journals, family stories, things to entertain friends and family. The audience they have is enough, and the pleasure they derive is enough.
Some people write with publication as their driving force. They believe that without publication (and money), writing has no value. They write only to achieve that aim. To make a living, it may mean they sacrifice depth and/or quality. It may also mean that if they don’t achieve significant publication, they will give up and try something else.
Most writers I know write first because they enjoy writing. Publication is their dream, one they pursue with varying success. There have been writers who have committed suicide because their novels have been roundly rejected. Others who try for a while and give up. They continue to write a little, think about writing, but somehow it never becomes a central part of their life.
A friend recently heard Jonathan Safran Foer speak about his early writing years, and how he was helped and encouraged by Joyce Carol Oates. Her reason for doing this was because of his writing energy, and that this energy was the most important of writerly qualities. What does energy mean? It doesn’t mean talent or intelligence, although those are part of it. Perhaps it means voice, or simply dedicated hard work. But what came after that for him was perseverance.
I see many talented writing students, and many exciting, energetic or captivating novel chapters. What I don’t see much of is finished, redrafted novels. Perseverance means finishing the whole novel, but more than that, it means rewriting as many times as it needs. And it also means starting and finishing the novel after that, and the novel after that. Even if those first three never get published, it means picking yourself up again, applying yourself to your craft, and writing another one.
How do you achieve this? How can you keep going when your family wants you to stop and spend more time with them, or get a decent job? How can you write a whole novel when you only have an hour a day to spare, and that’s on the train ride to and from work? What keeps hope alive when your novel that took you five years to write just received its fifteenth rejection?
Stay tuned as I try to answer these questions!