Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I wasn’t going to post today, but when I ran into this item about writing in spite of “lack of success,” I had to pipe up. (I even left a comment on the article…)
Anna North begins:
Writing is scary. It is especially scary now, as advances shrink, publishers fight with Amazon, and the death of the novel is forecast with ever-increasing frequency. It’s a time when it would make a lot of sense to quit — and a time when simply not quitting is becoming its own art form.
You have to admit — and I’ve even dabbled with the idea myself — that quitting makes a hell of a lot of sense. When millions of books are published each year, the odds of one little novel making some kind of splash are humongous. That means, in a practical sense, you’re either writing for a small niche that’s easier to reach or you’re writing mainly for yourself. Somehow the latter just doesn’t feel like enough.
But slogging away for years, or decades in some cases (moi), without recognition has its downsides. Stinkin’ thinkin’ is easy to fall into. Too much drinkin’. Abandoning your standards to write what you think readers want. Taking it out on your dog. Ultimately, coming to doubt your own talent, which is the kiss o’ death for a writer. Sure, we’re all insecure, but we also believe in ourselves or we wouldn’t be able to face that blank white page.
Given all that, you’d think quitting would be easy.
As Russell Rowland, a novelist experiencing hard times professionally, says in the piece, “The desire to write, it seems, is a sickness for which there is no cure. Except writing.”
I met Russell back in 2003 when my novel, Parts Unknown, came out, and his terrific book, In Open Spaces, was on the shelves. We both read on a panel of “Emerging Voices” at the BEA that year. He’s a talented novelist and his work ought to be on awards short-lists, yet his agent dropped him a while back because of poor sales and he can’t seem to get his stuff read by traditional publishers anymore. In Open Spaces was critically acclaimed; the cover has a quote from Ha Jin, National Book Award Winner: “Charged with dramatic tension, a joy to read.” And yet.
North’s piece is a welcome reminder that we are not alone in our writing struggles. In fact, statistically, writers who get to the top are more like lottery winners than anything else. Maybe they make it look easy, but to a man/woman they got some ungodly breaks along the way.
The rest of us? We just have to keep on truckin’. Savor the process. Savor the delight in words and language. And savor the camaraderie with others in the same boat.
As I always say, Disce pati. Learn to endure.
BTW, here’s the article Russell did for The Rumpus, which prompted Anna North to grab a quote. Word has it that because of this piece, an editor is now looking at one of Russell’s manuscripts.