Sometimes I have days (or weeks, or months!) when I feel a little less than enchanted with the whole business of writing. Not the writing itself—sometimes I’m neurotic, insecure, impatient (etcetera, etcetera!) about my process, but that’s different. The work of writing, when I remember to refocus on it, is good. Is the whole point, actually. But the business part? The querying, submitting, receiving rejections—and the acceptances and publications that don’t magically change everything? Well, that whole affair can get a bit tedious.
Anyway, yesterday was one of those days. And then, out of nowhere, a hero appeared. He was wrapped in Manila paper and bubble wrap (Okay, get your mind out of the gutters. This is not that kind of story!), but it was, as ever, what was inside that counted.
(Okay, enough with the sexy, mysterious stranger metaphor.)
My friend Jen Brubacher had sent me a present from the UK: A book I’ve been dying for that doesn’t get released here in Canada ‘til May, 2012 (How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran—I figure, since I turn 40 in a few months, it’s about time I figure out this skill of being female), and—wait for it, wait for it—a total surprise book.
It’s hard to explain how gorgeous this book is—from his rough-edged, slightly discoloured with age pages, to faded, well-worn linen cover, to gold-lettered spine—gorgeous. And serious. (None of this author name and title and loud picture spilled gaudily across front and back for this fella.)
(Am I still personifying this book? I meant to stop! I seem to be unable to help myself.)
His soft, authoritative voice enthralled me from the very first page and I found myself oddly comforted, so much so that I was compelled to remove the shrug of discouragement I’d been huddling under this week.
Despite the book’s age, a surprising amount of details surrounding the business of writing (querying, submitting, presenting your work) are still pertinent.
And let me share just one inspiring tidbit—as timely and true to writers now, me thinks, as it was to writers 86 years ago:
“The growing commercialism of literature—inevitable though it may be—does not tend to promote more harmonious relations between authors and publishers. It is based on the assumption that manuscripts and books are mere commodities; dead, not living things. Such an assumption ignores the peculiar and indeed parent relationship of the author to his work, the realization of which is the beginning of wisdom in a publisher.” ~ Stanley Unwin
I found the above quote—in this day of doom and gloom about the future of publishing and rumours of the death of literacy, and so on—very encouraging. The future of books—the desire and “need” for their commercial success—has always been a source of angst and conflict between booksellers and book writers.
Yet if we question why we even bother to write then, turning to a quote on the title page reminds us:
It is by books that mind speaks to mind, by books the world’s intelligence grows, books are the tree of knowledge, which has grown into and twined its branches with those of the tree of life, and of their common fruit men eat and become as gods knowing good and evil. – C. Kegan Paul.
Us writers write what our hearts compel us to (or, at least, we should). But if we’re honest, often we have hopes of at least some sort of financial reward—if only so we can work less at a day job and write more.
Publishers also publish for two reasons (I really believe): to bring books into being that they believe should be read, should exist, should add to the world experience in terms of entertainment, pleasure, thought, growth and knowledge, but also to make money.
We authors may dislike the latter, especially if it appears to outweigh the other motivation in current culture, but that’s okay and is as it should be: we need to write regardless of what comes of it. By necessity, so it can continue, publishing has to be about dollars. Equally by necessity, writers need to be uncomfortable with that as a primary goal.