Meanwhile, I'm bowling along with Summer Must End, and can't help wondering how many books I'll finish before I publish. I will publish, you know - it's just a question of when, and whether it will be posthumous or not. I'm a very fast writer, and work as quickly as any of those one- or two-books-a-year novelists out there - Jonathan Kellerman, for instance. After years of writing, I no longer slog over the words. I'm getting a handle on how to map out the structure, and almost understand the the rules of the game. In an article in the Guardian by Darrah McManus on November 16, celebrating Margaret Atwood's 70th birthday, the following caught my eye:
"I believe that most writers get better as they get older. Unlike, say, rock musicians, exploding in a star-burst of youthful inspiration, novelists take their time. They grow into and with the act of writing; over decades, over thousands of hours and millions of words."Well, it's certainly been decades, although I'm not certain how many words I've written in total, but I have a large box that contains everything I've done, and it looks rather a lot. Averaging 100,000 words each for the full length books, plus dozens of poems, short stories, plays, and novellas, I'm guessing I've done at least a million words. Perhaps they weren't particularly brilliant words, and this could still be true. Can we ever really know when we've reached excellence? There's so much doubt, often eclipsed by enormous certainty; I'm somewhat bi-polar, figuratively speaking, about my writing. Is it really any good? Have I found my unique style, my true voice? I only decided to find that out for sure last year, when I figured it was now or never to publish, and it was time to announce that I was ready. But publishing was never a real goal. I was simply having fun with words and enjoying the process. But this year, I need to know if anyone gives a toss.
It's been a fantastic year, sharing all of my thoughts on writing with you. I've made so many real friends, people I know I can count on when I'm down, people who lift me up, and spur me on, regardless of where their own journey is taking them. In a crazy fantasy, I imagine us all sitting down one day, face to face, in a comfortable living room somewhere, sharing some wine, perhaps, and able to voice those ideas that were so difficult to express in emails, despite the fact that we think of ourselves as good writers. Whoever gets rich from their writing first can arrange it. Which is why it's a fantasy. Getting rich can never be a goal.
I've been reading a first novel by Jonathan Bennett, a Canadian with Australian ties, like me, who writes lyrically about Sydney and Toronto, and whose words spurred me to email him. I've mentioned many times how generous published writers have been in responding. I think of dear SarahBeth Purcell, and Martha Moody, Ben Nightingale, Bonnie Kozek, Darcy Pattison, all of whom have shared their thoughts on the process of being published and were unstinting with their time.
Now here's Jonathan Bennett.
I only wrote to say how much I like his book, After Battersea Park, and certainly expecting nothing in return from him. And now he's looked at my sample chapters at my website, offered solid feedback on them, and even made nice noises about my paintings! I got his permission to print the following, the last paragraph in his first email (we've exchanged several since):
"Good luck with your own work. I wouldn't worry about the agent and publishing part. Getting a book into print might feel good, but it isn't sustaining. The writing must be all that matters. ABP, for example, is long out of print. For all I know you'll be its only reader this year. So, if not for the deep importance of the act of writing to my sense of self, I can't say I'd bother. There are simpler ways to punish oneself!"
And then this, later:
"If publishing is important, then sure, pursue it with the zeal it requires...my last paragraph was just a caution, that, well, a book is just a book. It's not some kind of metaphysical deliverance. I think I once thought it would be. I think many writers who want to get published think that too."Jonathan's second highly-received novel is available: "Entitlement: A Novel". Take a look at the reviews, both here and at the Jonathan Bennett website.
Thanks for hanging out with me this past year. Writing is a solitary occupation, yet I never feel entirely alone. I imagine you all out there, creating your own precious words, and we are like a closely-knit club, a small, exclusive network, and able to reach out for support at the touch of a few keys. How has blogging or communicating with other bloggers affected you? For me, it's been inspirational.
Late, but wonderful news: SarahBeth has received enough financial help to get that treatment for Willow Fern. Perfect Thanksgiving message to receive.