Monday, 7 April 2008

The Writer's Book of Hope

Okay so the other day I promised some little snippets from one of my newest acquisitions The Writer's Book of Hope: Getting from Frustration to Publication so here we go...

In chapter 4 'Exorcising Excuses' the author, Ralph Keyes, quotes several authors who could probably relate to excuse #2 'I'm Not Talented Enough'. I was surprised by some of the names that appeared. You probably will too...

"Do I have the talent to compare with our modern Russian writers? Decidedly not."
Leo Tolstoy

"I have never been so conscious of how little talent is vouch-safed me for expressing ideas in words."
Gustave Flaubert

"I have no talent. It's just the question of working, or being willing to put in the time."
Graham Green

"I don't think of myself as a naturally gifted writer."
Joseph Heller

So if some of the greatest writers of our time believed they had no talent what does it take to get published?


Keyes says,

"Natural gifts alone are no guarantee of the will to write, to say nothing of the audacity and the persistence. Productive writers don't need talent so much as determination...The ranks of aspirants who have deserted this battle include battalions of the gifted. Those who stay to fight another day tend to be more tenacious than talented. Successful figures of all kinds know many others with more aptitude than they, but few who are more determined."

Then later he says,

"A writer can get by with a modest amount of talent. But none can succeed without stick-to-it-iveness. "If they really stick at it," veteran editor Edward Chase once observed of those who are determined to publish, "eventually - like salmon swimming upstream - they're going to make it." That kind of determination is rare, however, more rare than native ability."

I know of a writer who was only published after she wrote her sixth book (her agent failed to find a publisher for books two, three, four and five) and another that wasn't published until she wrote her eleventh book.

Now that's determination!

The press is constantly full of stories of 'overnight successes' - authors whose first book provokes a bidding war and earns them oodles of cash and legions of fans almost overnight. These stories lead us to believe that we too can become overnight successes and, if we're not, we've somehow failed.

But how many of these 'overnight successes' are really true? How many of the authors who have had their 'first book' published to critical acclaim (or financial gain) also have rejected manuscripts tucked away in their bottom drawers? More than we're lead to believe I'm sure - it just doesn't make for a very exciting news story to report the years and years of slog a writer put into his or her craft before, finally, they got their big break. We've all heard the stories about the agents and publishers that rejected JK Rowling before she finally sold her first Harry Potter book (and only then for an advance of less than £2,000 pounds). Her determination to see her book published paid off. And how.

How determined are you?


A. Writer said...

Interesting stuff. Definitely food for thought. Thanks for posting this!

L-Plate Author said...

Yeah, my sentiments entirely. So there is hope for me yet, after another postal rejection this morning! xx

Tam said...

Thanks for taking the time to type it up too! I might have to get my hands on that book.

Lane said...

Thanks for this Cal. Very interesting.
I'm determined but I'm not sure I can quantify how determined.
To keep on writing novels until the 11th(!) is published really takes some doing!

Nik's Blog said...

What a great post. I think, fwiw, that determination is a huge, and natural, part of being a writer, though, as has been said before, quanitfying it is difficult.


Yvonne said...

Thanks Cal, your post spurred me on! I'm very determined for the time being - I've already made a bet with myself that I'll write 10 novels. We'll see if I do!

KAREN said...

Fascinating stuff. I'm determined too, but not sure I'm eleven novels determined! It does seem that persistence is the key though.

HelenMH said...

It comes and goes ... ! I've recently made contact with another local writer and she now has tons of publications under her belt. But it took her years and years to get there and she doesn't think that's at all unusual. That made me feel better.

liz fenwick said...

I think this appies to most writers I have met......I only know one whose first book was published but all the others were up their in numbers!!! Of course they were all claimed an overnight success :-)