HOW TO KEEP WRITING WHEN NOBODY’S READING
By Rebecca Yount
Some years ago, when asked during an interview: “Why did you choose to become an actor?”, Liam Neeson answered, “Because if I weren’t an actor, I would die.” Why did I keep writing prolifically even as the publishing world shut me out? Because if I didn’t write, I would die.
Mind you, not dramatically like a character in a Shakespearian tragedy, but more likely in dribs and drabs. There was no way I was going to allow that to happen.
Also, continuing to write was my way of flipping the indifferent publishers.
Pop icon Madonna once said: “If you can’t tell yourself that you’ll die [if you don't do the thing you love the most], then don’t do it.”
On my writing desk I have posted a note that reads, “17 years!” That is how long it took Jane Austen to publish Pride and Prejudice, widely regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written in the English language. So discouraged was Austen over her failure to be published that she put down her pen for ten years.
Ten years! Consider how many great novels we’ve been deprived of because of that decision.
Along with other troubling issues in her life, that lapse prompted Austen to write that she had made “a sleepless couch…a pillow strewed with thorns and wet tears.”
Her ten-year ordeal took its toll. Jane Austen died at age 41, only four years after Pride and her later books were finally published.
The world of book publishing is fraught with horror stories. Harper Lee‘s editor demanded that she completely re-write To Kill a Mockingbird four times. How I would love to read her first draft. I suspect that as her re-writes progressed, something of Lee’s unique voice was lost. Editors, of course, target the general public, fearing that too much individuality may “jar” a reader’s sensibilities.
For the same reason, Maxwell Perkins, Scribners’ great editor of the l920s and ’30s, made F. Scott Fitzgerald re-write The Great Gatsby 17 times, suggesting to contemporary readers that there may be such a thing as too much perfection.
At least Austen and Fitzgerald were eventually published.
I suspect that the mainstream publishing world of today is geared to keeping new talent out rather than inviting it in.
Everyone of us has at least one book-length story to tell. Many have more. The late poet and novelist, George Dell, who was my teacher, mentor, and tough critic, told me after reading some early samples of my work, “By all means keep writing.”
By all means.
Rebecca Yount’s debut crime novel, A Death in C Minor: A Mick Chandra Mystery, will be published in e-book format June 26 through Amazon.com; Apple iBookstore for iPad; Barnes & Noble for Nook; Sony Reader Store; Kobo; Copia; Baker & Taylor; and eBook Pie. Price: $0.99. ISBN #: 978-1-4675-1499-6. Her website is www.rebeccayount.com.