Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why Do We Write?


Chiming in late here and adding my two pennyworths as to the dismal state of publishing.

Forgive the short post but I have been traveling extensively these past two weeks and I am a tad jet-lagged. It was all for pleasure—seeing family—and it was whilst I was sleeping in my old bedroom that I picked up The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway.

It was an old edition, circa 1987, published posthumously but written over a period of fifteen years from 1947 onwards. The dates could be a little off since—as I have already mentioned—I am struggling to stay awake as I write this. The story follows the relationship between a struggling writer and his wife on their extended honeymoon in the Mediterranean.

Apart from the fact that I hadn’t read Hemingway for years and had forgotten what an incredible writer he is, the protagonist’s writing life really struck a chord with me. Yes, this book was fiction but even so, he spoke of advances, royalties and printings. Even fifty years ago it would seem that advances and royalty percentages were far more than authors (the regular folks, not the big names) are getting now! There was no social media and yet writers flourished!

We all know that being an author can be very isolating. Today, we have Facebook, Twitter or emailing that allows a constant exchange of information on every aspect of publishing. I have author friends who know all the sales figures of their peers … which brings me to my two pennyworths. If Hemingway were alive today, I wonder if he’d worry about how many followers he had on Twitter.

The role of the modern day author has changed beyond all recognition. For me, the knowledge that is available in the media has not enriched my life or my confidence as a writer. I always feel inadequate; that I’m not doing enough publicity-wise for my writing career and at the same time, wondering if I’m flogging the proverbial dead horse because what’s the point of carrying on if Scott Turow’s article in Monday’s New York Times is true?

It comes back to the question that I’m often asked by non-writers. “Why do you do it?”

I write because there is nothing else I want to do. When I first started, I didn’t think about the business side at all. I just wanted to tell stories. Somewhere along the way I've lost my perspective. 
In Selected Letters Bernard Berenson, 1954, Hemingway said, “I think we should never be too pessimistic about what we know we have done well because we should have some reward and the only reward is that which is within ourselves…. Publicity, admiration, adulation, or simply being fashionable are all worthless….”
Having said all that, I still yearn to give up my day job. 

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