Saturday, January 1, 2011
When I did my Masters degree, part-time, course by course, I began to notice something. Every single course, I got the exact same grade: A-. After a few courses, I began to wonder what it would take to achieve an A or even a B+. It took until the final course to break through the barrier and to get that elusive A.
I'm feeling about like that right now with my writing.
No, that's not quite true. I'm feeling about like that right now with my writing career.
Having had one book published, I have learned that the very best part of the process is the writing. I love a good story and it is so much more fun and challenging and creative when I get to participate in the creative process. That truly was and is my favourite part. That is not in question at all.
But my second favourite part was people getting what I wrote. I love doing readings and sensing people holding their breath, seeing eyes well up with tears, hearing laughter at the right moments. Having what I sent out into the world be received.
The problem is that apparently I may be an A- writer. And, in a competitive market, A - may not be enough.
Further, the A- minus may not even be a reflection of my ability or effort. I had a rejection yesterday from someone high up in publishing who read my book over Christmas and loved it but felt that the Canadian setting would work against it, and also said that the demand these days is for bigger stories told on bigger canvases.
When I get disheartened (like now), I think it doesn't matter whether I'm an A- or a D- writer. My agent says the fact that the book was read in its entirety at this time of year is an encouraging sign. He says that I am getting thoughtful, intelligent rejections from those who know literature and its market - that many writers get form letters or silence. He is actually right, but I'm still not exactly feeling the warmth.
For the last couple of years, I've chosen a word as a sort of theme or talisman for the upcoming year. Last year, the word was sculpt, and I did sculpt in many ways. This year, the word I know to be mine is cultivate.
The word cultivate comes from the medieval Latin cultivare, from cultiva (terra) ‘arable (land)’, from colere ‘cultivate, inhabit’.
Its definitions include:
1. prepare land for crops
2. grow plant: to grow a plant or crop
3. loosen soil: to break up soil with a tool or machine, especially before sowing or planting
4. nurture something: to improve or develop something, usually by study or education
5. develop acquaintance with somebody
6. make somebody cultured
I like the work implied in this word. To cultivate anything takes time and labour. It recognizes that anything worthwhile must grow, and even growth must be preceded by preparation.
A big challenge for me, though, is to think about what it means to cultivate success in writing when what I want does not depend solely on my effort. I would be embarrassed to admit the depth of my ambition and drive to see my books find an audience, but every crop depends on more than the effort of the person cultivating it.
Maybe I will be able to enjoy success if my goals become ones that are within my control.
I'm also haunted by the possibility that writing fiction may very well be for my own pleasure, and that my purpose in life may be something I discount or devalue. And maybe the books will find a home within that purpose.
This year, I will write and I will learn to write better and will fall in love with my stories. And I will try not to let my longing for readers sour into thwarted ambition.
Those will be good crops to cultivate.