Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Of Mice and Writers

One of the things I would hear writers say way back when I was as green (in publishing terms) as a Kate Spade store carrier bag was: when you get published, be prepared to have everyone confess from your old high school teacher to the neighborhood paperboy, that they too, given XYZ would have loved to write a novel.

Ha! I scoffed. I’m not sure the people I hang out with enjoy reading anything beyond Yahoo headlines, let alone writing. And of course, like most sound writerly advice I received over the years and ignored, time and experience proved me wrong.

The funniest incident of someone telling me they always wanted to write was an old boss… and not just any boss, my friends, but the boss’s boss… He was in charge of 'exit' interviews and I was, well, exiting. This wasn’t an exchange I was particularly looking forward to, so when the next question out of his mouth after “have you handed in your company pass?” was: “so, is it true you’ve written a book?” I was very relieved. And then very shocked. This pointy-haired (sans the pointy hair) boss didn’t look like he had one creative bone in his entire body (we’re in the stuffy finance world here).

This wasn’t the only time people told me how they too, would love to sit down and write a novel. Which makes me wonder… why didn’t they? What’s the difference between them and us? What makes a person decide to pursue something like writing seriously? I’d say determination, a need to overachieve and a high IQ, but mustn’t my aforementioned boss have all these traits if he managed to get to his position? And he did go into what sort of book he’d like to write, so I assume he read a fair bit as well…

Is it only that our priorities are different, or are we more deluded about our chances of publication, and therefore more likely to take on this crazy idea? There was a great article in the RWR a few months back (maybe years… time stands still on the crazy island) about this experiment about mice swimming towards some island in the middle of a tank of water (bear with me here…there is a point, I promise). It seems that those mice that had been conditioned to believe there was a dry surface somewhere in that tank kept on swimming, while those mice that were never conditioned to believe there was a dry surface for them to swim to just gave up after a while and stopped swimming. And then sank (I wonder if the researchers managed to rescue them in the nick of time…)

… does this make those of us who try and break into the publishing world, armed only with only our fervent desire to succeed, more delusional that society at large?

Alisa has a great post up on her blog about the attributes of gifted people and how they do things that seem nutty to everyone else… like say not only wishing they could write a book, but actually going out and doing it.

What do you think? What separates us actually-writing writers from the just-talking-about-writing masses? What made you do it?


Paul Stevens said...

Author Wendy French puts it a different way. Most people don't want to write a novel, they actually want to "have written" a novel--they just can't commit to all the work it takes to actually get it done.

That's one of the main reasons I'm and editor and not a writer--writing's hard! I'd much rather spend my spare time watching TV or sleeping (or sleeping in front of the TV).


Nadine Dajani said...

Ha! Writing IS hard, but I'm not convinced you couldn't do it Paul... though I can't say I'm surprised. Living in a city like NY with all those worthy distractions would make anyone relegate writing a novel to the nice-but-not-now mental pile.

I wonder if I would have waited much later in life to start writing (with publication in mind). I think moving to sleepy Grand Cayman had a lot to do with it. The other thing was that I had in me one of those stories that just had to get out, what some call the 'book of my heart'. I'm just lucky I managed to get that story down in a way that would appeal to others and not just to little old moi.

Now that I'm working on something completely and totally fictional I feel a lot more like a *real* writer...