17th August 2012
In this month's Writer's Digest, agent Marcia Wernick gives this advice: the hardest lesson to learn for any writer is that everything takes longer than one expects. No kidding. I mean, you spend years writing and years trying to find an agent, and then you'd think things would start to get going. But then your book doesn't find a publisher for another year, during which time there's only silence when you would REALLY like an answer from that agent that you love for taking you on but secretly suspect of playing mind games with you. When he submits your work to publishing houses, there are the rejections and the re-writes to make the rejections less likely (or so you or agent think.) Finally. the day comes when a publisher picks up your book and then you wait. You get that first re-write done in lickety spit time, and then you wait. Summer comes and goes, your editor goes quiet on you, and then an e-mail arrives one day saying you are third for take-off, probably in about three weeks. Right after labour day. Being a Brit who has only lived in the country for twenty-five years, I have to go and look up when labour day is. I begin to worry that with all this delay, my book won't be coming out next summer, after all. But, anyway, third for take-off is better than back in the hanger. "I have two other books in the hoppper before yours," says my editor, and I don't know what a "hopper" is - probably something only people who have lived in the USA for more than twenty-five years would know, but I get the general drift: I'm in line. I'm saying all this, not to denigrate my agent or my editor or the publishing house, but just to reiterate Marcia Wernick's point: It all takes a lot longer than you'd think. And being impatient doesn't help a bit. Right?
This week, I was reading an interview with best selling Y/A author, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, in which he says, "Music is what I love most in the world, more even than books." On the face of it, this seems a strange thing for a writer to say. But it's not, and this is where the potted plants come in. If you've ever tried to grow a tree in a plant pot, you'll find that it can indeed grow, will grow, in fact, for many years, but it won't grow very big. If you want to see a tree live to its optimum, express its DNA to the fullest, then you need to take it out of the pot and put it in the earth and surround it by other life. And a writer is the same. I was sitting in a concert this week at the Aspen Music Festival listening to an extremely youthful demigod run his fingers through, around and over Rachmaninov's second piano concerto. It might be as close as a person comes to being vivisectioned, as the soaring lines of that incredible melody steal into your heart and rip it, still beating, from your ribcage, then hand it back to you. Music can do that to you, probably more than any other discipline, but you have to put yourself in the way of it. If you keep your writerly self to writing and to other people of like mind, you're stuffing yourself into a pot. To grow strong roots and great spreading branches, you really need to get out into the world - go to a concert, go to the theatre, watch a film and be moved by it, expose yourself to all this rich soil for the soul. Blinkered writing, like blinkered anything else, becomes wrapped up in itself and soon can't see the forest or the trees.