Monday 22 December 2008

To Worship Mammon or Apollo?

“But, B.B., 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 us...publishing, admiration, adulation...are all worthless”.[1]

The words of Ernest Hemingway in his 1954 letter to Bernard Berenson are echoed by the Zen Master Osho. Creativity is the inner attribute of working with joy. In whatever one does, Osho continues, one must be uncaring of whether history, or even other people, take account of what one has done. Fame, and the desire for fame or reward, should not be a consideration if one wants to be truly creative. The fulfilment one finds in what one is doing lies in the task itself: any act of creation must be completed for the simple joy of having done it.[2]

My business training has made me firmly goal oriented. One of the most difficult transitions I’ve had to make from accountant to author has been to stop emphasising the financial and other rewards of writing and to allow my unique creative voice – or Muse – to flow freely through me.

A while ago, I was faced with a difficult choice. I had been concentrating on genre fiction as a (relatively) easy route to getting published. My creative thought processes were part of a logical strategy: 1. learn how to write genre fiction; 2. get published as genre author; 3. earn money; 4. continue to earn money from genre writing while writing what I really wanted to write on the side.

After writing five full novels, I came very close to being published in genre fiction. I worked with an editor at a large publishing house in the United Kingdom on completely rewriting two of these five manuscripts; both rewrites were ultimately rejected. The second rejection was a turning point for me as it raised many doubts in my mind. Did I continue to write genre fiction? Was my voice really suited to genre writing? And, if I did continue with genre writing, when was I ever going to get to the point of earning enough money to be able to write what I really wanted to write?

According to John Gardner, this mercenary drive probably had its roots in the guilt and shame at being financially dependent on my spouse while trying to establish myself in an artistic field in which the financial rewards are notoriously elusive. However, Gardner continues, for the unpublished author to reach her full creative potential she should remove the added pressure of dependency by learning to accept that financial dependence on a generous spouse-as-patron is not only God’s bounty, but also an excellent survival tactic. It then becomes the author’s responsibility to honour this bounty, this gift from her spouse, by doing everything in her power to write to the best of her artistic ability.[3]

Paul R. Givens, in his article “Identifying and Encouraging Creative Processes”,[4] states that it’s imperative that creative people do not continually find themselves in ambivalent situations, caught between the call of multiple goals. To foster creativity, a choice must be made. And so, at this critical point in my writing life, I was faced with difficult questions.

Did I continue to write genre fiction? By writing for the joint rewards of fame and fortune as a genre writer, was I honouring the generosity of my husband-as-patron? Did I put behind me all the experience I’d gained in writing genre fiction and start again as a beginner? In my journey towards becoming An Author, which god was I to worship: Mammon or Apollo?

I chose Apollo. And my writing is now my joy.

References:[1] Phillips, Larry W.(Editor). 1986. Ernst Hemingway on Writing. Grafton Books. London, United Kingdom. Pp. 104.[2] Osho. 1999. Creativity: Unleashing the Forces Within. St Martins Press. New York, United States of America. Paragraph summarised from Pp. 91-107.[3] Gardner, John. 1983. On Becoming a Novelist. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. New York, United States of America. Pp. 117-118.[4] The Journal of Higher Education Vol XXXIII No 6 June, 1962, Pp. 295-301.


Justus M. Bowman said...

"Was my voice really suited to genre writing?"

I'm sure in the past I would have been surprised to hear someone mention a writer's voice being better suited for certain genres or no genres at all.

After writing for a while, I understand what this means.

Ann Victor said...

Yes, I think learning to recognise your unique voice is critical to a writer. And once you've recognised it, it'll be difficult to write in any other way (or, at least, that's what it's like for me.)

Janet said...

"And, if I did continue with genre writing, when was I ever going to get to the point of earning enough money to be able to write what I really wanted to write?"

A very interesting post.
Lots of people start off with purely external motivation --fame, money, trophies-- then gradually come to enjoy what they are doing purely for its own sake.

While writing your 2 genre fiction books, did you come to feel any enjoyment in the process?

Ann Victor said...

Janet, thanks for your interesting question!

I actually wrote 7 genre novels - 5 completely "new" and the 2 additional mss were the re-writes I mentioned in the blog post (I'll go and correct that now!). I count them as 2 different mss as they really were COMPLETELY new books by the time I'd finished the rewrites the (two different) eds had wanted.

To answer your question: I think I did enjoy writing them at the time - but after each rejection it was harder for me to write the next one. I sort of felt it was another "me" writing them. It was a voice that wasn't the "real" me, so to speak. (Sounds schizophrenic I know!) There came a point were I thought "This is it. I can't write better than this in this genre." And when that book was rejected I just knew I had to try something different if I wanted to carry on writing. It's been a long road since then to get my writing voice clear, but the ms I'm rewriting now (my first in this "new" voice) leaves me content with every challenge I overcome. So the struggles don't seem as hard as the struggles were in the genre fiction mss.

And that's why I know I'm finally writing what I should write and, while I would love to be published, at the end of the day, my pleasure in my novel is not diminished by the fact it's not yet published.

And that's far more than you wanted to know I'm sure!!

Janet said...

"It's been a long road since then to get my writing voice clear, but the ms I'm rewriting now (my first in this "new" voice) leaves me content with every challenge I overcome. So the struggles don't seem as hard as the struggles were in the genre fiction mss."

Hi Ann, I'm fascinated by your two writing voices--the asumed one and the true one.
You came very close to publication in genre fiction, and probably would have made it if you hadn't realised you didn't enjoy writing it.
If the genre voice wasn't the real you, where did it come from? Was it an imitation of the type of voice selling at the time and difficult to sustain?

How different is your 'new' voice from the genre fiction one?

Janet said...

Thank you for posting those excerpts. What do I think? :)

Both voices are compelling reading--but not that different (apart from the 2nd being in 1st person present tense) Both are very very readable, have strong emotion and an active writing style with an intensity that makes me want to read on)

The genre fiction clearly wasn't rejected because of voice/style/writing ability. Any chance you might post chapter one on your blog?

Good luck with the novel in the new voice.

Ann Victor said...

Thanks, Janet Kind of you to say so!

I hope you don't mind - I've posted Chapter One of another ms for you, called "The Tycoon's Secret Bride." This is the last of the full mss I wrote; the excerpt was from one I was busy on when the final rejection (for Secret Bride) came through, so I'd only got as far as Chap 3 and I stopped. Hope you enjoy this one anyway!