Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why It Matters

This week has brought much upheaval in publishing. Houghton Mifflin instituted an acquisitions freeze on all new properties except children's books. (Can you say YA anyone?) Pensions have been frozen in several large publishers. Editors have been sent packing. Salaries frozen. (Was I the only one who noticed the overuse of the word 'frozen' as we approach winter?) Long standing independent booksellers closed their doors. Newer publishing houses have ceased to exist. It's been a busy November. It's almost too much for me to read my daily Publisher's Weekly and MediaBistro blogs. Too much information.

Rather than bury my head in the sand, I take this opportunity to be even more vigilant with my work. I need to take even more ownership of my writing career. Where can I present? What areas can I position my work in that I haven't thought of? What audiences do I currently have access to? And then, of course, what is in me to write at this moment?

Turns out, lots of things in lots of areas. (That's all the info you're getting on that!)

But the bigger question, and one that I've heard over and over in classes this semester, is why write now? No one's buying. No one's reading. No one's working. Yeah, well, whatever. I don't mean that flippantly. I just mean ... whatever. You can't control any of those things. Let it go. Now. Ask yourselves why you read (because of course if you want to write, you must read). Think about the times in your life when books really mattered. I don't mean sort of. I don't mean the books you were assigned to read that you ended up loving. But when was a book everything in a particular moment? That's who you must keep writing for.

For me, books were everything most of my childhood. Not just sort of anything. Everything. The library was the most magical place of all, and when we had a Scholastic Book Fair at school and I was given $5 to purchase a book, wow, the heavens parted. I read during recess when everyone else was slamming each other with dodge balls. I read in class when everyone else was finishing the assignment. I read in the cafeteria when everyone else found their cliques. I never found one. I never found the cool lunch table or got picked for a kickball game. But I found everything that has ever mattered to me within the pages of a book. No hyperbole. Everything that has ever mattered to me I found in a book. I either found it first in a book so I could recognize it in the world, or I saw it in the world and had it verified in a book. Stories hold me up.

What was it for you? Why did reading matter to you? That's the answer for why writing matters. Yes, when Barnes & Noble sales are plummeting, when Borders loses its line of credit, and when is threatening to take all our royalties away, you still must write for that little boy or girl.

Write directly into the heart of the moment when reading changed you. Writing matters. Stories matter. You have a gift and a desire to tell a story. Rather than be fearful of what you might not be able to accomplish, instead be grateful for the gifts of language. Don't let the fear of the distribution (or not) of those stories get in the way of the telling. Your burdens will become greater by remaining silent. Perhaps especially in economic times like these.

Write what you were given to write and let the rest go.

This Thanksgiving, consider giving thanks to that little girl or boy who first found the joys of books. Welcome him or her back into your life. Let him or her guide your hand across the clean first page of a new story. Speak directly to your heart. Your heart before it first got broken. Your heart before it knew of suffering. Your heart before it knew that no matter how much you might want something, you may never have it. That heart knows the peace in silence and space. That heart knows the dance of words into sentences into paragraphs into lives. That heart doesn't know about the economic collapse. Or the wars. Or illness. That heart is just open.

My wish for you this Thanksgiving is that you visit that heart. Look at it with soft eyes. Then pick up your pens and write.


Dawn Maria said...

Thanks for the encouragement. As I get closer to sending out queries for an agent, I need to remind myself of exactly the sentiments you expressed here. And it's really about the doing. I've written a book. I hope it will be published, but I still did it, and I can be proud of myself forever. The rest is just gravy.

Debbie Thomas said...

I am a friend of Gayle Brandeis whose blog I just turned to for solace and encouragement--and it led me to yours! 2008 held much promise for me. A novel I began with Gayle found an agent and made its way to the desks of several respected editors. Initially there was much encouragement but ultimately all ended in rejection. This was my second novel, second try, second significant experience with rejection. I have been trying to decide what to do next. Keep writing or channel my energy and passion elsewhere? Your words rang so true. I have spoken them myself countless times to others, but this time they were directed at me. Thank you. Your writing mattered to this listening heart.