For the past month, I have been choosing what Nancy Butts calls “activities that nourish your writer’s soul” (from Spontaneous Combustion: A Writer’s Primer for Creative Revival by Nancy.)
In fact, one of the activities I do each day, before I work on my novel, is to read half a chapter or so of Nancy’s book. (Chapters are fairly short.)
It’s much like having a dear writing friend right there beside you who GETS the writing life.
Why Write if Nobody’s Buying?
Even after you are published–maybe even published multiple times by traditional publishers–you’ll hit dry periods. Very dry periods where no one wants to buy from you.
I’ve been there a couple of times, each discouraging period lasting several years.
When it happens to you–not IF–will you quit? Will you hang in there a bit–and then quit? Or will you be like Barbara Pym, someone Nancy suggests should be the patron saint of writers.
After reading Barbara’s story, I have to agree. And with Nancy’s permission, it is reprinted below. Enjoy it–and let it inspire you.
Nourish Your Writer’s Soul
In the 1950s, Pym published six novels: quietly comic books about the lives of spinsters and curates in English villages. She was well-reviewed, had a body of loyal readers, and seemed to enjoy a solid working relationship with her publisher.
Then in 1963 she submitted her seventh novel— and despite her fans, her good reviews, and her history with the publisher, they refused to print it, saying it was out of step with the times. She revised and resubmitted it, and they rejected it again. She submitted it elsewhere, twenty times. And twenty times it was rejected.
Pym was living through a writer’s ultimate nightmare. The people whose opinions she valued— upon whom her very existence as a writer depended— no longer respected her work. She was devastated by this experience. “I get moments of gloom and pessimism when it seems as if nobody could ever like my kind of writing again….” she wrote in 1970.
Note two things about this quote. Though it was seven years after that painful first rejection from her own publisher, Pym was still writing, despite her despair. She continued to believe in the worth and value of her writing even when no one else did. She continued to write.
That’s why I’ve nominated her as our patron saint.
Another nine years went by. Pym was diagnosed with breast cancer and went to live with her sister in a small village, and she continued writing, despite the fact that no one wanted to publish what she wrote.
Bear with me: there is a gloriously happy ending to this tale. In 1977, sixteen years after Pym entered what she called “the wilderness,” two other British writers named her as the most under-rated novelist of 20th century England in an article in the London Times literary supplement.
It helps to have friends in high places. That same year, Macmillan bought her novel A Quartet in Autumn for publication; it made the short list for the Booker Prize. A second novel followed in 1978, and then a US publisher “discovered” her, and all her works were made available for the first time to American readers.
It is Pym’s setbacks, not her success, that make her a hero. I call her a literary saint because even in the darkest of times, she was able to show the rest of us the truth and wisdom of this:
Take your writing seriously— even when nobody else does.
Especially when nobody else does.
So when you can’t remember why you’re bothering to write, think of Pym.