Nourish Your Writer’s Soul with Spontaneous Combustion

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.






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9 Responses to Nourish Your Writer’s Soul with Spontaneous Combustion

  1. Marcia says:

    It’s encouraging to feel that you’re in such good company! My drought has been almost as long as Pym’s, with the exception of one NF book and, thankfully, minus the cancer. Things are looking up now, and I can only hope my recovery might be THAT encouraging. :)

    • kwpadmin says:

      Yes! And those things happened through no fault of her own… I am picking up one of her books at the library today that’s on hold. After reading ABOUT her, I wanted to read something BY her!! I’m glad things are looking up for you now…but if you had quit, your recent good news wouldn’t have happened at all. There is more to this “not giving up” than most people today give credit.

  2. Nancy says:

    Kristi, I am delighted but also humbled to learn that anything I wrote in my book is helping you work on your novel. This is just the effect I was hoping for though. We all go through these scary droughts, and it can be so reassuring and encouraging to know that other writers have survived the same thing. Thank you so much for this post!

    PS: I love the word encourage. It literally means “heart in,” as in put one’s heart back into something.

    • kwpadmin says:

      I didn’t know that about the word “encourage.” How appropriate!

      I think there is sooooo much encouragement just knowing that our struggles are common to all working writers, that there’s nothing wrong with us, so then we can take a deep breath and just get to work. :-)

  3. Vijaya says:

    “Take your writing seriously— even when nobody else does.
    Especially when nobody else does.”

    This. And so I keep plugging away.
    Pym’s story was such an inspiration. But modern day writers — my friends — inspire me too. Check out Allyson’s story on Cynsations:

  4. I really needed to read about Barbara’s struggle and success today! It’s given me that extra shove back into the chair. Thanks for sharing it, Kristi.

    • kwpadmin says:

      You’re so welcome, Claudine! It helps me do the same thing. I even checked out one of her books at the library and started reading last night. Lovely writer!

  5. Wow! that piece of writing has been really useful thanks a bunch. Love is, above all else, the gift of oneself. by Jean Anouilh..

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