Today, the author digs even deeper and shares precisely why she writes. ]
No, that is not a typo. That “twenty” should not have been a “two.” Although, believe me, for many years, I thought it should have been.
So if it took me twenty years to get published, you might—quite understandably—get the impression that I was a terrible writer who had no business trying to write a novel, or that I must have been playing at writing and not really working that hard at it. Or that I simply had really rotten luck.
It’s true that my writing has improved over the years, but looking back at my earlier efforts, I don’t immediately cringe or race to throw all of them into the woodstove. Before I began my first novel, I had been taking workshops and writing short stories and studying craft. I was serious about this writing thing. I got feedback from professional writers who both praised my efforts and made valuable suggestions. I subscribed to Poets & Writers and literary magazines. I read books upon books. My boys were three and six years old at the time, and I began getting up at 4:30 in the morning so I could write before their little pajama-clad feet hit the ground running.
At that time, literary magazines frowned upon simultaneous submissions, and so I mailed my short story manuscripts out one by one (in stamped manila envelopes and SASEs for return, if you’re old enough to remember those), waiting months and months before I received another rejection letter. I remember when C. Michael Curtis, the fiction editor at Atlantic Monthly, wrote me a note on a rejection slip, and I jumped around the house in glee. My first husband said, “But I thought it was a rejection.” And I said, “It is, it is! But he wrote me a note!”
I kept on writing in the wee hours of morning, through the rejections and a divorce, years as a single mom, a long-distance relationship, another marriage with two young stepdaughters—as my sons’ little pajama-clad feet grew into size thirteen basketball shoes and football cleats and a couple of smaller, daintier feet donning tap and soccer shoes joined them.
There had been one awful, very long dry spell, during and after my divorce, when I didn’t write fiction, but I kept a journal. There were times when my novel sat on the back burner simmering while I met advertising copywriting deadlines, but I’d still scribble notes about characters or plot as I tried to focus on writing a headline or tagline. I wrote three and a half novels. I got my first agent. I spoke to editors interested in my work. I had a lot of very close calls. But still, no one said Yes.
And yet, I still said yes to writing. Why?
Why do I write? Do I write so I can have my work published? Of course I wanted to be published, but if that were the primary reason, I suppose I would have quit writing years ago. Is it beyond gratifying to have my work out in the world, to receive notes from readers instead of rejection slips, to experience a dream realized? Yes, yes, and yes.
But I wrote for twenty years without all that, without a yes, and I still loved writing, even needed it, and felt lucky to have it. I never said, “That’s it! I’m outta here.” (Well, I may have said it, but I was only bluffing and my writing knew it. You could almost see the manuscript smirking, could almost hear it say, “She’ll be back.”)
So why do I write? (“Tell us, already,” I can hear you mutter…But you see, I had to write all this to find my truest answer…)
Writing takes a lot from me, but it gives more. Man, does it give. There is an optional something more that each day offers us, but we have to be willing to step across the threshold in order to receive it. For me, writing is my entrance into that more. For some, music is the doorway. For others it is the swift pounding of feet on a track or across a stage, the in and out of the breath during prayer or meditation, the rhythm of expert stitches sewn along a stretch of silk or into a human heart. For me, the doorway is the scratching of pen on paper and the tapping of my fingertips on keys. For me, that’s how the light cracks through those dark early mornings, the light that allows me to see and feel and sometimes even give that something more.
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Seré Prince Halverson’s debut novel The Underside of Joy — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 8:59 p.m. EST tonight! The winner will be announced here tomorrow.