Friday, October 05, 2007

What They Said

The other night, on the ABC, there was an interview with Yvonne Kenny, who is a famous Australian opera singer. When asked about her early life, especially when she was first starting out trying to be a singer and win roles in operas, she said the family would often ask her when she was going to get a "proper job". It's only now, after many years of being a professional singer, performing all over the world, that she seems to be able to look back on her accomplishments and laugh, and say, "See? I followed my dream."

I've talked to several writers about what drives us to write. Or more usually, what drives us to write for publication. Anyone can write journals or diaries or poems to amuse themselves, but there comes a point where you step over the line and start sending your work out. For many, the first few rejections are enough to stop them. For some, it proves to them that it was "only a silly idea" and they go off and do something else. I often warn students that once they graduate from the course, they are on their own, and that's a hard thing to come to terms with. No more deadlines, no more feedback or workshopping - quite a few now form their own writing groups.

Sometimes writers say they want to be published to be validated in some way, and it's amazing how much of that "validation" is about family - whether it's mother, father, sister, or someone along the way (often a teacher at school) who has poured scorn on the desire or the dream. Getting published is a great way to say "Now you can go and get ***". Sometimes the validation is simply about self-worth, and with publishing being the way it is these days, that's a rocky path to tread.

Lots of new writers that I meet have trouble with the idea that publishing is a business. They point to people like Raymond Carver, who had an editor who helped to shape his early work, or someone like Frank McCourt, who wrote about his terrible childhood and made a million from it. But Carver and McCourt aren't famous because a publisher thought their book was "worthy". They're famous because they wrote something so good that people would pay money to own a copy and read it.

When I was a kid, I was, of course, extremely well-behaved and quiet (not). My mother's favourite saying, when I got too much for her, was, "Stop creating!". (Mother translation: stop carrying on or you'll get a thick ear.) My mother is no longer around to tell me to stop anything, but she was a voracious reader, and a writer of diaries, and I can't help wondering sometimes if she was still alive, what she'd think of me now. Stop creating? Not likely, Mum.


Anonymous said...

I find it ironic that by the time we are published enough to "show" that someone from our past that "we made it," so often the need no longer exists. Somewhere along the publishing trail (in order to survive) we find that self-esteem doesn't come from "out there" (not from Mom, the published book, being thin, etc.) It's an inside job.

Sherryl said...

So true. And we are our own biggest critics. That little voice that keeps telling us we can't do stuff... or if we do, it'll be no good.