Last week I went shopping. And it was the kind of shopping that makes my heart race, my body shake and my eyes shimmer. You guessed it. Books. Much is to be said about the strange phenomenon of wonderful literature finding its way to makeshift shelves and tables in warehouse sales.
As a book lover, I live for these sales. But as an aspiring writer, I cannot help but worry. Anyone who has tried to put pen to paper and made any kind of half decent attempt at writing to be published, knows that it is one of the hardest vocations ever.
That blank page. Oh that blank page. How it taunts and tortures. Minutes tick away, then hours, sometimes days before a thought, a word, a whiff of inspiration arises from the recesses of hopelessness and makes itself known, demanding to be written. Only then does the writing begin.
Alas, it is but the first drop in the ocean. Sentences have to be constructed. Coherent ones, no less. Plots must come together. Scenes must have goals. Dialogue must flow naturally. Characters must come alive. Settings must be created. Something must come out of nothing. Magic must happen and it must happen with beauty.
When one finally arrives, sleepless, spent and exhausted, months or years or even decades later at the final page of the coveted novel, one is clutching nothing but a lump of clay; the dreaded first draft. The draft that is littered with typos and grammatical inconsistencies, plot holes and flat characters. Either the wretched thing is too long or too short. And it is almost always, ugly as sin.
So the unfortunate soul returns, tail between legs, humbled but determined to the writing table. The real work begins. The cutting and patching, shaping and slicing, adding and removing. A forever later, perhaps there is a second draft that is worthy enough for another pair of eyes to read. Then comes the third draft, the fourth, the fifth. On and on it goes till the writer can finally bear to read the damn thing without having the pressing need to jump off the balcony.
This is only the creative process. Let alone the business of finding an agent and getting published. The odds of this happening ranges anywhere between 0.1 to 1 percent depending who in the industry you ask.
So there you have it. Years spent with no guarantee of any kind of publication.
When I shopped at this sale, I paid US$2 each for everything from Jane Austen to Umberto Eco. Have you read them? Dear god, the prose is priceless, it is miraculous, it is life changing, it is meditative, it is….it is… It is genius.
It does not add up. The blood, the sweat, the tears, all to produce something that is pleasurable to the reader, all available for US$2.
As a writer it worries me that I can pay less for a book by literary geniuses like Gustave Flaubert than for my daily latte. I start to wonder why I choose to write knowing that my work is likely to be lost in the thousands of unread and unpublished manuscripts languishing in the deleted folders of agents’ inboxes. And if by some stroke of luck, I find someone who has enough conviction in my work to take it to the finish line and have it published, I would be lucky to see it sold for more than a couple of dollars.
Knowing this, why then, why on earth then, do I bother to write?
Because there is nothing else I rather do. Except read. And now that I have acquired these new beauties for my bookshelf, excuse me while I go disappear in a story. For it is the only joy I know.