The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: it won the Pulitzer prize for 2007, today number 544 on Amazon more than a year after being published in paperback. That is the kind of success that authors crave. And how did it come? Fast, easy, cranking out book after book, as authors also crave?
Five years after writing eight hours a day, he had seventy-five good pages and a lot of crap.
It was like I had somehow slipped into a No-Writing Twilight Zone and I couldn’t find an exit. Like I’d been chained to the sinking ship of those 75 pages and there was no key and no patching the hole in the hull. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, but nothing I produced was worth a damn.
He failed every day for five years. He despaired. He put the book away. He tried to think of anything else he could do instead of writing. He wept. He didn’t even care anymore about writing a great book, just a readable one. One night he dug out the manuscript, deciding that if he could find one good thing in it, he would keep going. This is where he finds the golden line and it inspires him, right? No–he found nothing of worth in it other than the above mentioned seventy-five pages.
But he went back to it anyway. For two more years it was a futile task. But then something started to take shape, seven years from when he’d started, and in another three years, the book was finished. Something beautiful. A beauty that was recognized.
And he says:
You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn’t until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am.
Someone might find this story discouraging–after all, the prospect of ten years of labour! But not me. I’ve already been there, as you know if you follow my blog. Instead I’m heartened because a fellow writer says it’s worth it, not only for the success which he couldn’t know that he would find, nor can I or any other writer, but for the thing in itself: “you keep writing anyway.”
Thank you Junot. You wrote honestly from the heart, and in doing so, put your hand out to me and every other writer who despairs at midnight.
h/t Sandra Gulland