THE WRITER'S DILEMMA
You wouldn’t believe it, but when I sat down to write this post I was faced with the dilemma as to what to write. Well at least now I have written a sentence and so to an extent broken the stranglehold. Over the last fifteen months I have on a few occasions touched on the topic of ‘Writing’. It all started with ‘Why I write’ in two separate posts and ‘The Travails of an Aspiring Author’ again in two posts and then ‘The Writer’s Block’. So I shall not dwell again on what I had said earlier but some points are bound to creep into this exploration as to the dilemma that a writer faces especially during the initial phases of his writing life.
It is a question of ‘what do I write’ and ‘how do I realize the dream of completion of my creation and see it in a tangible form in front of me’ and last ‘how do I really connect with my readers and find acceptance and recognition’. In my very first post ‘Why I write’ I had ultimately reached a conclusion that I do it because I like it. That’s not the total truth and hence the dilemma.
As to the very first dilemma ‘What to write’ it is easy for the first time author as he draws on his own experiences and more or less exhausts himself in the process. Thus we find in a majority of first time authors the theme is largely autobiographical. The problem arises when he sits down to examine as to how much coherence he has been able to bring into his narration. The very first person who should be able understand what you have written is you yourself. If like I had earlier stated that I write because I like it then I should stop as soon as I am satisfied with what I have written. But then that’s not the whole truth, I want the others who read it should also understand and connect. Why? That is because of the need for acceptance and recognition. If this need had not been there, why publish?
Is that all? But then I was reminded of my friend KV’s observation –
When you conclude that writing is a journey into our inner world and every writer in the end tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle that is his own life, I cannot agree completely because what you say is true of only a few genres of writing. For example, a professional writer's fiction will have nothing of her personality or inner world, but a cleverly crafted story on a theme she researches well.
Very true (but I still wonder who he had in mind for he insisted on referring to the writer as ‘her’ may be because I went on referring to the writer as ‘he’. But it does not matter whatever the gender of the author is, a dilemma is still a dilemma). So the dilemma still persists – what do I want to write, in which genre? Will I be satisfied just to see my book or do I want to make money out of it, become a professional writer and give the reader what he wants? Well what does the reader want? Thus coming back full circle to ‘What do I want?’
There is a vast population of readers out there – serious readers and non-serious readers as a broad classification. There are various genres of books – non-fiction and fiction as a broad classification once again. To some reading is serious business a way of understanding the world through the documented experiences of others while for other it is a pastime (or rather I should say passing the time). For the serious reader it is a question of going back again and again to what he has read while for the other once the reading is done it has served its purpose and hence disposed of. This reminds me of Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ where he talks about how disposable relationships whether it is with people, places or things will become in future. The book written in 1970 defines ‘Future Shock’ as a certain psychological state of perception of ‘too much change in too short a time’. Toffler says “the accelerated rate of technological and social change left people disconnected and suffering from ‘shattering stress and disorientation’ – future shocked. The majority of social problems are symptoms of future shock.” You may wonder as to why I should talk of this here. It is relevant when we consider that a large section of the population is too busy accumulating and discarding – accumulating wealth and discarding things which they feel have served their purpose or does not fall within the zone of their interest.
This is where the dilemma of the writer surfaces once again. To whom should he cater to? What are their needs? This by and large is a problem of the professional writer of fiction. He has to be awake to the reality that his book will ultimately become disposable. But how does it matter if he can ensure that it is acquired before being disposed of.
Non fictional writing is less disposable especially self-help books, books on philosophy, art, economics, biographies etc. but then again the readership is restricted to serious readers. These are readers who collect what they read.
Perhaps the most difficult genre is poetry. The takers are few for not many have the time in this future shocked world to sit back and enjoy the imagery and sensibilities of the poet. A poet is a poet; you can never be a professional poet. It is poetry alone that explores the inner world of the writer and hence can never be a commercial venture. That’s why it is very difficult to find a publisher who would be willing to take it up. It would be interesting to find out as to the number of poetry books published in comparison with the other genres. Poetry is serious literature.
I have realized that I was not being entirely truthful when I said that I write because I like it, the whole truth is I like it when people like what I write. May be I do have some altruistic motives like sharing my experiences so that it will help others, but in the final analysis I want acceptance and recognition. And how does that happen? Well that is the final dilemma of the writer – his book seeing the light of the day.
There are publishers and publishers and there are writers and writers, so how does one squeeze himself through? There are traditional publishing houses and there are self- publishing houses. There are rejections and more rejections of scripts submitted. So where do you stand, have you felt the agony of your masterpiece being rejected? You will come across literary editors who say that they are not in a position to pitch your work to a publishing house since it does not meet with their standards, but at the same time they do offer you editorial services to make your work better, of course for a fee. When you enquire whether after their editorial intervention they will be able to take up with a publishing house, they are offended and say that they do not like to work with authors who are not serious about their work.
My own experience could well highlight the travails of aspiring authors. I first experimented with self-publishing with one of the major houses and left it midway as I thought pitching to a traditional publishing house will help me evaluate the value of my manuscript as seen by a publisher who would definitely be in a better position to gauge its acceptability by the reading public. I did submit the manuscript to five of them. There was no reply from three of them even after a lapse of four months. The fourth was courteous enough to say that they will not be able to fit it due to constraints in their existing calendar but they said “however, we remain committed to giving platform to new voices. We understand that you've put in considerable time and effort on this book and would like to publish it at the soonest. To address the same, we have come up with a unique solution, where you can choose your publishing plan and the options you require to do justice to your book, under our new self-publishing arm.” That would of course entail financial outgo from my side.
Well not everything is dark, there was a silver lining for one of the publishers has accepted the manuscript for publication. This comes with a rider for though the manuscript is placed as ‘projects under consideration’ I have been informed that it will be taken up when the commissioning editor deems fit. They were also very courteous enough to add that a book under consideration with them could get published within weeks or in a few years. I do not know where I stand right now. But I guess when my patience wears out I would revert to where I started from.
For every writer his work is a masterpiece waiting to be discovered. He lives in hope that it happens sooner than later.