Monday, November 18, 2013

Keeping books alive


It's surprising what we sometimes discover. I read in a short article that when Harper Lee was about halfway through working on "To Kill a Mockingbird", she had a bad day and flung the manuscript out of the window into a pile of snow. If her agent hadn't convinced her to fish it out and dry it off, the world might have missed out on what is regarded as one of the world's finest novels, a social commentary and coming of age novel rolled up in one.

I was also amused to read that J.R.R. Tolkien always thought his "Lord of the Rings" manuscript needed just a bit more work. He always procrastinated handing it to his publisher because he was trying to fix it up somehow, but there was always some other glaring fault visible. Eventually his family suspected that it would never be done to his satisfaction. They stole the manuscript from his drawer one day and sneaked it to the publisher themselves. He was surprised to receive the call telling him, "This is fantastic!" It seems he never quite forgave his family, shaking his head and telling them, "I hadn't quite finished."

True stories such as these tell me a few things. The first is that when we are working on our books, we authors may reach a stage at which accurate, unbiased judgment is impossible. Sadly, it's the same in every aspect of life we work hard on. The housewife who slogs along, cleaning and nurturing all day might have long spells of missing how wonderful her family and lifestyle really are. With writing, although we are often loners and consider our work a solitary occupation, we do well to have a few straight-thinking allies to support us. Who knows, they may be required to save the day. Lee's agent and Tolkien's family were unsung heroes who actually played huge roles in the history of twentieth century literature.

Secondly, I started thinking about the sad waste of brilliant stories we'll never even know about. The two examples up above were saved to see the light of day, but the world must be filled with manuscripts representing hours of work which will never make their way out of dusty drawers, not to mention the ones which were probably attacked with blazing matches. It's easy to shrug about this, as we'll always be ignorant, but we'll never know how bereft the world may be, for missing some of this fantastic material. I'm sure there must be millions of pages.

So let's be encouraged to keep doing what we do for as long as enthusiasm burns in our hearts. As authors, even when our books deeply touch the hearts of just a few people, it's well worth working on them. As friends, we may be called on to help our fellow authors return to their work, because we can see the value in it, while they are blinded with discouragement and fatigue for a short time. Finally, let's always be on the lookout for gems from the past which may be resurrected to see another day. In this electronic age, I love to see old, formerly beloved titles from decades ago renewed as eBooks. With these, we are sometimes told something like, "A team of volunteers got it ready for kindle." Although they are also unsung heroes and rarely named, what a wonderful work to be part of.

Paula Vince lives in South Australia with her family. She is a homeschooling mother and award winning author of contemporary inspirational fiction, which is mostly set around her own beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons. She believes that nothing has more power and potential for good in the world than a well-written and powerfully told story.

19 comments:

  1. Thanks, Paula. I hadn't heard those stories about Tolkien and Harper Lee, but as you say, just as well those manuscripts were rescued. And I'm glad I have those 'unsung heroes' in my life to keep me realistic about what I write.

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  2. Hi Jo-Anne,
    Yes, I agree. It's very encouraging to have such feedback.

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  3. Great post Paula - very encouraging.

    I love the stories of Harper Lee and Tolkien. It is so easy to get discouraged at times and begin to doubt that what one is writing is rubbish or too strange (well writing fantasy anyway). And yes, I wonder how many wonderful manuscripts and stories have been lost - but maybe they are never truly lost for there is One who sees and remembers.

    Just wondering what wonderful stories are percolating in your wonderful imagination at the moment.

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    1. Hi Jenny,
      Discouragement sure can creep up on us. I'd actually like to write my Dad's written genealogy in the form of a novel, as it's such interesting material, but have kept putting that off. I know someone like Carol Preston could run with it immediately, but I've got to muster up the courage.

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  4. Loved your post Paula. That was interesting to hear about Harper Lee and Tolkein. Fancy that! Thank you for the encouragement to keep on keeping on. It's always needed! :)

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    1. Hi Anusha,
      It's interesting, isn't it? People we may assume are too competent and confident to have misgivings about their work turn out to be the same as the rest of us.

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  5. Thanks Paula. There are so many interesting stories about how writers now famous first got published. It's very encouraging and a good reminder to us all to not give up on our work or our confidence in ourselves.

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  6. Hi Carol,
    I like to hear background stories too. Ones like this do encourage us not to give up.

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  7. Thanks for another great post Paula. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favourite book It's amazing to think it may never have seen the light of day without the encouragement of her agent. It's a timely reminder of the importance of encouraging other writers and helping each other to be the best we can be. Who knows what life-changing stories are percolating just within our CWD group, let alone the thousands of other Christian authors out there. Which reminds me ... I must dig out those half-finished manuscripts. Blessings :)

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    1. Hi Nola,
      It's one of my favourites too. I'm sure Atticus Finch must be up there among the best and most beloved literary heroes. I'm sure there must be lots of wonderful books percolating among the readers of this blog.

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  8. Interesting post - so never give up giving us great books, Paula Vince! The book I'm writing at the moment is giving me so much pleasure, I wonder if God is doing it just for me!

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    1. Hi Jo,
      I'm glad your passion is ignited with a new project. Is it the NaNoWriMo book you're working on? I'd better get back to work too. I had a sort of a year off from writing, thinking that if anything new or different came up, God would let me know, but He didn't.

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  9. Thanks, Paula, for your words of wisdom, so full of encouragement to us all to keep on writing.

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    1. Hi Cathie,
      Thanks :) Like you, I find the stories of other people who have travelled the same road very encouraging.

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  10. What a great story the world would have missed out on. To Kill a Mockingbird is a gem. One of my favourite books. Just shows how important it is to have those who encourage, support and believe in us , to pick us up when we are down. Thanks Paula.

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    1. Hi Dale,
      It's one of my favourites too. We could examine plot, theme, characters, genre and setting without ever running out of things to say. One brilliant example of why a story can be so powerful.

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  11. As always, Paula, a very entertaining and encouraging blog. Be assured I won't be throwing any of my manuscripts in the snow any time soon. But I might try to refine them just that little bit more. What about you?

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    1. Hi Meredith,
      Same with me, but some of the High School ones I attempted deserved the torch. I remember a thick, dramatic book I wrote when I was about 15, called "The Family Next Door'. Very cringeworthy, although I thought it was wonderful at the time. I do agree that re-writing 'Afraid to Love' as 'The Risky Way Home' was a good move on my part.

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