Nathan Bransford: "In other book news, Google has apparently determined that there are a measly 129,864,880 books in the world. Don't worry, we still need more!!"
Jean Rhys: "All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake."
One trouble that comes to any artist regularly is the question of whether it matters.
I upgraded to Microsoft Word 2010 the other day, and now it tells me how much time I've spent editing a document. My "sixth draft" (technically part of the third full revision, but there's a new document for every major set of changes I make) has over 270 hours in it. I'm on Chapter 2. That's not counting the time I put in last November, when I wrote the first 55,000-word draft. That's not counting the months involved in the first full revision, or the ten days I spent every spare moment revising a hundred pages after the alpha read. That's not counting whatever I've got in the fifth draft document, which goes all the way to Chapter 4. Now, if it counts the amount of time the document has been open—which I suspect—the number goes down somewhat, but still that is a lot of time.
Does it matter?
What if every agent turns it down and I can't get it published?
What if no one but my alpha, beta, and up-and-coming gamma readers ever see it?
Mr. Pond, in his last installment in our ongoing blogalectic, talks about the concept of a kinship circle:
"A new artist enters into the kinship circle of art. She does not imperiously bring her own portfolio to shout down the other voices in the circle. Nor does she slavishly mimic those already in the circle when she arrives.
She enters, instead, into a welcoming family who give and receive freely and lovingly with each other. Her responsibility is neither to dominate nor submit, but to give what she has, accept what is given to her, and make it her own. The kinship circle is a creative, open space where we speak in harmony and dissonance, silence and noise, each voice distinct but joined to every other."
Last year I sang in a women's chorus that performed Gregorian chant and polyphony. Our director knew all twelve of us by voice, and would regularly move us around to balance the sound. He would mix up the sopranos and altos, put the strongly pitch-correct next to the stronger voices, and make sure that those who still wavered on the melody were near those who had everything memorized. He told us almost every practice and in many an email, "Come to every practice. Don't miss a concert. Every voice is needed, and when just one is missing, it changes." He was right. Even when we were singing in unison, things felt off when someone had to miss.
The body of literature changes, too, with the addition and subtraction of pieces. Who is to say but that throughout the ages, our individual voices matter—less as individuals, perhaps, than as part of a unified whole?
Mr. Pond ended his post with an encouragement to foster "true creativity, both derivative (we’ve read fairy tales before) and original (but we’ve never read this one, or not quite like this). Take hold, as the Teacher says, of the one thing without letting go of the other. Look backward and forward. Take the tropes and make them your own. There had been Wise Ones and mentors before. There had never been Dumbledore."
Those words actually moved me to tears. There had never been Dumbledore. What would literature have been like if Albus had never existed, showing manners to Death Eaters, laughing at his own ingenuity and shedding tears for his weaknesses and failures, powerful and forgiving, broken and repentant and loving? Dumbledore is one of my favorite heroes. I can't imagine the world of stories without him.
Someone had to create him, and sure, Rowling is an exceptionally successful case. But she isn't the only one who matters, either. The hard-to-find book that I read to pieces in high school--that matters. You, with your blog or your story or your how-to book or your long-thought-through comment or greeting card or letter—whatever it was that reason/passion/faith/desperation/hope/understanding/love drove you to write—that matters. If it helped you, if it encouraged or assisted someone else—success can be great or small, admittedly, but it is still success.
Mr. Pond matters, with his blog and his fairy tales and novels. I matter, with my A.D. and her loved ones and this blog and The Hog's Head and random lyrics and the other things I write. You matter, with your words. We're a family of writers, and just because some of our relatives are so great as to leave the rest of us a little starstruck, doesn't make the rest of us valueless.
If only my Greek-letter readers ever bother with my book, then I've succeeded for every one of them that looked me in the face and said "I loved that character" or "Your story surprised me" or "I kept thinking about it for days."
There have been Tolkien and Lewis and Dostoyevsky and Austen and... et cetera. There has never been you. This family won't be the same without you.