Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Farmers and Writers

A woman stands in a field of corn, running her hands along the silky tops of her ripening crop. A man sits in a cramped dark office, whiteboards filled with scribbled plot notes on one side, tottering piles of research on the other. What could these two people have in common?

A lot, it seems.

Farmers toil, oh man do they toil, without any guarantee that the crop will be good. A lot is out of their hands. Even the best soil, best seeds, best weather conditions of a season can end in blight. A freak storm or a draught can funnel months of back breaking work (and money) down the drain.

Writers do the same thing, farming with words instead of tractors. Toil, toil toil with no clear expectation of success. I'm not even talking about publishing success - writers don't even know if they are going to finish something they love (hands up, how many trunked projects do you have in your digital drawers?) never mind something that is viable. So many things can go wrong when you are writing - and writers are famous for making their own bad weather (I'm talking to you, Evil Inner Critic.)

I started thinking of Farmers and Writers after hearing about a Philadelphia publisher with a business model that resembles a CSA (Customer Supported Agriculture.) The Head and Hand Press is accepting 'shares' ($50) in exchange for a 'literary harvest.' It's an intriguing idea, isn't it? But is it a workable model? That remains to be seen. But it's just another creative way in which publishing is seeking to change the status quo.

Even when writers are successful, published and loved, they can come up against the same stormy conditions, the same plague of locusts or potato blight or whatever. I was reading THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray when I came across this blog post by her - a post where she publicly, hilariously (and I say, bravely) detailed her struggles with writing the second book in this series. I was flabbergasted. I LOVED THE DIVINERS. I thought it was frigging brilliant. I couldn't understand how a writer who made THAT book could ever have any trouble writing anything. I mean, didn't she have it down? Weren't her other brilliant books proof against that kind of struggle?

Nope. Writing is struggle. Creating is struggle. And success or failure doesn't change that. The work is the same.

Happy Harvest.


  1. I have to go read that post by Libba Bray still, but I've read comments by her before about the love/hate relationship she has with her writing. It's hard to imagine someone so successful still feeling all that doubt. I mean, for me, yeah, it's totally normal to feel that way. Sigh. And yet I can see how that insecurity makes us work just a little harder to make something as good as we can. We don't want to fail so we keep pushing to make the story better.

  2. I agree a hundred percent. without the insecurity I wouldn't strive. I'm only worried (for myself and for other writers like me) that one day, the insecurity will sound like the voice of 'truth'.

  3. I love that she posted about her struggles writing a book that turned out to be fabulous. I just finished this Jane Smiley book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, and she explained a similar experience with a novel that was so freaking difficult to write, and how she couldn't see something in it that other people did. I thought that was pretty great too. sometimes we are just too close to our work to realize how fabulous it is.



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