“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
W. Somerset Maugham
Quick questions: Did James Joyce like to write at night or in the morning? How about Hemingway? Did Marcel Proust prefer tea or coffee? What about Stephen King?
Not to keep you in suspense: James Joyce was a night owl like me, while Hemingway preferred to pick up his 20 sharpened pencils in the morning. Proust was a coffee enthusiast, but Stephen King sips “a cuppa tea” while he creates his creepy thrillers.
This little exercise just goes to show that the writers’ habits range from one extreme to another: There’s no one-size-fits all way of getting work done. The same is true for how people get published and the backgrounds they bring to their writing. In a recent roundup interview story about debut authors, the different life histories they brought to their writing ventures were wildly diverse — which I think is very inspiring because it proves there’s no one path to success.
Here’s what I mean: One author, Eyre Price who wrote Blues Highway Blues is a former lawyer with a passion for music. Lissa Price, the author of Starters, had an unsold manuscript that had been shopped by an agent to a handful of publishers and rejected. After she wrote Starters, she had three agents offering representation in 24 hours and the one she chose sold her novel in six days after a preemptive bid prior to an auction.
Melinda Leigh was a former banker and stay-at-home mom. She had two young kids in school, a longing to write, and a total lack of desire to return to banking. She ended up penning a romance, She Can Run, and then snagged an agent and wrote a series. Carter Wilson was the director of a global hospitality consulting firm. He wrote four unpublished novels as a moonlighter and sold his fifth one, a thriller called Final Crossing, with the help of an agent who stayed with him through all the rejection.
While I’m not sure many books these authors sold the first time around, to my mind, that’s not really what matters. What’s important is that all these writers didn’t start out being writers — they turned themselves into writers and published authors, by writing, rewriting, surviving rejection, reaching out for agents, and following their dreams.
There are no absolutes in writing — and that’s absolutely great news, isn’t it? It means anything is possible. Once we’re out of the starting gate, the race is ours to run any which way we can. Write on!