Monday, May 23, 2011

A different letter for the alphabet

Douglas Adams is one of the few authors for whom, when I have his work open in front of me, I change the verb "reading" to "recharging with."  Granted, "recharging with" isn't precisely a verb, more of a verb and preposition, but you get the point, no?  In any event, one of his shorter essays in The Salmon of Doubt struck me as particularly apropos to my efforts this morning. 

"Why" is the only question that bothers people enough to have an entire letter of the alphabet named after it, the essay begins.  It goes on, The alphabet does not go "A B C D What? When? How?" but it does go "V W X Why? Z." 

He goes on to write about some questions in life are easy to answer, like "When was the battle of 1066?" (his answer is, of course, "Ten-fifteen in the morning").  But other questions are much harder to answer, and often those are the questions that begin with Why. 

One that springs to mind occasionally in my efforts is: "Why am I doing this?"  The question is quite beautiful in its generality, but for now let's focus on the writing.  I'm spending hours each day writing a story.  That's hours each day I'm not spending with my family, or reading a good book, or recreating.  I took the family out to a wonderful tour of the Maymont Park this weekend and then to dinner and a movie, and all along I kept thinking about how much I get back to the writing.  It's like a bad addiction I could easily give up, but won't.  Why? 

The money, of course.  Yes, I'm giggling as I write that.  There's a great chance that I'll find a wonderful agent and a publisher who will make me rich and famous because of all the fabulous authoring I'm doing now.  In The Making of a Bestseller, they roughly quantify that great chance: "Bowkers estimates that 175,000 new titles are now published annually.  It is believed that less than 1 in 100 books that are submitted for publication actually end up in print...."  OK, so make that a 1% chance of getting published in the first place.  Then "It has been estimated that only 10 percent of books published ever end up selling enough copies to earn back the advance paid to the author....  How many become bestsellers?  Fewer than .3 percent."  That's .3 percent of 1 percent.  You do the math; it makes my brain cry.  The last blow the book gives before scurrying off into rosy discussion of how to do it is, "Another way of looking at these results is average of 4 new books per week appeared on the list, or 208 for the entire year (in fiction)." 

Can I write one of those 208?  Possibly.  I'm excited for the opportunity, frankly, but I would also be pretty stupid if I counted on it.  Those ain't big odds. 

So, why?  Why, why, why?

For solace, I return to the ubermeister, Douglas Adams, and his essay on the topic.  He said:

But when you hear the word "Why?," you know you've got one of the biggest unanswerables on your hands, such as..."Will you go to bed with me?"  "Why?"  (Yes, I skipped several other less interesting unanswerables) 

There's only ever been one good answer to that question "Why?" and perhaps we should have that in the alphabet as well.  There's room for it....  How would it be if the alphabet ended..."V W X Why Not?"

Why do I write?  Why not?  There's a story in there to tell, and it may bring me fame and glory, or it may bring me a thick sheaf of papers in an old box to show my grandkids.  One way or another, I'm takin' a swing. 

Word Count: 72,566

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