A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.
– Edna St. Vincent Millay
So why in the world do authors do it? Why, after her one-hundred and first rejection letter, did Madeleine L’Engle take A Wrinkle in Time to the hundred and second publishing house? Are writers simply arrogant? Patently optimistic? Grotesquely naive? Yes, yes, and yes. But the full truth is this: we write because we must.
We write, though the words go slipping through our fingers like wet soap, though the feelings of a girl living in 1863 are interrupted by a cellphone call, though the agent doesn’t want us, though the publisher let us go out of print... We write because we must. And when we visit bookstores and stare at the rows of name-brand writers whose publishing houses buy them shelf space and and oodles of marketing, we weep at our pitiful condition.
But the act of writing always brings us back from the edge of the abyss.
Something that begins as a single thought eventually rises up to stare back at us fully formed — walking, talking, thinking, feeling — in a world created out of nothing.
When we write, we’re a perfectly balanced ball spinning on the tip of God’s finger. Perpetual Motion. Time machine. Pleasure beyond description.
Arrogant? You bet. The sort of rollicking arrogance that comes from knowing the pen is mightier than the sword. Optimistic? Always. We are addicted to hope. Naive? Oh, yes. Entirely. The rejection letter is always a complete surprise.
Will we start again writing despite it? Of course we will. We must.
Meredith Bean McMath is the Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Productions, Inc., a prize-winning playwright, award-winning historian and a critically acclaimed stage director.