Ten years ago, around the time I was preparing to query my first novel, then-agent Nathan Bransford posed an interesting question on his blog:
I equate “making a cent” with being published (either traditionally or non), so to me, the question was, “Would you still write if you knew you’d never be published?” I perused the responses. The vast majority were along the lines of, “Yes, I do that already,” or, “Writing is like breathing, so of course I’d continue!”
I laughed out loud (it probably sounded like a bitter cackle). Were they serious? Why would anyone spend hundreds of hours writing a novel if they knew they’d never get published? They’d have to be crazy! It’s not just about money or ego—without publication, a writer is an artist with no audience.
My (unposted) response to Bransford’s question was an emphatic, “Hell, no!” I figured that if no one ever read my stories, I’d find something more productive to do, like cleaning out my basement or volunteering at a local cat shelter.
I told myself that at some point, if I didn’t get published, I’d stop writing. After my first novel didn’t land an agent, despite many encouraging comments and requests for fulls, I asked myself the Bransford question, and the answer was easy. It was my first novel, so I couldn’t quit. Not yet.
After I finished my second novel, I queried everyone in the known universe and got a few bites but no agent, so I asked myself the question again. My answer was still no. But if I didn’t get published—soon—I’d definitely stop writing. I’m not a martyr.
I figured I had one more novel to write before I started visiting cat shelters. It was my biggest and most complex effort yet, with a lot of world building. I finished it. Then rewrote it. Twice. I queried it.
Once again, I asked myself the Bransford question. This time, I didn’t bother answering it, because I was already writing another novel.
The plot makes my heart race. My main character is complicated, unreliable and possibly murderous. I love her, and I need to tell her story. I’m querying it now.
Regardless of what happens, my answer to the Bransford question remains the same. I can’t stop. Not yet.
After all, over ten years I’ve got a long list of story ideas and if I stopped, what would happen to all those characters who are waiting for their moment in the spotlight?
So, I can’t stop. Not yet.