The Making of a Novel: Considering Art and Commerce

In last week's post, I talked about a friend who abandoned a novel at the 11th hour because she felt it wasn't quite right. It was interesting to read all the comments from people who felt that it wasn't necessarily courageous to abandon a book so close to publication, but was, rather unprofessional. I hadn't considered that side of the coin at all, to be honest. I was all about the "you go girl" aspect of a writer who knew how to listen to her gut and honor her story.

But of course failing to meet a deadline is not professional! I myself am a somewhat obsessive meeter of deadlines, and have been my whole life, so it's surprising that I didn't react to the missed-deadline story with outrage. I'm glad so many readers chimed in to debate the matter. The reader who put the whole "it's unprofessional to be such a perfectionist that you miss a deadline" argument best was emmacunningham, who wrote this: "While writing is an art, it's also a job, and I'm not sure that it's fair to let down people who have been counting on you."

I don't know emmacunningham and couldn't find a link to learn more about her, but my bet is that she is a seasoned professional writer or someone who works with such writers, because what she said exhibits the kind of wisdom that, in my experience, doesn't come early or easily. Writing fiction is obviously an art. It's something we create in order to entertain, illuminate, distract, delight, persuade and console our fellow readers. But for anyone who wants someone besides their mother to read their work, it must be considered a job, as well. Writers must deliver a product on time (of course!); ensure that it is of the highest quality; participate in marketing, promotion and customer interaction; and be a helpful part of a team whose main purpose is to make money. I often think of it as being an Author Entrepreneur.

I'm not anywhere closer to the marketing/promotion/job stage of my novel-in-progress. I'm still in the marking art stage. I've been fussing with my characters, making subtle changes in their motivation and their speech, getting reading to tackle the second half of my story when the spring I've set will unwind. It was good to be reminded, however, that I could fuss forever. I could be mired in the "I'm an artist" stage forever. This is my job, and in order to do it well, I have to get to "the end."

To read more about art versus commerce, read this excerpt from Lewis Hyde's awesome book, The Gift.