Friday, April 11, 2014

Leaving your mark.

There are some writers who write many books. They are prolific, they spurn out hit after hit. They become relative successes in the publishing world and are known the world over. We call these writers bestsellers. You know all the names; Stephen King, Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, J.K. Rowling, and the list goes on. The point is that you mention these names to most people and they'll know right away who you're talking about. These writers have successfully left their mark upon the world.

Then there are writers who only write one book. Names like Harper Lee come to mind. They've left their mark as well. While Lee only wrote that one book, it is well-known. Everybody knows, (or at least they should know) To Kill a Mockingbird.

So, it is that that I have been thinking about, that is leaving my mark. As I get older I think about things like, what if I only write one story, one book?

Certainly there is nothing wrong with only writing one book. Many authors have done just that. I often think about my favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien. No, he didn't write just one book, but had he only written The Hobbit, would anyone remember him less?

Most are familiar with the genesis of that story. Tolkien was sitting at his home near Oxford one summer evening grading exam papers, which the author has said himself is, "a very laborious task". While grading the exams he came across one that was left blank, which he nearly gave an extra mark for. On that blank sheet of paper Tolkien wrote out the opening sentence of would become his most beloved children's tale, but Tolkien almost never published it. He initially wrote it for his children and to answer a question which followed him ever since he wrote those famous words down. That is; "What is a Hobbit?"

The Hobbit became published largely at the urging of his fellow literary friends the Inklings, chiefly C.S. Lewis. He sent in the manuscript to Stanley Unwin of George Allen & Unwin and Stanley had his son Rayner read it. Rayner loved it and The Hobbit was born.

It became a success and soon readers were beginning to ask to hear more about Hobbits. Tolkien's publishers asked Tolkien to write a sequel, but the professor wanted to publish a work which he'd been working on since he was in the trenches of WWI, the story that had began in his notebooks as The Book of Lost Tales, later known as The Silmarillion. But, Tolkien's publishers wanted a sequel to Bilbo's story.  Thus, The Lord of the Rings was then born.

Eventually The Silmarillion would be published, but not until after Tolkien's death. The author never got see his masterpiece sent out to the world. Though, I wouldn't say Tolkien was at all disappointed by the reception of the books he did publish. His critics told him all his life that he was as renowned Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey once put it, "flogging a dead horse", but it wasn't a 'dead horse'. It was a derby winner! Yet, Tolkien did regard his greatest achievements were his academic works; his translations of the Norse sagas, Beowulf, and Arthurian tales.

My point is, that Tolkien had left his mark. He did it with The Hobbit, and he never had to publish another story again. Readers everywhere would remember his name each time they got whisked away with Bilbo on his journey across the wilds of Middle-Earth. Yet I, and many other fans of Tolkien are happy he did publish more.

This has all made me begin to think. In my unending quest to publish my epic fantasy novel, I sometimes try to do too much. I try to tackle several stories at one time rather than focusing on one story, and finishing it. The key to successful writing is to finish stuff. I think this might have been Neil Gaiman who said this, but then a lot of writers have given .this advice to aspiring scribes. Either way it is good advice that I will be heeding.

And so...

I have resolved myself to write a book. It will be a fantasy book, because even though over the years I have dabbled in different genres thinking that I had to write the next "Great American Novel", I have always come back to my roots. That being fantasy, because you know why? Fantasy is where I belong. These were the stories that I was meant to tell. I don't doubt that I will write many books and go on to be as prolific as some of the modern greats, God-willing, but for now I am focusing on just one story. Every writer has a story to tell, and unless it is written it will never be told, and the first key to writing is to finish.

Here's to finishing things and leaving my mark.