Putting the world into words – Tim Parks and why we write

March 10, 2016 at 6:36 am | Posted in Writing | Leave a comment
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Tim ParksI’ve been fond of English writer Tim Parks since he cheerfully admitted to ABC Radio interviewer Margaret Throsby that he had had ‘enough rejection slips for his novels to paper Buckingham Palace with!’

Parks wrote seven novels over six years before one was accepted for publication. Rejected by twenty publishers, Parks tells us in Where I’m Reading From: The changing world of books (Harvill & Secker, 2014, p. 130) that his seventh novel eventually earned him a £1,000 advance. This anecdote is appealing because it gives hope to writers who are struggling to gain a publisher’s contract.

Yes, there are now alternative ways of getting one’s writing into print. We can be liberated from the gatekeepers in the publishing industry. But some writers still want to be published in the traditional way, not least because of the time it takes to self-publish and to generate enough publicity to prevent one’s work being another drop in the ocean of self-published works, and to get on top of the technology to do all this.

Tim Parks has written seventeen novels and ten non-fiction books plus much translation, and prolific amounts of literary journalism, including Where I’m Reading From.

This book contains over thirty thought-provoking essays. In one, ‘Does Money Make Us Write Better?’ Tim Parks tells us that with an advance like that, clearly he wasn’t writing for the money. He was about to give up after that seventh novel so it wasn’t that he was in it for the pleasure of writing.

In an interview with Patricia Guy at Publishers Weekly 10 October 2015 [accessed 7/3/16], Parks says that he had turned down the opportunity to study for a PhD at Harvard because he wanted to be a serious writer:

‘I was eager to succeed as a writer because there were loads of people telling me what a terrible mistake I’d made.’

Why do the rest of us write? No question that for me, it is enjoyable ‘to put the world into words’. What about you? Are there other reasons people write?

Tim Parks in the same essay states that writers need the sustenance of a particular community of readers. I think that’s right. And we’re lucky now to be able to gain access to our communities of readers through our blogs and other forms of social media.

Writer Elias Canetti said in 1978: ‘Everything one records contains a grain of hope, no matter how deeply it may come from despair’ (Rudolf Flesch’s The Book of Unusual Quotations. London, 3rd ed. 1968). I suppose that means that if we record things for an audience, someone who reads us might lift us from whatever problem we’re grappling with. Or if we write something not for an audience, say, in a diary no one will see, the very act of recording can resolve a problem.

I sometimes find when I’m writing that understanding comes through the process of writing, while I’m doing it. Clarity often comes that way. It’s as if I could ask myself: How do I know what I think until I see it written down? Or I read what I’ve written and could say, ‘Oh – so this is what I really feel about it!’

When I publish articles or stories or novels or blogs an enjoyable result is to be part of a dialogue. I’m interested in other people’s take on a subject or someone else’s experience of it that makes me see it in a different light. Tim Parks is correct, I think, I love being part of that community of writers, readers, bloggers, thinkers and dreamers. We influence one another and enable a questioning of ideas and expansion of our knowledge, we cheer each other on after rejections, and we definitely do sustain one another.

So writing gives us understanding and hope; we get to know ourselves better and get to know others in our particular sustaining community better. And sometimes we get paid for writing, but very few of us enough to make that the only reason we do it. What are your reasons?






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