While I’m sure most Working Stiffs blog readers are well aware of Joyce Carol Oates’s book called The Faith of a Writer: Life Craft, Art, I just became acquainted with it last month.
Like a friend dropping in with the perfect supportive words when I’m feeling down, this book really spoke to me and lifted my glum perspective on publishing.
I’m querying my historical fiction novel again and I have to say I wasn’t too pleased to be back in that position. But, as my father said, “The book won’t get published by not submitting it.” I soon got back to work on a new query, synopsis and first chapter. Having that plan really made a difference in my attitude and Oates’s book helped, too.
Two chapters in particular were powerful for me: Notes on Failure and Inspiration!. Notes on Failure was wonderful—especially Oates’s timeline for James Joyce and his string of “failed” novels before publishing Ulysses. She surmises that “...James Joyce was protected by the unpopularity of his work. He enjoyed, as his brother Stanislaus observed, that ‘inflexibility firmly rooted in failure.’” Though I understand I’m surely not Joyce, I am very sure I understand the state of “inflexibility firmly rooted in failure.” I know my latest book, the historical fiction one would not have been written—at least not in time to be my breakout novel (see I’m still a little confident)—if my previous women’s fiction manuscripts had been published. Oates’s analysis of failure in this way has renewed my spirit in countless ways.
The chapter called Inspiration! was fabu. Oates discusses moments, epiphanies, and thunderous inspiration that results, sometimes, from ordinary life. For example she details how John Hawkes's, The Passion Artist, came to be. Hawkes was in a depression, unable to write. At lunch with a friend, the friend told him a story. A few images from the tale embedded in Hawkes’s mind and his story exploded from there. Again, not that I compare myself to Hawkes, but I do compare my experience. I’ve had those explosions, they’ve become entire novels.
Oates, like other authors who’ve written books on writing (or those who kindly offer their words over blog, email or phone), provide a gift beyond their fiction. Knowing that even in the black hole of failure lies the possibility of success is worth way more than the $11.95 I paid for the book and someday, I hope to return the favor.
Where do you find your inspiration and how do you view your failures?