Posted by: jeannineatkins | June 8, 2010

Eight Per Cent

Over breakfast my husband asked, “Maybe you can’t answer this, but do you know how much of your writing is done with a view to how much anyone else may like it?”

“Eight percent,” I said.

Okay, maybe it could blur over to seven or nine. I really don’t know, but Peter agreed this was around what he would have guessed. Most of my writing comes from questions I pose to myself and start trying to answer. I wonder about the ordinary moments of people I admire. I pursue themes that matter to me in life. As the words get clearer, I start to hope that others may care about what’s important to me, and this motivates me to find sturdier places for nouns and verbs, shine adjectives, shuffle prepositions. I keep an eye out to my dear imaginary audience, but mostly I’m looking at what I’m putting on the page.

I know people who write with a bigger sense of a market in mind. And some of those people have sold more. I’ve got plenty of manuscripts in drawers that probably won’t be seen except by my writing group, my husband, and a friend or two, and when my work gets turned down, that 8% kicks in gear for a while: what is it people want? But it’s not the 8% that drives me as much as a need to understand the world I live in.

And through writing Borrowed Names, I mostly thought I was working on a book that wouldn’t sell. One member of my writing group assured me this was true, even while she liked it: she’d just read the requests of editors and agents for no poetry, thank you. This was when I thought — you never know – and felt determined, with that 92 %, to finish what I’d started. That other 8% got dragged along, and maybe that per cent is what’s always out of our hands: the right place, the right time, the right person. I do what I can to find those right people and right places – spotting a rainbow isn’t quick — while getting drawn in, bit by bit, to a new obsession.

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Responses

  1. I think a love for the story you’re telling, and a need to answer a question or explore an idea, can give a writer strength when that story is met with rejection later (as almost all stories face a rejection or two or more at some point). When you write for yourself, first and foremost, and when you have a passion for what you create, you’re more likely to try again with a new idea if what you’ve created doesn’t sell. The personal fulfillment that comes from creating something you love keeps you going. (In my humble opinion, anyway.)

  2. I think a love for the story you’re telling, and a need to answer a question or explore an idea, can give a writer strength when that story is met with rejection later (as almost all stories face a rejection or two or more at some point). When you write for yourself, first and foremost, and when you have a passion for what you create, you’re more likely to try again with a new idea if what you’ve created doesn’t sell. The personal fulfillment that comes from creating something you love keeps you going. (In my humble opinion, anyway.)

  3. Oh, how I love this.
    🙂

  4. Oh, how I love this.

    🙂

  5. Thanks. Up to 500 words yet? Or are you taking pictures of the lawn? If so, I say, on to 1000! Very loudly. Imagine a Calvin voice.
    Writing well here with the threat of weeding over my head. Though I do think I’ll take a break soon. Weather is perfect for weeds….

  6. Thanks. Up to 500 words yet? Or are you taking pictures of the lawn? If so, I say, on to 1000! Very loudly. Imagine a Calvin voice.

    Writing well here with the threat of weeding over my head. Though I do think I’ll take a break soon. Weather is perfect for weeds….

  7. I love your outlook. The tea leaves say good fortune will come to you, Jeni.

  8. I love your outlook. The tea leaves say good fortune will come to you, Jeni.

  9. Oh, I’m a slacker. Went outside to walk around the house and forgot my camera. 🙂 I ended up rewriting the opening of my ms so word count is a little screwed up. But progress is progress, right?
    The weeds are calling me, too. But the too-long grass is louder.
    Have a great afternoon!

  10. Oh, I’m a slacker. Went outside to walk around the house and forgot my camera. 🙂 I ended up rewriting the opening of my ms so word count is a little screwed up. But progress is progress, right?

    The weeds are calling me, too. But the too-long grass is louder.

    Have a great afternoon!

  11. I write for my own tastes, as well.

  12. I write for my own tastes, as well.

  13. Great post! I’m a “newbie” to the writing scene, but I think writing for ourselves is important. I think we write better that way. I’d much rather read a book that was important to the writer than something that publishers think is important for the masses.

  14. Great post! I’m a “newbie” to the writing scene, but I think writing for ourselves is important. I think we write better that way. I’d much rather read a book that was important to the writer than something that publishers think is important for the masses.

  15. I love the question, and the answer.
    I couldn’t put it down to percentages, but I do know that most of the time I am writing for purely for myself. The market is such a fickle beast — and I am so bad at predicting where it will go — that I think it would be folly for me to do anything else!

  16. I love the question, and the answer.

    I couldn’t put it down to percentages, but I do know that most of the time I am writing for purely for myself. The market is such a fickle beast — and I am so bad at predicting where it will go — that I think it would be folly for me to do anything else!

  17. Yes! But it’s okay, I think, to peek out at others just a bit!

  18. I like how you phrased that, and agree 100%!

  19. Peter laughed when I answered with an unqualified percentage. And I agree – at least get the satisfaction of having done something to our own standards when the market makes its loops.

  20. This is a really interesting question. I’ve never tried to come up with a formula for a bestseller and write to that … and yet, most of what I write, I hope will someday be read by other people.
    But that imaginary audience is represented in my mind by my younger self: teenage me. I am writing exactly what she always wanted to read.
    And then as a writer, I’m hoping that taste translates to a wider audience, that imaginary younger me has real-life counterparts out there.

    So, I’m not sure how I would answer this, what with all this “on one hand–but on the other hand–“!

  21. I like Peter’s questions! And I’m so glad you kept going with Borrowed Names even when it looked like it was going to be a hard sell.

    It seems to me that what we are most drawn to write is most authentic.

  22. Writing for that younger self seems like a fabulous way to go, and I think we can have faith that what speaks to her will speak to many others.

    And of course you’re right, there’s so many other-hands to follow. But now the percentage seems to be becoming a term of use. Last night in my writing group, Dina was referring to the 8 and 92 per cents as short hand for some of our decisions…

  23. Thanks, dear Lorraine. Once I get started on something, it seems to have its own call, and there are all kinds of caveats, 8% related, that I stare at, then swat away.

    Best wishes to you in reaching the authentic today. I know you can.

  24. I do the same thing, write for the younger me, either at 10 or at 13.

    Of course I slip up, a lot, and start thinking about markets and then I lose any confidence I had in moving forward on whatever project is at hand.

  25. Susan, that’s an astute connection re thinking about markets and losing the threads of your forward movement and confidence. I like to stay in my own cave for as long as I can — good luck with that!

  26. “…this motivates me to find sturdier places for nouns and verbs, shine adjectives, shuffle prepositions…”

    What a great line! I really have to start reading your posts several times, to be able to see all these gems. — Pete


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