Saturday, 21 November 2009
Tip of the Storyberg - Katherine Roberts
Before my first novel was published, I used to write short stories. After a few years of sending out my work, I realized I was selling about one story in every ten. Often “selling” merely meant publication in return for free copies of the magazine it appeared in, but I’m not talking about money here, I’m talking about an editor liking my story enough to publish it and bring it to a wider readership (which for short fiction is often as good as it gets). So for every story of mine that made it into the wider world, there were another nine hopefuls that saw only the inside of my computer. Other writers talk of their bottom drawers, but I prefer to think of my published work as the tip of an iceberg, or – because ice seems too cold for creativity – the tip of my “storyberg”. The unpublished stories make up the much larger chunk below the waterline that nobody can see.
Since I have published around 50 short stories, that means 450 unpublished ones floating around below the surface… a fair amount of work! Was it wasted? Out of interest, I recently went back and re-read a few. Some of my earlier efforts clearly deserve to be drowned in the depths for all eternity, but others aren’t so bad. They just didn’t fit the market at the time, or (more likely) never found the right market because I gave up sending them out. But those 450 unpublished stories were clearly necessary in order to write the 50 that did make it into readers' hands. Every single one of them needed to be written, or the tip of my storyberg would not exist.
These days I write books, and the process is similar. “Song Quest” was my twelfth novel, but the first to be published. Since then I’ve had 12 more books published, but have about 100 other projects in various stages of progress in my files, most which will never see the light of day. At certain stages of an author’s career, it seems necessary to grow the storyberg below the waterline rather than above so that the whole thing can continue to float when the next project makes it into the sunlight. Sometimes it seems as if no progress is being made, and other authors' storybergs seem to be growing so much faster than mine - but, of course, I cannot see how much is lurking below their waterlines and I suspect the author who publishes everything they write does so at their peril, since top-heavy storybergs will not stay afloat for very long.