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The Passion for Writing

In an edited version of a speech he gave to launch the Emerging Writers' Festival last Friday, Waleed Aly contemplates the passion for writing that is required to produce great works:

Truly admirable works exist simply because they must for their own sake. The writer neither controls them nor wills them into existence, but they emerge nonetheless. Every writer knows when they encounter a text that forces itself into the world, that cannot be suppressed, that simply must burst into its ultimate expression. Here, the writer is compelled. This is what it means to write with passion: to write for reasons one does not comprehend, but is powerless to resist. To write utterly organically. Anyone fortunate enough to be so compelled will inevitably produce something compelling.
The author is a Melbourne lawyer whose book, People Like Us, will be published by Picador later this year.


I happened to be perusing a website this morning which led me from one site to another, as is often the case, when I came across a literary agent's website that was new to me. So I went through the normal process of checking out the author list and submission guidelines where I came across something that I hadn't seen before. Under the normal requirements of a query letter, first 30-page extract, and word count was a request to outline the manuscript's submission history.

My first thought was: why would anyone do that? I can understand that an agent might not want to be a party to a multiple-submission (where the author spreads the ms round to all and sundry and waits to see who bites first) but this implied something else. The implication behind the request is that the agent wants to know where they rank in the
author's interest, and whether or not the ms has been rejected by anyone else previously.

While not in exactly the same line of work, I work as a contractor in the IT/business interface and, consequently, have to submit my resume to an agent when I am looking for work. All agents have to be aware that someone like me will spread my resume around in order to get the best coverage of employment opportunities. None of them would expect to have exclusive "rights" to represent me, and all would assume that I was talking to various other organisations. I wonder why the publishing business is so different here? Is it just accepted practice or something else?

But back to the original point about providing the submission history: I would just make a few minor changes to the ms - a word tweak here or there, a slight change in punctuation - and then resend, stating that this manuscript was being submitted for the first time. Anything else and you implant an expectation in the agent's mind that you really don't want to go anywhere near.

Breaking the Dialogue

This is a sentence that stopped me in my tracks when I first read it. I've now been over it a half-dozen times and still don't think it works properly.

"I'll kill," Arthur continued to bellow, "the pair of you bloody buggers if you touch," he choked, "my brother."

I know what the author is trying to do, I just think that breaking the flow of the dialogue with descriptive passages, however small, wrecks the emotion and cadence of the sentence. I seem to be coming across this sort of thing a lot lately.

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