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9 February 2013 ·

Saying No: the Author as Gambler

I’ve just said, ‘No,’ to a writing project: two commissioned books for a good cause, at a fair fee. I was told that I was the client’s first choice of author, which is always flattering. I deliberated for several months.
Actually that’s not true. I shelved it and avoided making a decision for several months. When I got down to deliberating, the answer was clear.
It doesn’t matter how worthy the project, I don’t believe I could do a good job if my heart’s not in it.
Still not completely true. I believed in the project enough that I could certainly summon up emotion for the story, and have been writing long enough I probably could turn out something decent.
(20 years later, this became The Princess and her Panther) 
Except that time and energy are finite – and I want everything I write to be more than decent. There are five other stories waiting for the current one to give them a turn. I’m a slow writer, a many-draft writer, a fusser-over of commas and a last minute changer in galley proofs.
Writing is a crazy way to make a living. You throw years of energy into a world that doesn’t exist, and at the end you might get paid lots, or you might get paid nothing. You might be inundated with fans or find booksellers staring blankly when you mention the book.  It’s gambling on such a colossal scale: with the work of your life ­– that it makes casinos look petty. Which might all sound like an excellent reason to write something with a guaranteed sum of money at the end. (And yes, I’ve been writing for a long time and have a lot of books out there, and yes, two of them have movies based on them. It doesn’t take away those moments of fear and doubt about the future of each new book.) 
But each of those ideas floating at the back of my mind deserves the time to be coaxed and refined into a book, I have to give each of them all that I can. And the best proof that it was the right decision for me? Since I said no, the new manuscript has been flowing. It’s got all my attention, and it’s loving it. 
It may or may not be good when I finish the final draft, but it’ll definitely be the best I can make it.  


  1. Kirsty Murray Great post, Wendy. Life in a nutshell.
    February 10, 2013 at 8:08 am · Reply
  2. Kirsty Murray This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    February 10, 2013 at 8:09 am · Reply
  3. Wendy Orr Thanks, Kirsty!
    February 10, 2013 at 8:10 am · Reply
  4. michelle hamer Beautiful Wendy. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some dice to roll.....

    February 10, 2013 at 5:02 pm · Reply
  5. Wendy Orr Roll some sixes, Michelle!
    February 10, 2013 at 5:24 pm · Reply
  6. Tristan Bancks I love this post, too, Wendy. I think Neil Gaiman also has some good advice to this effect. It takes more guts to go with those projects that move you deeply but that have less tangible outcomes.

    The only good thing about the projects you do under duress is that you can guiltily bunk off and write the thing you love and enjoy it much more than if it was the main project. ;-)

    February 13, 2013 at 10:36 am · Reply
  7. Wendy Orr I love this theory, Tristan! Stealing moments for our heart's work when we 'should' be doing something else – which leads us to a whole new discussion about how things change when you take the plunge to be a full time writer...
    February 13, 2013 at 11:40 am · Reply
  8. Tristan Bancks Hi Wendy
    Re: things changing when you become a full-time writer, there are certainly compromises to be made but I still think that if you can have the guts to write the thing you must write and you write it well, it will connect with people far better than the thing you write because you believe it will have an audience. There's always a balance but, like you say, without the heart, without loving a story, it can never truly connect. (I think this comment is longer than your post. Thanks for provoking such consideration.)
    February 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm · Reply
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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio