At the end of a long day at work, when a writer is asked, ‘How was your day?’ her answer is likely to be, ‘It was okay. I made plans for my next story and revised an older story. Oh and I also wrote a really short piece!’ Her family, understanding but secretly mystified, will nod and the conversation will move on to other topics. No one will guess exactly how little the writer will have actually said about her day.
When she said she had written out her plan for the next story, she forgot to mention the hours she spent staring into the distance or the small, quick circles she walked in or even the angry monologues she indulged in. Or the many sheets of paper that she crumpled angrily and tossed away before finally getting a plan of some kind down. Or how the revision involved spending long minutes debating the exact word she was looking for or the feverish deleting of words to create a story of the exact length. And of course she will not remember to tell her family the wrench of giving up her favourite lines and ruthlessly deleting them to ensure the flow of the story. All these and many other details will be either skimmed over or forgotten.
This is not because the writer is secretive. It has something to do with the difficulty in describing the struggles of writing, the sheer impossibility of matching words with the sense of despair that overtakes a writer when she gets a rejection. These are the reasons why a writer’s job is such a lonely one. It is like an iceberg, with a huge, unexplored, unimagined depth behind every single story that sees the light of day. And the writer works on, unaware of how her story is going to fare out in the world, how people are going to react to it. Reviews are like messages sent out in bottles, bobbing along on waves and sometimes, if a writer is lucky, being washed up where she can lay her hands on them.
But for the most part, a writer is cut off from the outside world and that is why, any message about her book is welcome. A reader once wrote to me, right after she had finished reading my book, to tell me how much she had enjoyed it. By itself, the email would have been enough to make me happy. But it came hard on the heels of a particularly harsh and unsympathetic reading of my book and so, it was doubly welcome. But such readers are very few and that is why, a royalty statement assumes such importance in the life of a writer.
A royalty statement is proof, in black and white, of the number of people who have wanted to own a copy of her book. It is an affirmation of a writer’s faith in herself, a much-needed boost to her self-esteem. It is as comforting as a shawl around your shoulders on a cold winter evening and as welcoming as a cold drink on a hot day. It is the one document that a writer will memorize, without any seeming effort, the one document that will make her smile and hope and believe even when she is going through the darkest phase in her writing career.
And that is why, every writer deserves to have a royalty statement sent to her annually. After all, she has worked for it.