Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Algebra and Accounting ...

Okay, I know there are forums out there, where people write about mathematics, sometimes using mathematics to make a point simply because they love it.

I have to state here, that I do not love maths.

Over these holidays:

I've had to set up the chart of accounts and do the entries for 2 Super Funds (Self managed Superannuation Funds).

I've had to do my BAS (Business Activity Statement) entering all income and expenditure and allocating a percentage to GST (Goods and Services Tax) and working out my GST for the quarter.

AND, (if this is not bad enough), I've had to do 14 pages of year 9 algebra with my 15 year old son so he could catch up with what he missed last school year. I did General Maths in high school (not algebra) and that was almost forty years ago.

Hence the soothing picture of the beach and ocean!

But, as I was working on these maths related things, it occurred to me that with numbers it is philosophically simple. (I'm not discussing String Theory here). You do a bank reconciliation, you account for everything. You are either right or you are wrong. You do an algebra equation and there is a right answer.

After writing books where every word carries nuances that vary depending on your cultural background (US, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia), where you build characters with those words, where you build worlds with those words and then you try to tell a story on the shifting sands of these foundations ... maths was strangely satisfying.

I know I can write a good story. (Sometimes I get too close and get something wrong, but I can see this when critique partners point it out). I have written children's books that went out to 5 publishers before they were sold, not because there was anything wrong with the books, but because they weren't what the first 4 publishers wanted. I have Book One of four different fantasy series sitting on my hard drive, waiting for the right publisher/s to come along.

I have the three books of the King Rolen's Kin series coming out this year. I know I can write an entertaining book, but I don't know if the books I write will automatically sell. This was a big revelation after I sold my first children's book. I assumed that once I achieved publication, my next book would automatically sell. I looked on that first professional sale a bit like the Master Plumber giving his apprentice his papers and making him a professional.

Not knowing if a perfectly good book will sell is really frustrating.

If I was an accountant, I could 'write as many books as I could manage' and people would pay me because a bank reconciliation is either right or wrong. No one sits there and says, I liked it, but it isn't the reconciliation I'm looking for right now.

Creative people like writers, musicians and artists get up everyday, pour their hearts into their work and do it, knowing there is a strong chance it will be rejected even if it is good.

Why do we do it?

That's an easy one. We can't stop ourselves being creative.

But how do we keep doing it? How do you shore up our confidence despite the vagaries and indignities of our chosen profession?

Now that is a much harder question.

How do you keep going?


John Lambshead said...

I think it's arrogance mostly,

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


You're a scientist, you probably love maths!

KylieQ said...

Yeah, got to say, I can't come up with anything other than ditto to John! I'm sending out query after query with no logical reason to keep persisting and yet, for some reason, I do.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I think it was the support of my peers that kept me going during my 'dry patch'.

The last book of my fantasy trilogy came out in 2002. I met my new agent in 2005. He sold my new trilogy in 2008 and the books will appear in 2010.

During that time I was writing madly, shooting off in several directions that didn't take off.

I stayed in touch with my writing group, we critiqued each other's works-in-progress and I read voraciously. The writing friends helped keep me sane.

There was also this dogged determination.

I write, therefore I am!

C Kelsey said...

Oh John is probably correct. I must say, however, that I've never had a story that I've written sell, but I'm still satisfied when I'm done. After all, *I* know that I just told my self a rip-roaring story. :)

Anonymous said...

I've got three books out collecting their rejection slips, and no sales other than a single short.

But I like my Characters, I like to bring them into existence and take myself out for an adventure with them, even if it's only on paper. I like inventing whole worlds, right down to the humid nasty climate. I think I'd do it, even if I gave up trying to sell them.

Which probably explains the rather large number of unfinished books on my hard drive.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Rowena
Truth to tell, I do love maths. It has a purity and a symetrical beauty that nothing, absolutely nothing can match.
The best part of my job was not the biology but the mathematical analysis. My colleagues used to call me the number cruncher.

Anonymous said...

I simply live in hope that the story I'm writing will be THE ONE. The one that other people will love. The one that editors will love. The one that will garner me the money, fame, and adoration I deserve for being so effing brilliant.

Okay, I'm getting a tad carried away, but I do live in hope that this story will be one of the ones that sell because the editor thinks his/her audience will like it. I could get by on that.

I, personally, love my stories, as I should. I keep going by telling myself that someone else will also love it at some point.

For better or worse, besides my child, this is the best legacy I could leave the world, words. I want them to count.


Rowena Cory Daniells said...


That is the other thing about writing. It is intrinsically satisfying in itself.

There's the craft aspect, of turning an idea around and making a self contained jewel of it.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...



And I think it is a writers ability to obsess about their worlds and characters that bring them to life.

I apply the 3R Rule. You have to hit the Right Editor at the Right Time with the Right Story to sell.

And that won't happen, if you are sitting at home, never sending things out.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


My father is a tax accountant, my brother is a tax auditor and my son wants to be an accountant.

He was saying to me just the other day that when he went over to grandpa's to help him with the tax work, he'd come home wired, he found it so exciting.

And I must admit there was something satisfying, (after all the 'inutitivity' of writing) to so algebra and have an answer that was right without equivocation.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I love my stories too. I love the characters and if the stories don't sell, I feel like I've let down my characters.

Go figure!

Chris McMahon said...

Dear, Rowena. To keep myself inspired I go off and do pages and pages of complex mathematics ... just kidding.

I do like mathematics, but keeping creatively inspired is something else. Since I am in the middle of a substantial 'dry patch' of my own I know exactly what you are talking about. And I hope I was one of the ones who kept you inspired!

I think for me its letting myself get immersed in the story - divorced from any thought of where it will end. Its why I started, and its what keeps me going. Hard to though, especially when you have to push yourself so hard to work on top of everything else.

But like you said ... its not like we have choice:)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sending you Hugs of Encouragement, Chris!

With the King Rolen's Kin series, you said Byren needs a big problem to make him more interesting. So I can blame Byren's problems on you!

Chris McMahon said...

Thanks, Rowena. I am more than happy to be responsible for Byren's problems:)

WangZheng259 said...

In the United States, Super Fund is the name of an environmental remediation program. Or rather, we have Super Fund sites, where the clean up costs come from a certain program. One of the places near here had or has some very pretty contaminated water. (I've only seen pictures, and I don't know how effective the clean up has been.)

I am also a maths person. Maths do have some comparable difficulties of their own.

One thing that helps me is finding out that some of life's problems have been caused by an easily fixable medical problem.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


That's why I'm careful to spell out what I'm talking about. Over here in Australia, we use acronyms a lot.

So we can say, Are you going to the BWF, or the QWC? No, have to do my BAS.

Anonymous said...


I like math, but doing taxes doesn't count.


Sometimes I just have to let the plot go and write whatever comes to mind. Other times I must outline, and I absolutely must know the ending, otherwise I can't seem to even get started. Try a style that is completely different than the way you usually write, and see if that helps. Maybe dive into a different genre. If you're in the middle of something, back up a bit and change a scene drastically. Turn a confrontation into a farce or a romantic interlude. (This is my infamous get your Muse mad at you method)

Ellyll said...

Seriously? Because when the writing is going well, it feels better than just about anything else I do.

And having daydreamed stories all my life, I feel a need to craft a perfect (or as perfect as I can make it) 'whole' – if that makes sense.