In these days of confinement and limited socialization, we’ve had books to turn to for inspiration. That’s all thanks to the authors who continue to create worlds out of words.
This World Book Day, we wanted to take the time to think about the struggles that authors go through in producing their work. Here are some famous authors who were pitted against all manner of obstacles—and overcame them.
Victor Hugo vs. procrastination
Distracted by other writing projects and his social calendar, Hugo couldn’t quite concentrate on his French Gothic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. After missing the deadline by more than a year, he was ordered by his publishers to deliver the manuscript within six months or pay a fine. Miserable times called for miserable measures: Hugo locked away his formal clothes so as not to be tempted to socialize when he should be writing. If he went out, he’d have to wear nothing but a knitted shawl. His self-imposed quarantine actually worked in the end, when he finally managed to finish the book.
Agatha Christie vs. dyslexia
With her novels having sold 4 billion copies and having been translated into over a hundred languages, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that the so-called Queen of Crime was considered “the slow one” in her family. As a child, Christie often had difficulty reading and writing, although that didn’t stop her from daydreaming and making up stories. She persevered well into early adulthood, writing short stories and a novel, and at the age of 21 she finished the first book she would eventually publish.
Charles Dickens vs. his childhood
Much like his stories, Dickens’ childhood was… Dickensian. Most of his family was thrown in jail for excessive debt, so he was forced to leave school at 12 years old to work ten-hour days in a factory. His meager income of six shillings a week went into paying for his board as well as helping his family. But despite his lack of formal education, Dickens pulled himself up by his bootstraps, working as a clerk, political journalist, editor, and eventually a novelist who helped change the Victorian public’s opinion on class inequalities.
Ray Bradbury vs. the lack of an office
In the early 1950s, Bradbury was father to two screaming children. Needing a quiet place to write but lacking the funds to rent an office, Bradbury settled on renting a typewriter for 10 cents every half-hour in the UCLA library. After nine days and an investment of just $9.80, he finished his 25,000-word short story “The Fireman,” which he would later refer to as an early version of Fahrenheit 451.
Gabriel García Márquez vs. his finances
Cien Años de Soledad catapulted García Márquez into international renown—but not without first impoverishing the master of magic realism. While he spent eighteen grueling months on his novel, his wife, Mercedes, cared for the children, house, and finances. García Márquez had to sell their car to be able to sustain everyone while he wrote. When he took longer than expected, they pawned off almost all their appliances as well as obtained several lines of credit. Finally, with manuscript in hand and a debt of more than $10,000, García Márquez pawned off a few more possessions to be able to buy postage and submit the book to his publisher. The first 8,000 copies were snatched up within a week, half a million copies sold within three years, and Gregory Rabassa’s English translation was named one of 1970’s twelve best books by the New York Times Book Review.
Octavia E. Butler vs. prejudice
As a young avid reader of sci-fi magazines, Butler begged her mother to purchase a typewriter so she could try her hand at her own stories, but was told by an aunt that people of her color couldn’t be writers. She ignored this well-meaning yet defeatist advice and found other ways to express herself. She worked menial jobs and woke up at three in the morning to write, scribbled mantras of success for herself, refused to let dyslexia and rejection slips bring her down, joined a writers workshop, got a story acquired for inclusion in an anthology, produced several novels and short stories, won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, and became the first sci-fi writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.
Maya Angelou vs. trauma
Maya Angelou worked as a fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, opera actor, civil rights organization coordinator, and war correspondent before becoming a poet and writer. She was friends with the likes of Malcolm X and James Baldwin, and when she published I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of a series of seven autobiographies, she opened up about her personal life and early childhood trauma in a way that uplifted Black people, especially Black women.
What are you reading for World Book Day? Do you know the story behind that book?