BY DIANNA MACLEOD
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
April 23, 2014
Foundational to a writer is the chance to focus on a creative project over an extended period of time. But the solitude, discipline and sheer number of hours necessary to complete a book can be daunting. All writers who try to make a living by and from their words risk rejection—by agents, publishers, and, possibly and eventually, readers. Add financial hardship to the mix, and the whole thing begins to look like an occupation for the hardy—or the foolhardy.
These are exactly the writers Elizabeth George seeks and serves.
In 1999, George created a foundation to give writers the experience of concentrating on their work unburdened by the demands of daily life. “I wanted to give them a chance to do the work that’s important to them, to see how much discipline it takes, and to see where their desire to write leads them.” She chose to direct the Foundation’s resources toward unpublished novelists and short story writers, emerging playwrights, poets (at any point in their careers), and organizations that serve disadvantaged youth.
Creating the Elizabeth George Foundation was far from easy. Administrative tasks, red tape, finding and appointing trustees, setting up guidelines and procedures—each and every one of the necessary steps took her away from writing another one of her lucrative mystery novels. And the financial cost of establishing the Foundation was considerable. Even after the newly-created wheels began to turn, the Foundation had its own requirements, primary among them screening and evaluating applications.
Still, George found—and finds—it all worthwhile.
George’s story of how she came to be published is uniquely her own. While teaching English in California public schools, she spent her summers at a desk instead of at a beach. Each summer yielded one book, and the third summer yielded the book that publishers wanted to buy—along with an advance for a subsequent, as-yet-unwritten book. The aptly-named “A Great Deliverance” allowed George to start earning her living as a writer rather than as a teacher.
Are the odds better or worse for unpublished writers today?
George thinks they’re worse.
“Back then, many more independent publishing companies existed that were willing to support not only a novel, but a novelist’s career. My editor had confidence I would develop a readership over time,” she explained. “There wasn’t as much pressure to bust out of the gate on the first novel.” The pressure on editors to find the next blockbuster has reduced the available support for unpublished and newly-published writers. Recognizing this situation, and the dearth of support, was part of George’s impetus for creating the Foundation.
“Having someone believe in your work is the thing that makes the most difference to an emerging writer,” the author said. She has the experience to back up her observation, having taught nearly a thousand students in public schools, community colleges, extension programs, conferences and privately. “When writers are relieved of financial stress, they are unburdened and able to be more productive.”
As well as assisting writers to complete major work, the Foundation has helped MFA students to complete degrees and authors to research subject matter in foreign countries. The Foundation also encourages emerging playwrights by funding scripts commissioned by California’s South Coast Repertory Theatre. In addition, the Foundation makes young people a priority because, “it’s so important to reach out and show them they can fill up their spirit in ways they have not yet explored.” Through organizations that serve youth, George seeks to bring the arts to their lives. “Art is a life-altering experience. The written word can uplift.”
Although George regrets that her foundation cannot provide financial assistance to every deserving unpublished writer, poet, or playwright, she gives struggling writers the same advice she gave herself during those years of choosing a blank page over a white-sand beach, those years of being unpublished, unpaid, and unknown.
“First and foremost, don’t give up.”
“When you’ve finished one piece, go on to the next.”
The Elizabeth George Foundation
The Elizabeth George Foundation makes artistic grants to unpublished fiction writers, emerging playwrights, poets at any stage of their careers, and organizations benefiting disadvantaged youth. To request a brochure, write to the Foundation at PO Box 1429, Langley WA 98260 or visit www.elizabethgeorgeonline.com/foundation.htm.
Dianna MacLeod holds a degree in journalism from the University of Michigan. An alumna of Hedgebrook, she moved to the island in October of 2011 to complete a novel—and never left.
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