Wednesday, February 18, 2009

[writing] why would you bother

Currently in a quandary as to whether to leave a character’s wife crippled or else allow her to slowly recover from an initially debilitating injury, it might be time to pause and look at this whole bloody maddening process of writing.

Almost every blogger who gets past the ‘let out all the frustrations’ stage fancies himself as a budding writer. Some even start thinking in terms of selling their wares before they even have the product.

Obstacles before you even start

In no particular order, here are some of the obstacles to overcome, before you even get going:

1. Like dancing, modelling and waitressing, it’s oversubscribed.

2. Everyone fancies himself as a writer but not many have the feedback to put their abilities in perspective.

On this point, literary agents smile when someone tells them that a ‘writer’s’ friends advised him to get his book published becase it is so good. Friends and family are often supportive but all the same, all expect free signed copies and would like to get a mention.

3. This is like point 2 in that many amateurs, without a writing background, feel they can do it as well as any they’ve read. It’s like the teaching profession – how many amateurs think it’s a piece of cake – that anyone can do it?

4. How’s your articulation, grammar and spelling? You can’t leave it all to the publisher to proof-read.

5. Can you type? With one finger or ten? How fast? Do yu know hoe publishers like to receive the MS?

6. Are you interesting enough? You might think you are, you might think your story is the bee’s knees but how many share that view? I’m certain that only a miniscule fraction of my target audience would like my work.

Who’s your target audience and is their a market for that type of book? I was asked yesterday what type my book was. I usually say romantic-thriller or thriller-romance. How many people are interested in that combination?

7. It’s time-consuming and wearying. If you’re not knackered after 11 hours of writing, you’ve been coasting. It’s all over the place – inspiration comes in the middle of the night or during the working day. You never know when it wil strike and if you don’t write it down then and there, you’re gone.

8. You become self-centred and anti-social, neglecting family and friends and find yourself having to make excuses to those with a reasonable claim to your time.

9. You have to line up with each of the other 2.5 million ‘writers’ who are looking for a literary agent to accept them.

10. It costs money, not just in getting published but in all the ancillaries, including time lost.

The process itself

1. Are you intending to write fiction or non-fiction, the former harder to get published and far more subjectively received.

2. Do you use a straight line narrative, with lots of ‘and’ and ‘then’; do you have a complex series of sub-plots and do they lead to the inevitable denouement?

3. What’s your intention – to sell the work or just to get something off chest?

4. Are your characters rounded, are there too many of them, should all be developed to the same extent and do you, the author, betray prejudice towards certain characters, not giving them a fair chance?

5. Can you avoid the Mary-Sue, the super-hero, based on yourself, who has all the answers and is a vehicle for your own ego?

The editing drudgery

1. Do you really have your timelines sorted so that you avoid anachronisms and characters who never age?
On this point, I have a character in the second book, named Genevieve Lavacquerie and she starts out, around 2005, as ‘just into her thirties’. Then I thought it would be nice to bring her in near the end of the first book, which put her in 1998. The problem is – she’s meant to be a mature woman and how can you make a 25 year old mature?

It didn’t work, so I had to go back through and in the third book, she’s still prancing about as if she’s 30 but now she has to be 45 or so.

2. Do you have the seasons and weather right? Are you jumping from summer to wineter or haven’t you thought about it at all?
3. How much local colour do you put in? I’m obsessive about details being correct or at least consistent with that town or village and this is one of the most time-consuming editorial jobs.
4. How ‘constructed’ does your anrrrative end up, after all that editing? How natural does it still feel? Doe your book begin to resemble a write-by-numbers collation?


How long do you intend writing for? Like national football managers and singers, it’s a notoriously shortlived business and you’re only as good as your last book. Arundhati Roy wrote:

I will only write another book if I have another book to write. I don’t believe in professions.


Just how do you intend to get yourself published and/or read?



I'd rather read one than write one. And yes! I will expect a signed copy of yours and mention.
You are a born writer though, John Boy, so keep plucking away.

Pisces Iscariot said...

Write because you can - it is highly unlikely that (even should we get published) we will ever make a living from it.
I refuse to go at it with any business sense (demographic? fuck that)

CherryPie said...

Sooo many thoughts in this post!

Lets get back to basics, what do you want you achieve from your book?

Is it for you? or do you want lots of others to read it too?

If you want lots of others to read it, there has to be some sort of promotional/networking/marketing strategy. You will also have to be prepared for people who may criticise your writing...

an ex-apprentice said...

Dear Mr Higham,

I found your post fascinating. If any of your readers were thinking of writing, they will undoubtedly be having second thoughts. Unless, of course, it really is a driving ambition.

It sounds like an excruciating process. Is it worth it?

Edna Guevara said...

Wonderful post! Makes me ask the question to myself...why do I write? Because I can reach a lot more people vs. talking. It's also a way to get my jumbled thoughts organized.

may we exchange links?

Liz said...

colour. I need more colour in my novel. I struggle with descriptive writing.

James Higham said...

Uber - signed copy coming one day.

Pisces - yes I see that you write for the creativity.

Cherie - criticism is so necessary to hone what we do.

AEA - thank you and welcome. It is excruciating but rewarding too.

Edna - certainly and welcome.

Liz - you are a professional writer. What you say is always the problem.