Monday, 23 January 2017

1967 - 2017

     How best to celebrate a 50th anniversary - apart from over eating and drinking? Well, one way is to try to pass on whatever 'wisdom' you think you've acquired. It might be ignored, even resented, but there's just a chance that it might help someone. That's why, after five decades and 70+ published books I thought I'd share my observations about writing for a living. I can honestly say that there's not much I don't know about the frustrations, disappointments, mistakes, as well as the euphoric successes that are the lot of all professional authors. And I know, because they often ask me, that there are many wannabe bestsellers out there, eager for any advice that might help them to get published and stay published. So over the next few weeks I will be presenting an A-Z of Successful Authorship. But first a word of warning. This is not a 'how-to manual'. I have nothing but contempt for unscrupulous writers of 'how to succeed' books, who prey on the hopes and dreams of would-be J.K. Rowlings, John Le Carres or Wilbur Smiths by offering sure-fire formulas. There are no quick-fix solutions. There is no one-size-fits all procedure. Every writer is on his/her own and must blaze his/her individual trail. What follows is just some of the things I've picked up while hacking my way through the undergrowth of the book bizz. So here goes.
A is for Ambition
     Why does anyone want to be a full-time author? Why would he/she choose to spend every working day in solitary confinement putting words on a page? No-one should embark on a writing career who has not faced up to the question, 'What's in it for me?' Am I attention seeking; so insecure that I need proof that what I think, feel, believe matters to others? Do I see writing as a way to megabucks or celebrity? Would a writing career validate my reclusive nature, freeing me from the need to deal with bosses, colleagues and customers day after day? If the honest answer to any of these questions - or just about any other question we might think of - is 'yes', then the best advice is 'don't do it'. There's only one answer that really matters to the question, 'Why should I become a writer?' That answer is, 'Because I already am one.' I don't believe any sane person ever woke up one morning and thought, 'Do you know what - I think I'll become a concert violinist, or a trail-blazing artist or a brilliant inventor or a captain of industry.' So why should we imagine that it's possible to decide, out of the blue, to become a crime writer or an author of children's books or sci-fi novelist? Writing is not something I do; it's something I am. I can't remember the time when I did not work out my thoughts and feelings on paper or on a keypad. I need to 'enflesh' the abstract processes of my mind; to find the most precise or expressive words; to arrange impressions in a sequence that gives them meaning and power. This is how I communicate with myself and how I learn to communicate better with other people. I write something every day and I would obey that compulsion even if not a single word of mine had ever been published.
     We are probably all familiar with the quip 'Everyone has a book in them and in most cases that's where it should stay'. Well it's true. Most educated people are reasonably competent in using their native language for all necessary communication with others, but letters, memos and - heaven help us - tweets have nothing to do with the writing of effective fiction and non-fiction. There are many reasons why some books should not be written. Here are just a couple: (1) Poor books clog up the publishing machine and dissipate the time and energy that should be spent on helping talented authors, (2) Poor books debase the writing business. One thing that makes me want to throw something at the telly is when a retiring politician or sportsperson or an actor between films, when being interviewed, is asked, 'What are you doing now?' and replies, 'I'm writing a novel'. The likelihood of the celeb producing something of literary worth is remote but he/she will get published - and be paid a handsome advance - because a publisher wants to cash in on his/her fame (or notoriety). 
     In all of this I am not referring to the one-off book that certainly should be written because it contains information of interest to a large audience - the political memoir, the expose of crime or corruption, the biography of some too-long-overlooked person, etc. Nor am I discounting the well-researched tomes which fuel the academic process. My only concern is with offering such insights as I have gained to those who aspire to membership of that profession which is one of the important pillars of our civilization - or, indeed, of any civilization at any time.
     The next blogpost will be B is for Booksellers, a moving tale of the good, the bad and the ugly.

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