So You’re Going To Write A Book…
No wonder they describe plays as having ‘a run’; actors often compare performing eight shows a week to training for a marathon; they exercise, diet, stop socialising and commit themselves to continual practice.
Writers do it as well. A book you care about writing consumes you. It’s the job you bring home from work and can’t stay away from after midnight. It occupies at least half your brain all the time, from when it’s started to when it’s finished.
Compartmentalising helps. You need to be able to function like a normal human being through the process, so there are sections in your brain for doctors’ appointments, shopping and family problems, but behind them all, like those bulkheads that failed the Titanic, is your writing.
This is true whether you’re being paid well or badly, whether you’re writing the big novel of your life or a whodunnit, because the only way to make it great is to care passionately about it. It’s a demanding child that must be fed night and day.
Those self-help books that tell you about the easy way to write a novel are lying. There is no easy way. You do the research, you do the work, and then – you do the work again and again. You can be taught to write to a market, though. ‘Girl on a Train’ is an excellent example of a book tailored to the 35+ female market, and has made its author Paula Hawkins rich. As a piece of fiction it’s unremarkable, but as a commodity it’s unassailable.
Not everyone feels that writing must eat your life. I know at least three fiction writers who survive solely on networking. They’re not good writers. Writer A is very famous and very competitive, and concentrates on glad-handing the ‘right’ people at festivals and awards ceremonies. Writer B networks to cover up her weak talent, which she deludes herself about. Writer C does it because he knows he’s not a great writer and it will be the only way to get work. They’re nice people; they’ve just evolved other ways to get there. And you can move forward via networking, if you work hard at it hard instead of applying the same effort to your books.
I don’t network at all. I talk to the people I like and trust as a friend, and that’s it. As a book judge I’ve been offered bribes to promote authors; you just ignore it and it goes away, as the briber moves on to try someone else.
I’ve often not picked up awards because at festivals because my main concern is to meet readers at the public events, not sit at congratulatory publishing dinners. My pals Barry and Lydia very kindly step in for me.
You’re told to write for publishers, not the public, because publishers are the deciders. They will promote you and that’s all that counts. You should write for readers. You try to write to a deadline – but no writer wants a tombstone that reads; ‘I wrote fast’ instead of ‘I wrote beautifully’.
Lately I’ve been rewriting a thriller which isn’t working, eight times so far. In and out have gone characters, sub-plots, hundreds of pages that will never be seen. I’ve set it aside for a while because I no longer know what I’m looking at. It ate my life in a bad way.
However, the fantasy novel I’m writing has stolen my days and weekends and evenings because it’s a joy to write. It won’t need much rewriting because it’s there as a whole being, a ‘monster in a box’ as Spalding Gray memorably called it. It still needs work but the main thing is it’s exactly what I want it to be, without compromise.
And that, whether it becomes popular or is barely read, is all that matters.