The rough with the smooth
Writing is a great teacher of ‘it ain’t all easy’
If you’re hoping it is going to be, I suggest you try something else. Because this profession is living at the sign of the ups and downs. Lots of slog. Some great highs. Lots and lots of lows. Financially uneven. It can be very lonely, and occasionally very crowded. You will meet some lowlife creeps, some great people. Inevitably the unpleasant are louder, more vicious and nastier than the good guys. If you are insecure in yourself, regardless of what may be prodigious talent, this is the road weeping cross. On the other hand it can make you blown up in your own conceit – there are plenty of lucky mediocre writers who are painfully vain. If you can’t handle all that – become a salaryman. Any regular job probably is going to be easier on you.
A large part of traditional publishing’s ‘capture’ (how writers got suckered into playing their game) was that it played the same trick on writers as casinos do. They show you the winners, in their moments of success.
It all looks very easy. All very good.
Trust me on this: It’s not. Yes, there are ‘winners’ who get an easy (or easier) ride. (And when you look closely, either there was a lot or work you didn’t see, more luck than winning a lottery, or a layer of connections and nepotism, and inevitably lots and lots of kissing up, playing the correct politics etc.). But no, you do not write a great novel before breakfast and have truckloads of money arrive just before lunch, and have dinner with fellow celebrities. ‘Richard Castle’ is a more improbable, implausible character than Superman.
Books take most of us a long time to write, to edit, to get into the shape they can go to that publisher – who will probably reject them. The odds for the best of them were 1:3000 – back 1999, and it has only got worse. And that was just to get in, not to be that runaway success.
Of course you can go Kindle, which at least does away with the nepotism and kissing up. It still is heavily influenced by your ability to network and promote – it’s not just about writing a good book. A truly great book can still fail. Mediocre crap can succeed. You’ll work your butt off, fuss a thousand details… and put your all into it, and still maybe fail.
If you’re going to succeed, you get up and try again. It’s battler’s turf.
Oddly most of those I know who have made a success of it – at least those where readers genuinely love their books, where it’s not just luck, politics or kissing up and push by a trad publisher – combine both being hard and fragile. They need to be able to have those insecurities, those doubts of their ability, those fears, to keep on pushing themselves harder. They need to understand weakness firsthand, to know sorrow, to have empathy with people completely unlike themselves, to know despair…
Having those issues is no reason to give up.
Letting them beat you, is.
Instead we put them into our books. We give of ourselves. We bleed onto those pages. They are us, and we love them, we give them, and the readers part of our what makes us. It’s not easy or cheap on the writer’s psyche.
We’re coming into Christmas, and as Ian Anderson put it “The Christmas Spirit is not just what you drink. (pass the bottle, Santa).”
And in the spirit of that: We’re writers and readers both here. Without writers, we would lose our reading. So: as a gesture to help writers cope with that rough – reach out and give them a little love. Buying books is always great (and always a sincere form of flattery) – but it’s a lonely profession, and one in which the best of us have self-doubts. A good review or a kind word on Facebook, or telling your Aunt Clara about Joe Author’s books… Would be something to lift a lot Christmas spirits for those who have given us joy throughout the year. It doesn’t have to cost you anything at all, but it would be worth a lot to the battlers.
And may you all enjoy a very Merry Christmas, full of the joy of its spirit. And I wish a prosperous and book-full New Year to all, especially my fellow writers. Without you, I would have lost so many hopes and stories.
Thank you for giving so much of yourselves to me.