Writing Is Not Easy: Part 2

Earlier in the month I spoke about Writing Is Not Easy, which descended quickly into the problems around arts funding and not the nuts and bolts of why writing is not easy. Or, to use the new improved acronym, WINE. The great thing about WINE is the sound of the acronym which bookends both ends of the practice of writing. Turn to drink to get the creative juices flowing and end up a drunk writer or worse still, just a drunk screaming in pubs that they could have been a contender. That brings us neatly to the other bookend which is to whine, every writer I know at some point is afflicted with the urge to whine because drafts aren’t going their ways, deadlines are looming and no one is buying their angst. I think the latter is born out of literary sensibilities that because your ideas are great, readers should flock to you but let’s face facts, Charles Dickens had to tour and at some point you will have to connect with your readers. I bet most of you never do. I bet some of you turn to blancmange at the idea and the rest of you are so far up that marble literary pillar that you look down on your readers as mere mortals who won’t get your genius until you are long gone. For you have a legacy! You’re not the first poet or writer to think that. Sure, I have an archive but mainly because I forget things and when people come to me and say, ‘Hey, we once worked together on a writing project in Lincolnshire at the start of time’, I have to go into my archives just to make sure that you are not: (A) Some weird stalker who gets a kick out of collecting writers, (B) A wanker, and; (C) Asking for money I don’t owe you. That’s my archive, pure business with some nostalgia holding the seams. Writing is not easy because you have to make a connection between what you are writing and then who will be reading it. This means talking to readers on social media, by email and sometimes at readings when they come to you clutching a cake they baked you and which part of you thinks, is it poisoned? Reading is also in decline in the UK. Books sales may be up but the act of reading for joy is on the decline. If you want to see what the percentages are go into work tomorrow (if you work in an Arts, English or Creative Writing institution this will not work for you, you are in a bubble, enjoy it) and ask people what they are reading at the moment. Watch the puzzled looks. Watch those that are ashamed they don’t read and those who say they are about to read something, or they got a book at Christmas and have yet to get round to it. Just don’t ask them which Christmas they got it, it could be 1989. In one office I worked at the boss proudly said, ‘I’ve not read a book since school and it hasn’t done me any harm’. To be so boastful about not reading seems to be something the British are proud of and the idea that a book could have destroyed his life is somewhat odd too. He could have learnt something from reading because several years later he was done for tax avoidance and lost everything, his excuse in court was simply nobody had told him, except the HMRC who had sent him several documents to read on how to do your tax return. Beware the non-reader or as John Waters the Director succinctly put it, ‘If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!’ Damn right, John.

He coulda been a contender | Far Flungers | Roger Ebert

How do you make writing easy? How do you get published time after time? You don’t. You can’t. You see you will write something and it may or may not get published. I write a lot of non-fiction, it sells well but I am selling to publication with a tight remit. How the hell can you have a tight remit in SFF or Crime or Literary Fiction? You can’t, you cannot predict what readers like. Take Orwell’s Animal Farm it was rejected by Faber. That’s right, George Orwell was rejected and you’re whining about it. Get on with writing. I once interviewed Roger McGough, and he told me when he lived in Liverpool he had enough rejection letters and slips (remember those?) to wallpaper his entire house bar his back bedroom. It’s part of the course. You can do all the creative writing courses and market research you want (please do because both are good practice) but if a publisher or agent don’t like it, you are back to square one. I know many great writers and bad writers who are on square one after some great deals. I know many wonderful novelists dropped by their publishers because they didn’t miraculously become the next big thing. Many novelists never become the next big thing because books are not the next big thing unless you live in a society that places Dickens over dicks or Brecht over boobs or Christie over…You get the idea. We do not celebrate our writers enough and this brings us neatly back to whine. Watch the writers ping pong back and forth between booze and why not me? How do you cope then? You cope, you submit, you write. If you are writing to get published and you do not get published are you a writer? Yes. Writing is a state of mind. You will write if you don’t get published. If you make money from it and can do it full time than you are in a minority of writers who can. There has been a massive decline for writers gaining a living wage since the 1990s. That’s not whining, it’s a sad fact. I have just finished this and opened my email to find a rejection there. I am happy because I have twisted around a writing idea, for me a day is not a happy day without one rejection waiting for me. Just because they reject today doesn’t mean they will reject tomorrow. I could have been a contender is not in my lexicon. I am a contender. Watch me write.

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