Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Truth about the Dream


Sometimes we can be so carried away with the dream about being a writer that we forget to be a writer.
We open our emails or Twitter eagerly, looking for that one break or that one promotion opportunity that will make our books sell millions. We are often so worried about whether our book is selling or not, or indeed whether it is even accepted or not, and what the critics are saying, that we forget to write or don’t find the time or the brain space.
Many writers, after becoming published, mourn their former easy routines. They no longer find the hours of solitude they used to carve for themselves with so much discipline. They learn a new routine of forcing the muse and writing on the train or in the hotel room.
It would be great, wouldn’t it, to be in demand at literary festivals? Except that you have to travel around a lot. They might forget to feed you or give you a drink or allow you a loo break.  But you get to sign lots of books, right?  Sure. But you might worry about how short your queue is compared to the one over there. Don’t stop to work out the royalties you’d be earning for this. Even with a really long queue - especially with a very long queue - it’s very little per hour. The same often applies to school visits.
But you’re published. You get to work with an editor. You get to see your work in print. Yes, but think of this: before you sent your book off you made it the very best it could possibly be and now they want even more. Can you find the extra? And what if once the book’s printed you want to change it again? Ha!
What if they don’t like it? The people who buy the books…  
There may be some explanation here about why some very good writers are not published. They are so dedicated to their writing that they don’t even find time to send their work out, and if it should become published, they don’t find the time or the inclination to join in the promotional activities. They have to rely on luck for the book to get noticed. Once it is noticed, if it’s good, it will still fly. But it is a risk.
On the other hand, a reasonably good and reasonably proactive writer can get so sucked into a round of “writerly” activity that they can lose the power to write. The mind becomes agitated and it is far easier to complete the other little activities – create an email shot about school visits, tart up your website or put up a notice on Twitter – than devote the concentration needed to something more creative.     
If you are already accepted your next step has got to be to write something even better. You can only do that if you keep at the writing. You have to cut everything else off and go for it. Just look at a few writers who plodded for years then suddenly had a breakthrough: Louisa May Alcott, David Almond, Philip Pullman.
We have to preserve our ability to write. That is a task and not a dream Dreaming does not produce.
This is one reason the first two hours of my working day is always devoted to my writing. And sometimes it’s very hard.      

1 comment:

ja_griffiths said...

So true. I'm sure I once read/heard Fay Welden sy 'these literary festvals are fun...but when do I now, get time to actually write?' i can see her dilemma, but honestly, I wish I had the same problem!