Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Raise a glass

In front of me, the pile of rejections of Thin Reflections grows. And I have just been reading a forum conversation in which an extremely well known and respected author has been discussing the problems of getting a work published. And I have recently been reflecting on my own chequered and none too (financially) successful writing career. Methinks I should have stayed in bed.

So what does get me out of bed (on the days I am well enough)? Why do I go through the agonies of writing when I know the chances of publication (let alone fiscal security) are literally thousands to one against?

Agonies of writing? Well, yes. Writing is not easy. As an art and a discipline it takes years of practice to hone ones talent (and talent there must also be). As a fiscal enterprise it is one of the few jobs I know where the vast majority of practitioners are expected to spend a year or more of their life producing a work without any certain prospect of making money from it.

If you are lucky enough to be making some money from previously published books, you have a small degree of protection. But the market is such an uncertain beast (and much of what gets into the bookshops is dictated by people whose concern is sales, not the inherent merit of the work). If your current book does not sell or sells badly, the chances are you are finished – particularly if you write mass-market fiction.

Yet every day, tens of thousands of people sit down (often after a gruelling day at work) and spend hours working on their latest project. In my mid- to late-twenties, I did just that. Teaching all day, marking, and then writing, sometimes until two in the morning. It is debilitating and alienating. I suspect it contributed to my emotional burnout at the time and led me into a period of years when I did not write – something that set back my development as a writer. It is only recently that I have found a way back to where I left off. Twenty years gone that I won’t ever get back.

At least these days we have modern communications that make it possible for writers to huddle together and give each other emotional support. Before the Internet… There was support. Writers are notoriously generous people when it comes to supporting others of their ilk. In those early years I corresponded with a number of well known writers and that kept me going. For a while. Of course, what none of them could do was guarantee that I would get published and make a living from my writing (and a couple of them tried on my behalf).

For me, it is that sense of community that helps to keep me writing these days. There are always going to be the bitter-sweet moments when someone you know gains great success. Sweet because they have worked hard and deserve their success. Bitter because you know you have worked just as hard and fate has not smiled on you. But the sweetness always wins because you know you have played a part, no matter how small, toward that success. And should it ever be my fortune to gain the limelight with a work of fiction, I know I will not have achieved that on my own. The support of friends (the vast majority of whom I have never met and probably never will) has been invaluable – people who cheer you up by being silly, who offer moral support, point out those endless tuckin’ fypos, and who are just generally there to chat with (even if it is not about writing).

So, to all those folk who have been there for me in one way or another, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope Santa brings you all the perfect present; and that 2009 is your year.


L-Plate Author said...

Couldn't have put it better myself, Graham. What a great post.

Merry Christmas to you too! x

Lane said...

Eloquent and spot on as ever.

I raise my glass (teacup actually) to you. Cheers. Here's to support and a good 2009:-)