In the first place:
Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee. (Peter’s publishing daughter sent me this.)
Okay. That was your light relief.
Now, in the second place, a lot of you will have seen this already, including anyone who follows me on Twitter:
The headline reads: In E-Reader Age of Writer’s Cramp*, a Book a Year is Slacking. And any sane author’s reaction is: Killlllllllllllllllllll Meeeeeeeeeee. (Maureen Johnson’s retweet says: Here’s an article in the [New York Times] about how everyone is trying to kill authors.)
Well. Yes. I would love to attain a novel a year. Or a novel most years. Or a novel every eighteen months. Or something. And there are writers—a few—who can write two novels a year at least occasionally** and still stab you in the heart with their amazingness. Or if you’re producing stories that genuinely aren’t supposed to do anything but while away an hour or two—I hope I’m not getting myself into too much trouble here, but I do think there’s a place for stories that are only trying to divert: and, if I’m not getting myself into too much more trouble, I might suggest Agatha Christie as the sort of thing: I don’t think anyone goes to Agatha Christie for empathy or catharsis, do they?—then maybe, that’s maybe, you can write more than one book a year and keep your quality (and your pride in your work) up.***
But for the rest of us . . . for those of us who essay the occasional well-rounded character, who wish to evoke rather than report, who hope for readers who don’t quite shake the dust of our stories off their page-turning fingers at the end . . . I’m a slow writer. I know I’m slow. But I flatly don’t believe any mere human can produce two good books every year and go on doing it.†
I had a lot of lovely tweets from people†† saying they’d rather wait for books that have been written rather than not wait for those that have been churned out to an anti-human schedule. And I don’t really have a choice: this is how I am. This is how I write. If this doesn’t work, I am going to have to run away to the circus.††† I tell myself that the world has always claimed to be on the brink of final breakdown of one sort or another—I imagine this dates back to gossip around the fire just after that seditious object the wheel had been invented. But I admit that the particular part of my world that is disintegrating as a result of what is in many ways a great invention, the internet, worries me . . . more than a little.
To end this post on writery things, I give you, in the third place: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/books/review/the-writer-in-the-family.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
I don’t, in fact, agree with a lot of it, but then I’ve also never been a member of the standard family, with growing-up children I’m somehow part responsible for and all that, so my view is skewed. But I love the exchange: ‘Would I have read anything you’ve written?’ from some clueless dweeb you’ve just been introduced to, and Rosenblatt’s reply, ‘How should I know?’ I’m going to remember that one.‡
But the paragraph that had me in hysterics is the one about E L Doctorow trying to write an excuse slip for his daughter, who had missed school the day before. YEEEEEEEEEEEES. This is exactly what happens when you pull your specialised, carefully conditioned, writery bits out of the rarefied atmosphere of fiction and try to make them produce a grocery list or a thank-you note or an email to the department store that sent you a toaster instead of an electric blanket. Yesssss.
Hee hee hee hee hee hee. Which is a much better place to both come in and go out.
* * *
* Which should be recategorised anyway as writer’s repetitive stress injury
** Peter did this more than once
*** Is this writing as craft rather than art? Sometimes you don’t want to be engaged. Sometimes you just want to sit quietly and drink your tea and read a rose catalogue.^ Sometimes you want your chair to have four legs and a seat and not be a dazzling heirloom for the ages when you stagger downstairs in the morning and reach for your electric kettle.
^ Credit card engagement is a different issue.
† Even Charles Dickens, for example^, took holidays, and the quality of his writing is drastically variable, from the mind-explodingly tremendous to the diabolically awful.
^ I’m reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of him right now. I knew he was—erm—a complex character and not all of it good, but the thing I probably find the most fascinating is how narrow the line is between socially aware and engaged literary genius with some personal issues and WHINING, SELF-ABSORBED COMPLETE TICK . . . who by the way wrote some fabulous stories and did some amazing things. You may have guessed I incline to the latter opinion. It’s all about him, all of the time. And I don’t deal well with the sins of the extrovert.
Fascinating book however. I recommend it. And it’s not that Dickens didn’t have to cope with more than one human’s fair share of bulltiddly: he did. I’d have drowned his unspeakable father, for example, and I’d’ve had apoplexy if I’d been trying to earn a living as a writer back in the days before there was an international copyright law. I am riveted by the standard accusations thrown at Dickens when he had the balls—and good for him—to stand up and say stealing people’s work is wrong. He is being greedy, sneered the newspapers, and he should be grateful that people want to read his books. Plus ça frelling frelling change. And we’ve even got, or anyway had, international copyright law for quite a while—although the whole e thing is busy taking that to bits too. Greedy? Grateful? How, pray tell, are us storytellers supposed to earn a living? How do you think we frelling eat and pay the mortgage if we don’t sell our stories? Leprechaun? Printing press in the cellar for counterfeit money? Wealthy indulgent lover? What? What? I get really bored with people who think that all writers are wealthy, but at least these people are acknowledging that being a professional writer involves money. The people who think that writers^ are supposed to give it away and be grateful if anyone wants it . . . should frelling try it some time. Show me someone who is giving it away and doesn’t have either another, paying job, a trust fund, or a joint bank account with a Fortune 500 CEO, and I’ll show you a hologram, an alien from another dimension, or a homeless bag person who is about to die of starvation.
Which is more or less where we came in . . .
^ I assume that painters, sculptors, jewellery-makers, knitters and so on have the same problem. Maybe it’s that we work in words that it seems to me we get so much (wordy) stick. Maybe it’s just that I’m a writer, I notice writer-aimed stick more.
†† Including a gratifying rant from our own Maren. Thank you. And a horrified fellow-feeling my-fingers-are-shrivelling from Jodi, who had already seen the article.
††† And to you who tweeted me about this too: hellhounds would love the circus, once they got a little used to the uproar. And if New Thing’s heroine can haul a rose-bush around in a pot, why can’t I? I can put it (or them) on the steps of my trailer every time we stop.
Peter, I admit, is a problem. I don’t think he’d like the circus at all.
‡ I can hear Merrilee clutching her forehead.
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