Once, writing an entire novel seemed like an almost inconceivably daunting task to me. I used to wonder how writers did it. How did they have all that stuff in their heads? How did they know what happened on page 97 and on page 212 – and all the other pages? My naive assumption was that if you could set down all those words, create an intriguing and exciting and satisfying read, write an entire novel, then everything else would fall into place. The world would come flocking to your door.
Of course, I was completely wrong. What I’d completely failed to understand is that the writing part is the easy bit of being a writer. That’s just words. We can all do words. No, the hard part is getting noticed, finding readers. On the one hand, I understand why this is so: a lot of people love to write, a lot of books get written, and the competition is fierce. The chances of producing something really popular are statistically slight. At the same time, I must admit, it baffles me that some writers do get to where they have – not because they’re bad, but because they’re no better than many writers who do not. I don’t know why this happens. I assume luck plays a part – knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time, striking a chord. Skill and talent are obviously significant, too, but a lot of people have that. We’re all storytellers, and many of us are prepared to put the hours in to hone our craft. Still, I guess there’s only a finite amount of books the world needs at any one time.
Being a writer is a battle. An unnecessarily gruelling battle. There are obviously exceptions, but sometimes it seems like the publishing industry – if such an amorphous collection of individuals could be said to exist – is a machine for sucking all the joy out of the creative process. It isn’t so much the rejections that kill you, it’s the constantly being ignored.
I know many writers who have given up in the face of this indifference. Things aren’t as bad as they once were, of course, in that indie-publishing is now so huge, but even so, how many potentially great and loved books never get published or even written because writers give in? We’ll never know, but I’ll bet it’s a lot. Don’t writers with potential and aptitude and dedication get nurtured and helped and encouraged? It doesn’t seem that they do. Maybe the writers who make it are the most persistent and bloody-minded, not (necessarily) the most talented. That seems wrong.
I’d obviously love to be hugely successful in commercial terms – but one way out of this spiral is to value the work, and only the work. Writing the stories is its own reward. There is joy in creation, of setting down something new and unique. That’s the attitude I try to adopt. I mostly succeed, but, in truth, there are days when I don’t. Every kind word from a reader, every story acceptance, every book sale is an absolute joy, too, but I try not to get too carried away by those, either. The work is what matters. Setting down the words that I want to set down.
It’s the only attitude that makes sense. I love to write, so I do. I also do everything I can to find a readership, but I won’t tally my own value by the recognition the world does or doesn’t give me. That way madness lies.