I have never been gifted with telling the future but there is one certainty that confronts each of us, things change. The changes that have been happening in the world of publishing over the last five years have thrown hopes and expectations into the air and we are all still waiting for them to land. We are coming to terms with new technology. Any advance has positive and negative implications for those working in the industry but the movement towards digital self-publishing has changed things in a way no-one anticipated. There is a great deal of discussion around the relevance of publishing houses in this new brave world. Things change.
Insecurity often makes people feel that they have to make a decision, take a stand, have a firm opinion. We like to know what we know, you know.
Well, I know one thing. I fully support any and all means of championing the written word. We need more writing of a good quality. Traditional publishers have always been driven by the bottom line to produce work which will sell to the masses. Often the sale of such works supports the development of more literary projects. I doubt this will change. Self publishing will produce a vast quantity of lower quality work it is true but it will also give an opportunity to the gifted to produce breathtaking work of literary beauty without having to rely on a publisher’s previous sales of Diary of the Stig part 2.
Low or lower quality work is no threat to the publishing industry and those authors who produce excellent work will earn their stripes before submitting to publishing houses. Editors will include the banner headline ” Why aren’t you selling? ” on their websites and the world will continue to turn. Wordsmiths will continue to produce the words. We monkeys will make magic.
Sometimes it’s good to remember that no matter how big the change the important things stay the same.
So here you are again sitting in front of your computer screen, fingers poised for action and…
What do you do when the muse has left the building and all you can hear is the breeze, wafting through the roomy emptiness of your mind?
Easy. You write about the writers’ block. We have trained for this moment. You have powers of description to rival a literary superman. Just go to it and do it. If you are still struggling to form a sentence, and who doesn’t from time to time, then you need to break out the big guns.
Tell the world that you are quickly, happily, joyously, expeditiously, theoretically, honestly and finally breaking through the wall of wordlessness and you defy anyone to stop you. Trust me, any more than 40 adverbs in any one piece of writing and you will scare the most truculent subconscious into submission. If you keep writing the wall will dissolve and leave you breathless but working.
Of course if you carry the adverbage into your functional piece of prose then you need to step away from the computer and take a long hard look at yourself. What’s that all about?
Isn’t that the basic premise of fiction? I spend all of my days writing about people who don’t do the things I say and certainly aren’t in the places I mention. Usually they aren’t even real people. In fact I am a great big “Liar liar pants on fire” most of the time.
The funny thing is that amongst all the fibs, of which there are many, the thing I am searching for is the truth. The truth of what it means to be human. The truth and mechanics of relationships. To engage a reader in a story you have to find the spark of recognition, the place where a reader realises yes I know this, I have lived this, this man is like me.
In order to get to that place your writing has to remain true to your character. Are you trying to make a person behave in a way they simply wouldn’t? Does it ring true? You see people really don’t step outside their normal range of behaviour unless they are placed in extreme circumstances and even then it is unusual.
So figure out what your character’s usual reactions would be and then you will know if you step outside them. If you are going there, do it with purpose and conviction. There are times when you can use this fact to advantage but it must be with a character your audience knows very well and I think possibly several books into a series just to shake up the pace. Part of the truth behind people is that we do things for certain reasons; sometimes we don’t know the reason, sometimes we have some insight. We are complicated and understanding and using complicated characters to get to the truth is just about the highest goal of literary fiction.
I am writing a Thriller. The first draft of a thriller is an exciting time for me because I want to know how it ends as much as the next person. In reality I can be pretty far into the whole process before the resolution comes to me. I have my characters centre stage and I am looking them over, pondering their desires and their secrets. I’m playing out their reactions in my mind and always, always finding a way to make things even more difficult for my hero. Bless him.
Mind you, I think that a good thriller should end with the cast iron belief therapy is required. I have to point out here that we are talking about my belief. He, as he’s are wont, believes no such thing. He’s fine. It’s all fine.
” O, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! “
1. Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code
2 The state of being wholesome; unimpaired
3. The quality and condition of being complete; pure
What does integrity mean to a writer?
Well…writers are still people, even those who have been at it for a while. It is difficult in the high pressured world of social networking to keep a clear head and an unencumbered heart.
When is friendship a truth and not a stepping stone to success?
I think my own relationship with integrity hangs on the word “clarity”. I never attempt to disguise social networking as friendship. Advertising is advertising whether it is self promotion or script promotion. No one is going to fault you for advertising and promoting your work but people respect being treated truthfully and well.
On my table I have a leather-bound journal, a kindle, and several yellow stripy Hb pencils. I write in longhand and in pencil. They are my old friends. I mastered the use of this technology at about the age of three and since then I haven’t looked back. They require no special consideration or concentration. They require no power outlet and in special circumstances they write upside-down whilst I’m watching TV.
This is my preferred method.
If I am sitting in my kitchen away from my desk then I have my laptop. It is bright and shiny. It is capricious. We eye each other with suspicion. Sometimes it pings grumpily at me and I mutter
” Pencils don’t ping! “
I don’t think this is making the relationship any stronger. You see the laptop will always be second in my affections. It is my second draft workhorse and not the playground of my imagination.
” In the real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.”
Everybody has dark days. We all have times when we question ourselves and our world. We strive for more and we feel that life is holding out on the good stuff, keeping it tantalisingly out of reach; the bunch of grapes that grace an Aesop’s fable.
It is a cruel trick of life that in finding the darkness we feel alone. We are never alone. If we could muster the strength to reach out a hand into the night we would find that we are standing shoulder to shoulder like a pottery army, facing the same questions and the same fears. The darkness is a universal experience. So is the light.
Writers have a trick for dealing with the darkness. We pick the bones. We pick them clean. You see, nothing of our experience is ever lost. Everything is learning. Everything is growing. We take experience and in the darkness we form words, restless over the surface of the waters until one day…
Let there be Light.
So, if you are standing in the darkness be assured that you are surrounded by companions and in the darkness we grow.
I have found a surprising reluctance in many of my friends and colleagues to visit the pen-smiths of the past. I agree that many of the works written in the 19th century are so far removed from modern journalistic style that they seem to represent a different species rather than a different time. The 20th century brings long descriptive passages and worthiness doesn’t it? Don’t ever assume that you know a writer’s work on reputation alone. Dickens!
If you make assumptions about literature then you run the risk of missing out on those writers and passages of prose that sing with you. Sometimes you find literary joy in the strangest of places.
My personal discovery this year was Proust. I’m not a literary snob, I read everything including shampoo bottles and cereal packets but I had assumed that Proust was probably not for me.
( Assumptions, pah!)
I approached the first tome of “La recherche du temps perdu ” in trepidation.
I found literary description that you could bathe in. Proust sings with me.
Now, not everyone you read will click with you. That isn’t a deficiency in their writing or in your understanding, that is just the joy of difference. Go out into the world and find those writers who ” Sing with you “. and you will gain more than you ever thought possible.
Oh, and the occasional Dead White Male will be a Woman.