Christmas reflections - What sort of writer do you want to be?
I’ve been a bit slack with my blog writing lately, being the silly season and all, but I’ve been woken (way too) early on Christmas Day by my youngest and now have some time to kill. So here goes.
Being Christmas, I’ve been buying lots of books for gifts. Along with Dr Seuss, I’ve bought Mawson by Peter Fitzsimons for my husband and Hiroshima Nagasaki by Paul Ham for my brother. My ‘baby’ brother is the serious type and doesn’t usually read fiction, so I guess I should be flattered that he took time to read my novel! I also have a reluctant reader in my fifteen year old son, so Santa is bringing him Matthew Reilly’s latest, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves. I think my son is now old enough for grown-up books, and although Reilly isn’t my cup of tea I’m hoping his fast-paced action novels will capture the imagination of a teenage boy.
It appears I’ve done my patriotic duty, supporting Aussie male writers. However, the latest offering from an Australian woman writer somehow slipped into my purchases, too. How did that happen, I wonder?
It’s The Secret Ingredient by Dianne Blacklock. Dianne is a successful contemporary women’s fiction writer and fellow mother of boys. You can follow her on Twitter. I’ve just started We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver (coming late to the party on what is apparently a brilliant but disturbing novel) and feel I will be in need of a dose of Dianne by the time I finish it. Can’t wait.
Now Dianne has published, if I’m correct, eight novels. That’s a hugely impressive track record in anyone’s eyes. I suspect, however, she’s not sipping cocktails on her luxury yacht in the Caribbean right now. Not many Australian novelists get rich from their efforts (Reilly being an exception). I haven’t asked Dianne, but expect she writes because she loves it, and the royalties she receives, whilst welcome, are the icing on the cake.
I wonder what type of writer you aspire to be? Are you in it to make your fortune? Or do you simply enjoy the craft of writing?
What made me think about this was a recent piece in The Independent about self-published Kindle millionaire, Amanda Hocking. You can read it here. Thanks to Joanna Penn from the brilliant The Creative Penn for pointing it out. In particular, this sentence struck me:
Each book [by Hocking] takes between two and four weeks to write, and she sells them for between 99 cents and $2.99. In the past 18 months, she has grossed approximately $2 million.
Two to four weeks! That’s not a novel; that’s a university assignment. Call me old-fashioned, but is that what novel writing is really about? Isn’t it devaluing the craft somewhat? Personally I’d rather wait ten years for a book the calibre of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (the best book I read in 2011). And while we’re talking about devaluing the craft, let’s not get started on the effect of selling novels for 99c.
Then again Hocking writes novels about trolls for the young adult market so I suppose her readers aren’t so discerning. I shudder to think what I used to read as a teenager— Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy, anyone?
Also Joanna Penn, whom I respect greatly, doesn’t feel the way I do. For her, pricing her ebook novels at 99c is just a business strategy. It gains her entry into a crowded marketplace—a means to an end. Joanna’s ambition is to make a career out of writing thriller novels, and having witnessed her dynamism first-hand I have no doubt she’ll make it. Maybe I really am just old fashioned.
However, for every Amanda Hocking there are going to be thousands of self-published and traditionally published authors who don’t make it big and for them I’m going to offer these words of wisdom from the second book I bought myself this Christmas: the bible of writing guides, Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.
...I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so, I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. The thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.
Bravo Annie and happy holidays everyone.