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Monday, 15 October 2012

Writing for fun or profit

Yes, ok I’ve heard the old ‘people who only try writing to make a quick profit will never make it’ truisms many times before, and I’m sure most ‘wanna be’ or beginner writers would agree with this. You have to want to write first, and then want to become good enough at the craft through diligent practice and learning to become publishable. And although everyone’s definition of ‘publishable’ is different, it’s only really the editors/publishers definition that matters.
I may be wrong here, but I seem to have noticed a distinct lack of the ‘fun’ part amongst the new wave of ‘beginners’ lately. Now, to set the scene, I would consider myself a beginner writer, and have done so for at least the past ten years. I say I’m a beginner because during this time I’ve only just scuffed the surface of the magical mystical publishable barrier. Although I would consider the substance (telling a cohesive story) and the technicality (the craft aspect) of my writing to have improved during that time I will always still see this as  learning until the increasingly unlikely event of me getting a publishing deal. It’s the last level of fine punctuation and grammar editing that remained my biggest bug-bear, and I can’t afford to personally employ a professional editor. But hey, that’s just me being grumpy again.

The point I’m trying to get at is that I’ve come across a lot of very driven young writers (in experience if not years) on various web-sites and forums lately that are intent on getting their first Novel published. They seem to have the common traits of pushing very hard to get their work finished and edited very quickly, and are equally as focused of aligning themselves with agents and learning the publishing industry as they are with honing their writing... Now I’m not saying this commitment isn’t a laudable trait. I would freely admit that they are definitely a lot more driven and focused than I am, but they do seem to have a very dismissive attitude to anyone who doesn’t share their world view. Yes, fiction writing is very much a hobby to me, and I have no expectations of it ever becoming a full-time vocation. In the grand scheme of things very few people make a living out of fiction writing, and I can’t help but think that a significant amount of these, very goal orientated and focused, people are in for a big reality-check. They may be talented, but at the end of the day the writing industry is very much a commercial animal, and as such it’s just as money-focused as any other. Personally I’v never made any more than pocket-money, and don’t think I ever will, but that really isn’t the point for me.
Like many other writers, published and unpublished, I write primarily because I want to, because I like to tell a story. But that’s why it’s something I keep coming back to whenever I can find the time. I’m not saying it’s for some form of internal therapy; I want people to read and enjoy my work, I want to make it as good as I can; and of course I want it published. Being published both facilitates and validates all the reasons I write for, and rightly or wrongly, also seems to bring a certain degree of legitimacy to the work.

One thing we do seem to have in common is the belief that writing is work. It can be fun work, but anyone who doesn’t see it as a job of work is ether very talented and extremely lucky, or more likely not focused enough to seriously have a shot of becoming good enough to write at a professional and commercial level. If that sounded derogatory it wasn’t intended to be. The writing world can be harsh. Even self publishing your beloved manuscript can result in scathing ‘reviews’ from people who read as being barely literate. If you put it out there in any form you should always be prepared for the worst. People will read a 30 to 50K story and point out the one spelling, grammar or punctuation mistake they have found... Then say you should have spent some time editing it... Just hold your breath and count to ten.

Given the current climate of publishing change I think writing now seems like a much more acceptable and achievable career path for a wider range people: possibly spurred on by the recent ‘rags to riches’ stories of a few well known and very successful authors. Initially this influx sound’s like a good thing. Authors have historically always seamed to be a bit of an elite group, and the further back you go the more ‘elite’ and exclusive the group gets. Maybe it is about time general Joe Public got in on the act. There are a lot more ‘how to’ writing books and web-sites and courses etc available nowadays, so obviously the Market for this is there. The Internet has had a big influence in persuading people that there is money to be made in writing, and this probably isn’t a lie. I just wonder how realistic the prospects of much of these people being able to attain the heady heights of ‘Published Author’ are.

So what will the future hold for this new wave of wannabe-authors? Well realistically for many it will be disappointment. But I do think more people seem to be setting themselves up for this. Many of this new breed are very money and fame focused, possibly at the expense of them taking the time to fully learn their craft properly first. Many also seem to have come straight for academic writing course backgrounds with high aspirations of ‘breaking into the industry.’ Again laudable goals, but from what I’ve learned over the years this may be a somewhat misguided view. Writing is an industry and there are many people who have the talent and skill to knock out a steady stream of ‘paperback pulp’ books. No I’m not being derogatory here, it does take skill and talent to make a living out of pulp fiction, and I dare say some of these new authors will possess the necessary skill and determination to succeed at whatever literary level they are aiming for. I just can’t help thinking that we are gearing up for a lot more disappointed writers that ever. At what point will this new “I’m going to become a successful writer,” bubble burst?

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