by Kim Kelly
WRITERS GOTTA WRITE
With my daily-bread editor’s hat on, throughout this year I seem to have fielded an extraordinary number of queries from aspiring authors that go something like this:
“I have a fantastic idea for a book that I know will appeal to publishers but I need an editor to help me put it together.”
And one, I kid you not, that said:
“As a busy executive, I don’t have time to finesse the finer points of writing, so I’m looking for the right editor to…” basically write his Matthew Reilly rip-off for him, having noted that this mega-selling author and I share the same publisher (!).
I’ve felt like asking in reply: why do you want to write if you, erm, don’t want to write? Politeness prevents me from responding with anything but a diplomatic decline, though, and I suspect I know the answer to my question anyway. Such aspiring authors probably like the idea of seeing their name on the cover of a book and wearing that Very Important Writer Person feather in their cap for all the world to see. But they don’t really want to do the work to get there.
Why so many Edit My Novel queries, though? I must have had at least fifty enquiries from the public this year – more than twice the normal number. Is it just the advent of ebooks and self-publishing or something else going on? I don’t know. But it’s got me wondering about that old chestnut of why we’re so attracted to the idea of writing – why we think it’s such a special thing to do – and the growing industry around it.
Today, we have a mind-boggling number of options through which we might explore our writing potential, from the humble (and often very helpful) village writers’ group through to PhD odysseys at prestigious universities. We have editors galore jostling in the cyber market for clients, some alarmingly fresh out of undergraduate degrees, and authors earning pocket money dispensing writing tips to the masses on the strength of having punched out one or two books themselves. We have libraries full of books on how to write. We have casual short-courses on all manner of authorly topics, from unlocking your creativity to promoting your work. There is even a course out there on how to use a computer program that will organise your novel for you and choose your characters’ names (convenient for some, I guess, but if a computer tried to choose one of my character’s names, I’d have to throw it out the window). There’s the ever-swelling plethora of online publishers offering instant books (just add $$), and then there’s the magnificently manic NaNoWriMo for those who want to smash that novel out of the park in a month – huzzah!
It’s exhausting just having a look at what’s out there for the hopeful word-scaping dreamer. I imagine, too, that most people involved in all this narrative activity are genuine storytellers looking for a path through. And good luck to every one of those hungry hearts. Writing a novel – whether you publish it or not, and whether it’s a financial success or not – will undoubtedly be one of the best things you will ever do. There’s no exhilaration like that we enjoy when we type those magic words: The End. That sense of having completed such a whole Big Thing.
But it’s curious, isn’t it, that no other creative endeavour seems to generate such a need in those who chase after it? In my little world, I personally know more visual artists, actors and musicians than I do writers. Of course there are a huge number of study options you can pursue in any of these fields as well, but there seems to be an emphasis on the doing and the learning bits in these sorts of arts courses. You can enjoy learning to dance without thinking that you’re going to turn pro in a year or two; you can learn to throw a pot in clay, to create beautiful things and feel your hands in the mud, without expecting to become a famous ceramist.
Why then do so many embark on the writing journey with the goal of publication so much front and centre? Whatever happened to the idea of writing for writing’s sake? For the thrill of that kind of expression; for the need simply to tell the tale. I did it – secretly and deliciously and yearningly – for about twenty-five years before I came out as an actual aspirer. Twenty-five years of piecing it all together, finding my voice, discovering what I really wanted to say, waiting for my courage to come. Reading. Thinking. Staring at rusty old engines and making them steam into life in my mind. I wrote a lot of poetry to experiment with my one true love: words. I wrote song lyrics and scene sketches on buses and trains for that quick fix. Spent thousands of hours poring over others’ work, suspended in breathless envy.
Where is the course that tells you it’s this love and your addiction to it that will drive any success you have? No tricks. No shortcuts. No programs. Just love, wonder and a mother load of longing.
There’s only one place you’ll find such a course, of course – inside you. And it doesn’t cost a cent.