Monday, February 04, 2008

I'll come in again

Suddenly I feel like the Inquisitor Michael Palin played in the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch. I've written before about the qualities needed to become a writer (though my comments are necessarily proximate because there is no sense in which I am such a creature) and realise another one needs to be added to the list. Arrogance, or to be a bit kinder about it, conviction that you are right and others are wrong.

I'm writing this after getting five rejections in six days all of which, bar one, were of the "close but no cigar" form. Sigh. I've read about the exercise that Kate Wilhelm conducts at Clarion which involves attendees holding a manuscript aloft, saying "This is me" and "This is my manuscript" and then dropping said script on the floor. This is to show them that they and their stories are distinct and that a rejection of one says nothing about them as a person or writer.

I have some sympathy with that, for psychologically necessary reasons if no other, but it is hard to be upbeat about what you do when every person of standing in the writing community who looks over your work says "no".

So to sustain themselves writers must be convinced about their own work and about its value. I have few illusions about writing and know that really all that matters is self-respect. Being sure that you did your best. Audiences are too fickle to trust. Writing to please them can mean you please no-one and for every person that loves a story many will hate it or be indifferent. And, as William Goldman, has asserted about every creative industry "Nobody knows anything" which is to say - success is always a matter of luck. We are still waiting for the Einstein who can give us the theory to explain the physics of the hit.

It should also be noted that the vast majority of writers, 1 in 7, do not make a living at what they do. Certainly writing short stories is everything but lucrative, so much so that established figures such as Cory Doctorow have likened it to vanity publishing.

So, in a situation in which audiences cannot be courted, editors are like blind men playing poker and financial rewards are as elusive as a Grand Unified Theory writers must be sure about what they are doing. Or they would give up. That explains a lot, why there is so much bad fiction around for a start, and why writers keep going. It's the egotism that drives them, ego demands an audience, because every beginning writer quickly learns that if there is one thing worse than being noticed it is being ignored.

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