Friday, 2 September 2011

Cycling Backwards Up Easy Street

I've read a few comments and complaints recently about how some publishers are making it harder for their authors, pressuring them to write in certain genres, to win awards, to get a book just right. But I ask you, who could possibly make it harder to get a book right than ourselves? Who hasn't launched into "just one more edit," convinced that they can make a book perfect? Who hasn't ground to a halt halfway through a draft, sure that their golden idea has turned to lead? Who sets the bar high one day and then moves it up the next? I won't say all authors are built this way, but that description covers a comfortable percentage.

I'm very much in that demographic - I never take the easy route through any problem if there's one that will make life more difficult for me. Instead of splurging out thousands of words and mopping up the mess in the next draft, I pick each word up with tweezers, holding it to the light as I decide whether it exactly fits the space I've allocated. I'm doing it now, rearranging sentences until their sound and rhythm is perfect. If they sold a tuning fork that you could place against a paragraph to hear its harmonic purity, I'd be first in the queue.

Is this craft or madness? Will anyone notice the sentence that's just "good enough?" Hell, does anyone outside of the publishing industry really care about the originality of our voice and the quality of our prose? Our ability to tell a cracking story will be the thing that determines the commercial success of our work, along with strong marketing and good distribution.

Yet, money is only a small part of the story (and getting smaller). We also crave the respect of our peers, recognition from the industry and a deep connection with our readers. We want to publish work that defines our outlook and values, to trap a piece of ourselves on every page. As long as our book lives, we can never truly die. These are high expectations - so high that they can only result in some level of disappointment. But does that make them wrong?

I think the answer lies in how we, as writers, cope with the self-imposed pressure. If you can turn out a book, convinced that it is the best thing you can possibly write, then the work will benefit. But there will also be the inevitable comedown as you worry about how you can possibly top it. Having said that, it's easy to lose perspective as you beaver away in your writer's garret (or back bedroom). There will be other ideas and other books - at some point, you have to let a book go so you can move on to the next.



  1. I need to write the best manu, para, line, word possible. Otherwise I can't look myself in the mirror, let alone face my fellow writers, my editor, agent, supporters, family and those wonderful readers who expect the best from me and deserve it. Write the best book you can Nick - you know you will!!

  2. I just want to get to the point where I can skive all day on Twitter.

    Ok, maybe a bit of me wants to live forever in my book. To have in say, a couple of centuries time, someone find my book under a floor or in a time capsule and start to read it. Read it and think:


  3. The one thing that was clear to me from the start was that it wasn't going to be easy.

  4. I hear ya, Nick. I use those tweezers too! And when one of those tuning forks comes out I'll be right behind you in the queue!