Writing & Success

WALES15 106

The median earnings of writers in the United Kingdom is £4,000 a year. Read that again – £4,000. Let’s face it – unless you’re EL James or JK Rowling, you’re not going to make enough to live on. Most of us who write have to rely on other work to keep us going. Yet deep down we all secretly want success: we want to hit that jack-pot. We want to be recognised, read and appreciated.

The problem is – there are so many books out there – let alone short stories, poetry and flash fiction. I’m sure neither you nor I, however much we love books,  have the time to read all we’d like. I’m also sure a substantial number of excellent books pass me by.

The publishing world is fickle one. It relies on a small number of ‘big’ names and celebrities. Dubravka Ugresic, in her book, ‘Thank you for not Reading’ describes how Joan Collins, opening the London Book Fair some years ago, swept all beside her. ‘What does this have to do with literature?’ Ugresic writes. ‘Almost nothing. Then why mention something as trivial as Joan Collins’s pink suit? Because trivia has swamped contemporary literary life and become, it seems, more important than the books. A book’s blurb is more important than the book itself, the author’s photograph on the book jacket…more important than its content….’

You get the picture. Marketing is King. Celebrity is King. Or Queen. Does this matter? Yes and no. I mean, you’re not going to get anyone to read your book if readers don’t know it exists and those of us far down the publishing ladder are always going to struggle to get noticed. This isn’t an article about marketing so I won’t give you suggestions on how to market your book. Anyway I’m lousy at marketing but it is necessary, even if it bores you to tears and you feel you’re no good at it. (You do get better at it with practice – I promise). No, this is an article about writing. As for that elusive ‘success’ – if you’ve completed a story, a novel or a poem, that’s success. Making it as perfect as you can – that’s success. Getting it out there via a blog, or in print – however – that’s success.

Annie Lamott writes about publication in her excellent book, ‘Bird by Bird.’ ‘I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises.’

Many of us are so caught up in the idea of success in our culture that we fail to appreciate our successes. Like a new dress, or a new car, the lure is always there of more and better. It’s a snare and a delusion.

Natalie Goldberg in her book, ‘Writing down the Bones’ says, ‘Trust in what you love, continue to do it and it will take you where you need to go. And don’t worry too much about security. You will eventually have a deep security when you begin to do what you want. How many of us with big salaries are actually secure anyway?’

We need to pay our bills of course, and many people don’t have the luxury to be creative. They are busy working as cleaners, nurses, care workers….You can be creative in your job, for sure and anyone can write, sketch or pen a song. It doesn’t have to be a project that keeps us away from earning a living.

For those of us who are lucky and/or determined enough to work as writers, aim for success, yes but do understand that there’s always another mountain to be climbed – always. Or even a mountain to fall down. The secret is to pick yourself up and climb the mountain again, even if you need a walking stick or a lift part way. And please enjoy the view while you’re up there.

Writing a first draft

The first draft of a novel is like life. The ups and downs. The oscillation between elation, depression and sheer boredom. How do any of us keep going, us authors. I think it’s a combination of will-power and of love for the written word, mixed in with a need for recognition in our lives. Let’s be honest. We all want to be read and get good reviews, we’re human, after all. However, there are many times when we feel like giving up and I often ask myself the question: ‘Does the world actually need another book?’ And, ‘does it need this book?’

The answer to the first question is that humans will always tell and listen to stories. It’s in our DNA. Stories are as old as humankind itself. As to the answer to the second question, that has to be left up to others. If my book is good enough and I have something interesting to say, perhaps, yes. That’s certainly what I strive for – to make what a write worthwhile – not only in terms of the quality of the writing, but in the characters I create and the world I create around them.

The trick of writing that first draft is to keep going even through the bad patches when boredom and lack of confidence seep in. It helps to connect with other writers, or to write in a café with others around, or to join a course as I just did, although that many not be affordable to everyone. It’s easy to get stale and so connecting with other authors, or even books you enjoy reading, can help. On the other hand reading a brilliant and well-written book can be a downer. ‘I can never write like that’, the critic on your shoulder squawks. ‘Never in a million years.’ Just remind yourself that YOU are writing your book. No-one else is. You may admire a particular author and his or her style and of course you can learn from this. But this author is not you. You have your own style, your own way of looking at the world. Stay with this.

It is scary showing your writing to others but it’s important to do so, although only to those whose judgement you really trust. Each person will have their own take on your work but if everyone says the same thing, then listen and take note. In my present working novel, almost everyone who read it questioned why I addressed the sister in the second person, rather than using her name. I stuck fast. For a while. But in the end I realised this wasn’t working. I’ve changed it. However, there are times when you must also stick to your guns. The topics I write about are serious ones – conflict, death and exile. I love reading witty books, funny books but I can’t write them. I don’t want to write them either. Don’t let anyone tell you that you must write this or that. You know why you want to write and what you want to write about.

The first draft is just the first draft. After that comes the editing process but that’s something else. Try not to get stuck at the beginning of your book. It’s easy to do. You want to perfect it so you go over and over and you never get further than the first 10,000 words. I’ve done it. I still do it. Perfect it at the editing stage. Now just go for it. Take the plunge and leap.

 

Islands

Paxos 16

  • This island is long and grey and resembles a crocodile held low in the water.

  • There are many small white churches on this island with bells that hang from the branches of olive trees. Also on this island is a huge domed church. The church is empty, the door locked. If you peer through the keyhole of the locked door you will see the light spilling in from the windows casting red, blue and green spots on the dusty floor.

  • This island rises up from beaches of black sand. It has a hole in its heart, remembering the land that was once lost to it, land that went up in smoke and ash and buried the islanders.

  • This island is much larger than its sisters and brothers but it does not boast of this fact. It has no need to.

  • This island is so small it is scarcely bigger than a hand print upon the blue sea, yet trees grow on it and birds chatter in the branches.

  • From this island a famous hero set sail many moons ago. The hero voyaged across the sea and slew various monsters but when he returned to the island that was his home, the sheep were still munching the same grass, the goats bleating, the cockerel crowing at dawn.

  • This island is rocky; its shores treacherous to boats and ships but it does not care, welcoming only the crashing of waves, the flight of birds.

  • There is an island, so I have heard, with sand so white and dazzling that anyone who lands on its shores must wear dark glasses or be without sight for many days.

  • This particular island is surrounded by ice-cold water and forests of seaweed, that sway in the tide and the waves. The barnacles on the rocks are so numerous that no one has ever been able to count them. For many days of the year the island is shrouded in mists but when it is not, the water appears like a bowl of turquoise glass.

  • From a distance this island looks friendly because of its beaming lighthouse, the glittering sea that surrounds it and the large numbers of playful sailing boats. But, as you draw near, you realise that this is an illusion and that the purpose of the light-house is not to welcome but to warn you of the jagged rocks. As for the sailing boats they too are something of an illusion for they never draw close, but tack this way and that, never drawing close to the island’s shores.

  • From a distance this island resembles a porcupine. On closer inspection the quills are revealed to be trees. The trees are not particularly spiky but only give you that impression from long away.

  • A causeway links this island to the mainland. At low tide the way is open to all who wish to visit but woe betide anyone who falls asleep for too long in the warm sun and is forced to wait over-night to return to his house across the water.

  • These five islands are close to each other like children who have dropped from their mother’s womb year after year.

River

Fat fast furious snake slithering through trees, hungry river snake, your scales the river’s waves, devouring banks and whole trees, mesmerising to watch your angry journey to the sea

water bubbles hc

Sailing to eternity

Who lies here at the bottom of the sea,

hastings aug 2013 009

lost but not forgotten?

The ties of seaweed knotting her hair

as she clasps the child in her arms

for all eternity.

What country did she leave for this

over-crowded, listing, pirate-boat?

What exile has forced her to walk the plank

and place her weary feet upon the leaking wooden boards

with only her child and hope for company?

Slippery, drowned hope

No rope or raft to hold her

No lifeboat, no warm hand

No embrace but her child and the empty sea

forever and ever

Reeds

Reeds

The reeds are talking whispers along the path. They speak of creatures in the blue sky and the movement of stars. Perhaps they also talk of us, our slow-gait, how we spoil the land.

Reeds rustle and pretend to be the sea. Reeds are woven into baskets and roofs. Baskets and roofs do not rustle or pretend to be waves. They are staid creatures, not prone to flights of fancy.

Reeds like rivers but do rivers like reeds? Reeds bend and speak like rivers but reeds are rooted and rivers are not.

On the walk are many reeds so many they perhaps match the numbers of people who have left Syria and gone elsewhere but of course there is no resemblance between these reeds and the Syrian refugees.
reeds may 13

My Village

BB hawthorn hedge

 

My Village

This village was once known for the making of scythes. In the place of scythes are smart cars, burnished carriage lamps and hanging baskets of garishly coloured flowers.

I know all the paths in this place – the one that leads to the narrow dark lane and the old oak tree, the one that skirts the edge of the recreation ground and passes the small hill, the one that edges the mill pond and breaks into two and the path that takes my steps to the churchyard. All these paths lead to somewhere – the oak, the pond, the church – but these paths also lead me to places no longer visible to the eye. A cricket pavilion. A field of elms. The brick scythe works. The gypsy caravans. An icy pond with skaters. A lake with a floating raft constructed out of barrels and rope. Plus two weddings, two funerals and a kiss behind a shed. I see these things as clearly as the path in front of me with its patches of drying mud, its thistles and nettle clumps, the tall grass. But perhaps you do not.

Bestiary

A bestiary
Antelope, ant and aardvark
Bear, butterfly and bee
Cougar, cat and coot
Dolphin, dove, doe, deer                                                                                                                  Two gulping fish 2012
Elephant
Flying fish
Giraffe and gnu
Hare, hornet and horns
Ibex
Jaguar, jay, jackdaw, jackal
Kangaroo
Llama, lamb and lamprey
Moose
Newt
Owl
Parrot, porpoise, peregrine,
Quail
A raven, a rook
Snake, spider
Tick, toucan and tiger
Ursus
Vole
Woodpecker, wasp, widgeon, wolf and woodlouse
Yellow-hammer
A zoo

Voice

Some people like the sound of their own voice to such a degree that they will not stop talking, even in sleep, while others are so quiet you can hear their hearts beating and the small, soft sound of their lungs. blue sand 07

The home of writer Bronwen Griffiths