Thursday, 7 June 2007

Motivation and vindication

Here's a quote: 'I never thought of the public at all and publication has never been my principal objective anyway. ... You can't be in it for the money, you can't be in it for the idea you're going to be famous.' Joanne Harris

How you react to the above words should tell you a lot about your nature and motivation as a writer. Why are you doing this? (Your loved ones and best friends may well ask you the same question, with plaintive expressions on their faces). It's a question to trouble the wee small hours, a question to haunt you when you've had another rejection or one of those said loved ones has just cast an eye over your immortal prose with a look of incomprehension on his or her face. 'Very nice, dear,' they may say. Not much of a crumb to snatch at.

At one end of the scale is the image of the writer as the misunderstood genius, the tortured loner, whose profound words and individual voice will only be understood by posterity. At the other end is the cynical hack rolling out what the public wants - and the public gets, as long as the advances are high, the step-deals satisfactory, the ego well massaged.

I for one have always wanted, needed to write. It's a sickness in the blood. But I've always wanted to be read too. The private stuff is for my diary (and even that, one has to say, is written, in a way, for an invisible audience - my future self, who will come across it years down the line and cringe with embarrassment at what I say now, but also smile fondly and nostalgically - or gasp with recognition at a memory that had been buried until reading my own words exhumed it).

I've always wanted to be published and one of the greatest thrills of my life was, on publication day, to see the window of Bloomsbury's offices in Soho filled with copies of The Chase. My book. My book. To go into bookshops and see it there. My book.

Along with that, there's the desire to earn money. It's an honest desire. Many writers dream of the literary income that will free them from everything else. Money isn't yachts and diamonds. Money is time. Time is freedom. Freedom equates to creativity.

When I started teaching creative writing I automatically believed that would-be writers would welcome advice not only on writing but on editing their manuscripts and submitting them. I felt it was important to give my students a clear idea of how the world of publishing worked - even if this meant shattering a few illusions. Writers need to know the commercial realities - and with every passing year this is more and more true. Back then, I often encountered a kind of sniffiness about what I was doing, as if it was somehow infra dig to take the commercial approach, to avoid the kind of preciousness that dismisses the need to be published as if it's the route to selling your literary soul.

How ironic then, to find that increasingly, as creative writing courses flourish up and down the land, that many of them now focus strongly on the editing and submission aspects. Vindicated!

Here's another quote: 'All bestsellers are honest books written according to a writer's obsession.' Robert Harris

Find yours. Write about it. Sell it. Sell it to readers. Make contact.

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