Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Sins of Literature

Drama is life with the dull parts left out, says The Road to Somewhere. Ha! Have I left the dull parts in? Is there always something at stake? These are important questions, and I ought to be able to judge my own work by now and say a straight yes or no. If I cannot, I'm not learning. But all I pick up from the despised How To Manuals goes out of the window when I read published books and wonder why an agent, an editor, a publisher thought they were worthy of publication, for most of them break the so called rules of writing. Perhaps it is because there are no rules of writing. Perhaps the sudden spate of How To Manuals is born of the current need so many have to write and see a book published, and mid-list writers have turned their hand to earning a few pounds by providing them. Martin Amis thinks writing, like having children, can be seen as a bid for immortality. Now there's food for thought.

Will Self confesses to a love/hate relationship to the demands of his vocation and every morning  visualises a RSM ordering him to "get in that room and write." Is he disciplined? How can he not be, he asks. He needs solitude especially during drafts 1-3 when he needs to keep the whole novel in his head. He wonders if young writers have what it takes to be alone and cut off so they can write. Picasso is reputed to have said "they write better in prison," and many books, including Pilgrim's Progress, have been written in prison.

On the other hand, some authors write in cafes, or in the living room with the family hopping about. Sarah Waters goes out for a walk at the end of a writing day and re-acquaints herself with the world. Susan Hill, it is said, stops writing when she is happy. Writers Block may be nothing more than depression. Some writers like music while they write, others do not. One says the rhythm of the music interferes with the rhythms of her sentences as they are generated. Alexander McCall Smith listens to Mozart to get into the calm frame of mind needed to write.

The need for solitude and silence in which to write - Virginia Woolf's Room of One's Own - is in direct opposition with today's need for authors to be out in the world promoting. Readers want to know who they are and what they think, which many writers find disturbing. Howard Jacobsen, on the other hand,  loves book festivals and audiences though he knows he should resist them and write.

4 comments:

Dean Crawford said...

It's true that many published books break the "rules" of writing as described by How To manuals, Jen, but the point is that an author trying to get their first traditional publishing deal can't break those rules. At least, not without writing one heck of a novel in then process.

The manuals are there to help you see what you should be doing, and to avoid the mistakes that everybody else makes. 99.9% of all authors are rejected, and never see their work published. It's your aim to be the 0.1% who get through, and to do that your novel needs to be as good as possible.

A good example is the recent J.K. Rowling book. She wrote it under a pen-name, and it got picked up by a publisher ( although it was turned down by others ). How? If it's SO difficult, then how could she have gotten through first-time without her fame behind her, in a crowded crime/mystery thriller market? Because she did a good job, and wrote a good book that stood up all on its own ( I'm half-way through it at the moment, and it follows the rules perfectly ).

Your job is to be that author, the one that stands out. Listen to the manuals, not the occasional published novel that seems to contradict the "rules". The rules are there to help you, but if you realise that breaking one or two here and there improves your novel so be it... but don't ignore them.

Jen Black said...

Dean, if you could see me patiently working my way through a list of "redundant" words and eliminating them from my ms, you would know I do follow the rules!
But it does get frustrating at times. don't you think?

Dean Crawford said...

It's always a tough feeling when you see a novel become successfully published that seems inferior to one's own work - I know, it happened to me for 15 years. But that kind of reinforces my point - you're only ever in competition with yourself. It's your novel, and just how perfect that you can make it, that will define how well that novel does. My other, unpublished books, were not inferior at all - they just weren't quite "right" yet. When they were, I got my first deal.

I don't doubt that you follow the rules though, or that you'll break through too sooner or later :)

Jen Black said...

Oh, I'm not so confident I think my stories are better - but I think mine might be equally as good. Never mind, I'll keep working at it, and mae it "right."