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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Writer's Life: Finding the fun again...

Firstly, thank you to everyone who responded (on and offline) to last week's post on my tortured decision to stop writing a story. 

It got me thinking about that vexed questions of goal setting. If you have ever attended any workshops by Bob Mayer, you will know that this question is the cut and thrust of his presentation. Writing is a business like any other and you should have a business plan with clear and achievable goals.

So let me share my goal with you... I want to see my book on the bookshelf of an airport bookshop. There I've said it (a lifesize cardboard cutout of moi would be the cherry on the cake). Realistically this isn't going to happen while I write historical romance, unless it is that elusive animal "The Breakout Novel" (of Don Maas fame). How much genre romance do you see on the shelves of airport bookshops? Virtually none. Apparently international air travellers don't want to read light, happy novels...

As I discussed last week, my foray into writing a book "for the market" has ended in pain for me and forced me to evaluate why I write. Oh yes, I do want to earn a living from writing (there - call that Goal #2) . If I am ever going to achieve Goal #1 (airport bookshop) then I know that elusive breakout novel is there somewhere in my future, but I am not going to find it by forcing myself to write something that is not singing to me.

I often compare writing to painting and in this case, writers to painters. Have you ever been to a country art show? There, proudly displayed on the walls of the local shire hall are the creative works of a range of artists from the truly execrable to the genuinely talented. My darling grandmother, an artist in her own right, used to judge art shows and when faced with the daubings of the dubiously talented would say: "You must have had a lot of fun painting that." And the artist would smile and nod because, yes they had had a lot of fun painting it.

Not every artist is going to be Leonardo Da Vinci or Rembrandt. Sometimes their art may go no further than their own walls, let alone the Shire art contest but fundamental is the love of what they are doing and I think writing is a little like that. We are not all going to have our books in the bookshops of international airports (or even in our own local bookshop). There are, of course, a myriad ways now to get your writing "out there" but in some ways it is really no different to hanging your work on the wall of the Shire Hall. Some people will see it, some people will like it...but it may get you no closer to that international airport and maybe, just maybe, we have to be satisfied with that.

The first rule of writing then is to write what you love, write what you know, write what makes you happy. If you don't, then you will do as I did - find yourself chained to a desk with all the enjoyment of pulling out your nails one by one. If you are fortuitous enough to hit the happy combination of writing what you love AND selling a gazillion books, then I raise a glass to you (and I really do know and celebrate many successful writers who do just that).

My breakout novel is there...I know it is. I even know what it looks like but I'm not ready for it. Right now I have set aside what has been a year's work and I am writing something that is making me extraordinarily happy, something that is worth sacrificing my days, nights and weekends for the sheer joy of spending time with my imaginary friends. Does it have a market? Will it find readers? You know something, I'm not sure I really care. Right now I am writing because it is fun.


PS And as for my "Regency"? Well I don't believe ANY writing is actually wasted. If nothing else,  I learned and honed my craft in writing it and I am fairly confident the characters and plot will make an appearance sometime in the future in a different incarnation. At the moment, they have booked a cruise to Fiji and are lying, exhausted on sun loungers drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

PPS: For those who have asked, alas GATHER THE BONES was once again the bridesmaid in both the Award of Excellence and Bookseller's Best Awards ... but oh my - what a thrill to be nominated!


  1. Good luck Alison. Both this week's post and last week's 'Mount Doom' - I've found hugely very inspiring.

    Lily M

  2. What a journey you are on Alison. Square pegs and round holes, I understand that feeling all too well. Just do what comes naturally and see what happens. Good luck with those goals. Not too ambitious at all.

  3. Thanks, Lily... Sometimes we need to be given permission to do what our instinct is telling us.

    LOL, Kate. Not ambitious? I'll send you a photo of the life size cardboard cut out!

  4. Alison
    What an inspiring post.

    Good on you. Years ago I was almost ready to give up writing. I was on the treadmill of submission, keyed up hope, rejection followed by depression and all the negative feelings any sort of rejection brings in its wake.

    But the characters in my head gave me no peace and so I continued to write, but refused to put myself through that sort of emotional turmoil any more.

    And sure enough my joy in writing returned. I didn't honestly care if I submitted another book, and was quite happy to let my books languish in my electronic bottom drawer. Enter my good friend Kris Pearson... she encouraged me to go the Indie Publishing route...
    Will I be rich...I doubt it. Will my books be in an airport bookshop...again I doubt am I happy with what I'm doing...absolutely and without doubt. I've rediscovered the sheer joy of giving the people in my head a voice.

  5. Great philosophy, Alison. Just know you'll get there.

    The sad fact for some of us oldies though, is to know we left that run too late. (I mean the one where we write what we know and love).

    I suffer from a Regency only online crit group who are all based in USA. They are so SERIOUS I daren't write anything in the least bit humorous or mysterious. Sigh.

  6. Shirley I think you have raised something I maybe should have mentioned and that is I am pathologically driven to write. I couldn't not write even if I did throw down my quill and say "No more". Stories would keep hammering away at me and give me no peace. That sounds like I am verging on mental illness but I am sure other writers know what I mean!

  7. Oh Vonnie...I do know what you mean and I wonder if that is why the Regency I started off loving so much got killed for me. There are some groups of Regency writers that are so deeply immersed in it that every word is analysed for historical authenticity, that there's no joy at all. I got bogged down in the critique and the realisation that there are other people out there who write about this period so much better then I ever could - or at least with more historical accuracy!

  8. Another inspiring post, Ali! You remind me to stick to what I love, and I KNOW what you mean about pathologically driven to write. The other day I went out for a couple of hours without paper or laptop. EEEK! I had to find a newsagency post haste or graffiti would have been forthcoming.
    And about airport bookstores: there really are no rules about what can become a ridiculous bestseller. Who'd have dreamt of the success of 50 Shades until recently? (Not that I'm comparing your writing to hers.) Or Harry Potter?
    I can see your cardboard cutout up there already...

  9. Thanks, Venetia :-) I have now accumulated a collection of notebooks, hastily purchased when the muse decided to stop polishing her fingernails and hit me when I was somewhere with no access to the computer.