Therese here. Today’s guest is author Colin Falconer–a historical novelist who has written over twenty books. His next novel–the first in a three-book deal–will come out next year in the U.K. When he approached us and asked if we’d be interested in featuring a post full of inspirational quotes for aspiring novelists, of course I said “yes.” Enjoy!
SO YOU WANNA BE A RITER?
This is a tough business. Agreed. But then there are single mothers holding down two jobs to feed their kids so let’s not cry about it. No one asked any of us to write for a living. We chose to do it.
But no, it’s not easy. After publishing almost two dozen novels I ran into a brick wall about four years ago. My personal life went into free fall, and my agent retired. I couldn’t write. So in the last twelve months I had to start all over again. And it reminded me just how tough it is out there without the buffer of some sort of recent track record.
If you’re finding the going tough, here’s some advice that might help. It helped me.
‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’ – Isaac Asimov
This isn’t science fiction. Persistence is the key to any sort of reward. But I don’t think Isaac meant that you should just keep making the same mistakes over and over. If a story doesn’t seem to be working – try to figure out why. Finding and fixing problems can teach you more than giving up ever will. Which is why the author of Jurassic Park said this:
‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it …’ – Michael Crichton
What he touched on here is one very crucial question; do we want to be writers – or do we want to learn how to write really well? Being a writer can look quite glamorous; TV talk shows, book signings, even rampant alcoholism – which many authors are quite justifiably famous for – attracts more than a few to the business. But actually sitting down and writing, and writing well enough to keep readers turning pages, is plain hard work. But you don’t get one without the other.
Do we want the glamour – such as it is – or do we want to do the work? Unless we’re already famous enough for the publisher to hire a ghost writer, we’re stuck with the work. Damn.
‘Anyone who keeps working is not a failure. He or she may not be a great writer, but if they apply the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labour, they’ll eventually make some kind of career for themselves as a writer.’– Ray Bradbury
From Ray, something very true this way comes. So many new writers get anxious at the beginning. Am I good enough? Do I have talent? And the answer is often – yes. So don’t be shy. Give it a go. But how much talent do you have? No one really knows. That’s the hell of it.
‘Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.’ – Henry Ford.
Obstacles? If Stephenie Meyer knew the obstacles she may not have bothered to submit her first book for publication. She didn’t know the odds against having her book discovered through the ‘slush pile’ and she didn’t know the importance of a good query letter. But she sent out fifteen submissions anyway – letters she now claims “truly sucked”. Of these five are still unanswered, nine brought rejections, and only one brought a positive response.
She shouldn’t have even got that; the agent’s assistant who read her query was new to the job and unaware that at 130,000 words the manuscript was way over the agency’s strict 75,000 word limit for YA novels. So she just read the book on its merits – wild and reckless as that may seem.
The Twilight series has now sold a hundred million copies around the world.
‘I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged… I had poems which were re-written so many times I suspect it was just a way of avoiding sending them out.’ – Erica Jong
If you, too, have a fear of flying, remember that at some stage, you have to let go, and allow your manuscript to meet its doom or its destiny. And when you do, be prepared: for you will be judged. So don’t send your manuscript out till it’s ready. But don’t wait too long either.
I’ll leave the last word to ‘Damon’ – real name Dennis R. Miller. He spent twenty-five years completing his novel The Perfect Song. “Life,” he said, “is what happens to a writer between drafts.”
The book was self published in 2004 and disappeared without trace. I think there’s a lesson in that somewhere. But I have no idea what it is. I might think about it between drafts.
Have a quote you go to whenever you need a hit of inspiration? Show-and-tell time.
Thanks for a great post, Colin!