Some years ago, acclaimed author and former journalist Jim Crace published, with tongue firmly in cheek, a couple of pieces titled The Secrets of My Success and More Secrets of My Success. They take the form of letters to wanna-be writers who have somehow tracked him down. Here’s the opening paragraph of letter number one to give you a flavour of this correspondence:
I apologise for my rudeness but I can’t pretend your phone call was entirely welcome. I am not ex-directory but that’s because I do not wish to seem remote or grand, always a temptation for a published writer. However, it was never my intention to be a kind of script doctor for any hopeful author smart enough to use a telephone book. The listing was not meant as an invitation for you to chat about your “writer’s block”, occasioned, you said, by the feeling that “there is hardly any point in making things up when there is so much reality out there that needs attending to”. Well, then attend to it. What’s stopping you? I hardly think that completing what you describe as your “groundbreaking” novel (about a “conflicted fashion photographer”? Did I hear you right?) will make much difference to those chilling global inequalities that you listed so thoroughly when we spoke.
I chanced across the two pieces again recently – they are both still online, hurrah! (links below) – and still full of writerly wisdom and good sense:
Successful writers are only rarely in the middle of difficult paragraphs. Most of our time is spent prevaricating and whining and managing the guilt.
I said that only 10 per cent of people with a book inside them ever start one. Well, I suspect that only 10 per cent of those ever finish writing that book, and only 10 per cent of those ever get published, and (unless they’re Catholics and so have many cousins) only 10 per cent of those make any money from it, and only 10 per cent of those are happy with their success. The money-making, published 90 per cent are seldom satisfied: the reviews are not quite warm enough. The sales are not expanding as they’d wish. Their agent hasn’t sold the latest book in South Korea. The bubble is about to burst. The writer is bitter, scared and miserable. Well, you can do the math, as irritating people say. You have a one-in-10,000 chance of being the single contented smiler on the books page of a national daily. The odds are long and stacked against you. The hurdles on the course (please stop me now) are improbably high. But still you want to cross the line in first place. You have no choice. Your nature drives you on.
Thomas Mann defined a good writer as “somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people”. And that’s because a good writer does not want to compromise. But if it were easy to write a worthwhile book then everybody would be published – and then, I suppose, nobody would want to be.
But those are only an aperitif. Here are the links. Kick back and enjoy!
Author photo: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0