I’ve often referred to my laziness and some of you have suggested I’m not really lazy at all. But I am, and yet what I’m going to write about will seem to contradict that. Let’s deal with all that first.
It’s been one of those weeks that make being a writer very satisfying. I at last made myself stop researching the sequel to The Figurehead and decided to start writing it. Then came the good news I wrote about in the last blog – the publisher’s interest in my sci-fi/fantasy short stories and the arrival of the proofs of The Figurehead. Next, on Thursday evening, the reading went well and, if I’d had copies available, I’d have sold several. But, that aside, it’s always nice to be at events which feature readers and celebrate the activity of reading.
This brought me neatly to Friday morning – the day I was due to set off for Glasgow for the weekend of my grandson’s 5th birthday. Just before I left, a parcel arrived. There were a couple of things I was expecting, neither relating to writing, so I was surprised and delighted to find it contained my author’s copies of Brilliant Study Skills – a classy, beautifully presented book which, to people who don’t know me, might convey an impression of respectability and gravitas. I barely had time to glance at it before going to get the train.
After a relaxing, sunny day in Glasgow, I checked emails and, to ratchet up the delight another notch, there was one from the publishers of Brilliant Study Skills with a commission to write two more books in the series – on writing essays and dissertations. I’d discussed this with them before so it wasn’t a surprise but, coming on top of the other things, it had a ‘too good to be true’ quality to it. I have to deliver them by the end of September, so that prevents me indulging in my usual procrastination.
My two grandsons aren’t impressed by any of this; their critical evaluation of me as a writer depends upon whether I can make them laugh when they come into my bed in the mornings. Needless to say, their laughter isn’t provoked by elegant turns of phrase or subtly nuanced linguistic and thematic juxtapositions but by me doing funny voices and creating characters who live inside walls or have two mouths so that they can talk and eat simultaneously. (This particular detail involved an interesting sub-plot about the anatomical separation of vocal chords and alimentary canal and, if the listeners had had their way, would also have necessitated an exploration of what happened at the rectal end of the process.)
So it’s been a lovely week followed by a happy, relaxing weekend.
Now, after such a long introduction which looks suspiciously like boasting, what’s the connection with laziness? Simple. Laziness for me is avoiding things I don’t want to do. Writing is a pleasure, even when it’s challenging. I actually enjoy it so I don’t seek to avoid it. Writing commercial stuff is different – that’s something I do to earn money. I do it conscientiously but without enthusiasm and when the work dries up in the lean periods, I’m actually pleased.
But there’s a wider, less solipsistic point to this, too. When lots of ‘results’ of this sort come together, it feels like (and in part it is) luck. But it has to be put in the context of the many weeks or months of ‘lucklessness’ which preceded it. We get pleasure out of writing, we work at it, cut, edit, polish, to make it as good as we can, and we send it away hoping that it reaches someone who appreciates it and recognises its quality. So when we get the usual rejection slip or, worse, no acknowledgement at all, we’re deflated, and it’s easy to start wondering whether we’re deluding ourselves and should maybe start a paper round or a window cleaning business.
No. Keep writing, keep submitting material. Rework it, resubmit it because, yes, in the present market you need luck but (cliché alert) you make your own. If you stop writing and submitting you’ll never get lucky. I know, that’s so obvious it’s hardly worth stating, but it’s too easy to start thinking it’s all a waste of time. It isn’t. Look back over material you may have forgotten, look at it critically, amend it if necessary, and start sending it away again. All the frustrations vanish when you get that letter of interest or acceptance, or you hold that precious book.
Only one way for me to end this, isn’t there?