Monday, 24 May 2010

Luck and laziness

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?

Good luck.


  1. A fantastic week indeed, Bill. But you deserve it. And I so agree with your final paragraph. No work gets published by languishing in a computer file. More power to your pen, or keyboard.

  2. Sounds like a great week, but thank you for turning it into encouragement for your readers. I'm still in shock at winning a competition and getting a contract for an e-book. Wonder if I can make my sons laugh - no grandsons yet.

  3. Rosemary, I had your blog and your recent successes in mind as I wrote the last bit. You're a perfect example of a writer who makes it happen. I don't know how to put a link to your site in this comment but for those who want to hear about market opportunities and other writing tips, you can visit Rosemary at

    Sheila, Great news. Congratulations on the win and the contract. As for parents making kids laugh - most of them are suckers for funny voices and total absurdity. And you could always threaten them - 'If you don't laugh, you'll go straight to your room' - that sort of thing.

  4. That was awfy kind of you, Bill, thank you!

  5. Bill, Sharing your success isn't boasting--it's a way of sharing positive news and giving encouragement. I'm always pleased to hear about another writer's successes: thanks for your inspiration.

    (P.S. What does "solipsistic" mean, anyway? Maybe when I'm as successful as you, I'll have a better vocabulary!)

  6. Oh, forgot to mention I like the cover!

  7. Linda, I agree. It's always struck me how friendly and helpful most other writers are, even though in theory they're competitors in a market that keeps getting harder.

    Solipsism is, basically, extreme egoism and self-absorption. It's a philosophy that suggests that the only thing that exists is the self.

    It's also the sort of word that you can drop into conversations as if you said it every day - all part of the Nonsense Generator process.

  8. Congratulations on the new book. I wish it had come out sooner. I just wrote an article about good how-to writing books last week for Murderous Musings.

    All the great "Highs" you mention that keep a writer writing are only surpassed by receiving prestigious awards, making the bestseller's list or having one of your books rated number one on both your publisher's ratings and sales charts. Pretty heady stuff and the carrots that lure us on. :)

  9. Thanks Jean. Yes, I read your piece on the 'how to' books. Mine does have chapters on writing but it's about many other student skills, too, so it wouldn't really have been right for your list. But I do appreciate you thinking you might have recommended it.

    As for your remarks about awards, best-seller lists, etc. - I'll have to take your word for that; it's not part of my experience.


  10. I've just read somewhere else a great quote, which I thought suited this posting beautifully:

    “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs,” said Howard Thurman. “Ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

    If writing is what makes us come alive, we simply have no choice. :)

  11. I know nothing about being on the bestseller list or receiving prestigious awards, either, Bill. My only experiences with awards have come from state writers groups and press women journalism awards. Nothing to brag about. But some writers do dream about the big ones, which I know I'll never win. The joy is in the writing!

  12. I like the quote you posted, Scary. May I borrow it for my Facebook page?:

  13. Great quote, Scary, and I'm flattered you associate it with this posting.

    Jean, when Spielberg phones me and we've finished our negotiations, I'll give him your contact details.

  14. Bill, Isn't "yet" a beautiful word? I so love hope and the power of positive thinking.

    Scary, What a wonderful quote! Thanks for sharing.

    Jean, I don't think any award or recognition lacks prestige because it's not the NYT bestseller list, although that is the ultimate. Just think, if someone gave you an award, that means several someones thought your work made a difference in their lives. Which means you're a success as a writer. Isn't making a difference the goal of all writers?

  15. Good point, Linda. Even hearing just one person say they enjoyed one of your books is a bonus - as long as they did actually read it and they're not just saying it. I'm lucky - my glass has always been half-full.

  16. You must have seen my post last week. Sorry I didn't see this earlier, my slow internet was at a stand still until Wednesday afternoon. You deserve the wonderful weekend and good things happening. How - HOW can you possibly call yourself lazy? (I saved Scary's quote, too. Marvelous.)

    I'm so glad you posted this. I had a hard but rewarding week reworking one of my previous manuscripts. It convinced me it's worth salvaging. I had given up too soon on it. Writing and rewriting are hard but to keep persevering is the toughest.

  17. I agree, Marley, and even though it's hard work, there are those moments when you suddenly see why something didn't work before and the solution jumps out of nowhere. That's often happened to me and made me wonder why the hell I didn't see the solution in the first place. It certainly beats the deadening effect of the 9 to 5 job. (On the other hand, the 9 to 5 may be tediously predictable but then so is the money it generates.)