Monday, 29 June 2009

A Hand-Made Cart

A few nights ago I dreamed I was pushing a wooden cart festooned with ballons through a crowded street. It was a rather makeshift cart. I’d obviously knocked it together myself and it rattled precariously along the cobbled streets. But it stayed in one piece. Unfortunately, everybody else seemed to be going in the opposite direction so it was very difficult to make progress. I had to be polite but very determined.

I was asked to give a talk to some aspiring authors recently about making a career as a writer. I was tempted to tell them about my dream because that’s exactly what being a professional writer can seem like sometimes. But in the end I didn’t because I thought it might be too discouraging.

Instead, I stuck to practical stuff. I tried to emphasise that writing is a long game. A lot of first time authors get absolutely stuck on their first manuscript. They have spent so long slaving away at it that they become fixated with it. They reach a point where, instead of changing their manuscript so that publishers will want to buy it, they want publishers to change so that they will recognises the brilliance of their manuscript.

When that doesn’t happen they become embittered and an embittered author is an ugly thing. Consequently agents, editors, even friends shy away and the embittered author becomes isolated. He comforts himself by repeating commonly held myths about publishing such as, you have to know people to get published.

But it isn’t true. You don’t have to know someone. What you have to do to get published is write a book that people will want to read. And if you don’t achieve that with your first manuscript, then forget it and start on another. Remember, even if that first manuscript had got published, you would still have to write another. You are always going to have to write another. That’s what being an author is all about.

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