As if

‘I’d like to write a novel; I just don’t have the time.’ How many times have you heard that one and gnashed your teeth? As if writing a novel is that easy and all you need to perfect the art is the time to do it. Would they say the same to the doctor they meet at a party? ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to be a heart surgeon, but I just haven’t got the time.’ Sounds ridiculous in that context, doesn’t it? And what about the financial markets?  We’d all be millionaires if we only had the time to play the stock market.

I don’t think so. These aren’t pastimes you pick up on a whim. They are professions that take dedication, practice, and, dare I say it, talent. You’ll never be a concert pianist (as I know to my cost) unless you practice, but more importantly, you’ll never get off the starting blocks without some innate talent.

Writing is the same. It’s a vocation, whether you’re getting paid for it or not. It’s a need.

Successful writers, and I include the unpublished along with the published in this description, have completed their novel, story, epic poem, whatever, by dint of their hard work, by refusing invitations, by meeting deadlines, by making sacrifices. By getting up in the early hours to avoid the children and the telephone; by squeezing in a few minutes of thinking time between the school run and the job in order to work out that difficult plot; by volunteering at the local hospice to find out what goes on so they won’t give an inaccurate picture when they set their story there.

They’ve got imagination in bucket loads; aptitude, flair and talent. These people who think that they could do the same, if only they had the time, crease me up. Do me a favour.

An equal number of people, on finding out that I write, have told me that one day they’ll get round to writing their autobiography, because ‘I’ve had a very interesting life and everyone says I should write about it. It should sell really well.’

My advice:  don’t bother. Unless your family and friends run into the thousands and they’ve all promised to buy a copy, you’ll never make any money. No one else will be interested. Believe me, your life would need to have been very exciting indeed, include some famous personalities in risqué circumstances, and be so traumatic it appeals to the misery memoir sector, before it would find a market.

Fictionalising your memoirs might be a way forward if it’s fame and wealth you’re after. At least that way the bad guys may not recognise themselves, a point worth considering if there’s a possibility you might get sued. And when the action starts to flag you can make the rest up

In these days of e-publishing, it’s perfectly possible to write about your life and print a few copies for your family, but please don’t inflict it on the rest of us. Am I being too harsh? Too cynical? Or just realistic?


12 thoughts on “As if

  1. I don’t think you’re being “too” anything. I’m working on a rewrite of my fourth book. Two of my books were memoires I co-authored for people who led very notable lives. In their cases, they had stories to tell but knew they didn’t have the means to tell them. They paid me to do it. After doing two projects like this, I can’t say I wouldn’t ever do another, but I’d either have to get paid more, or I’d have to really, really want the job. I’ve learned that ghost writing is a difficult and painful job.

    The other two books, including the one I’m still rewriting, are fiction. The fiction are the stories I feel like I have to tell. The ones I spend most of my free time working on.

    Since my first book was published, I can’t tell you how many people have asked me how to get started. How to get started? If you have to ask that question, I don’t think you’re ready. If you have the call to write anything, the question would be more like, how do I stop?

    • I think you have it in the word ‘notable’. The people I’m talking about are just ordinary folk who think their lives are so interesting that everyone else will be similarly enthralled. Presumably, if someone has got to the stage of employing a ghost writer they must be convinced their story is powerful enough to move and engage others. Or maybe they’ve just got pots of money. Interesting that you describe the job as difficult and painful.

      I agree with you about starting out – it was never a question I asked myself. When the muse descended I was powerless to avoid it. But I often get asked
      about my subject matter and how I choose what to write about. Make no mistake, it chooses me.

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  2. It makes me mad when people say that to me. “If only I didn’t work, I could write a novel” Yes, and I could become a brain surgeon if I had the time. It’s condescending and rude. You are not being too harsh at all. It makes me insides crease up when I hear it.

    • Exactly. It does make me laugh. I work full time and manage to find the time to write – that’s because it’s a compulsion. All other activities have to wait for their turn.

  3. It annoys me a little because I think I’ve got talent (but then so do they) – so it sort of ‘commonifies it’. But then, it doesn’t matter if people write and no one reads it, or just their friends – it doesn’t hurt anyone, not even writers who CAN actually write.

    • You’re right, it does no harm but it’s the assumption that writing is easy and all you need is time that’s patronising. Everyone who’s been to school can string a sentence together (I hope!), but can they write something that anyone else would actually want to read? That’s where the talent comes in. 🙂

  4. No, you’re not too harsh at all. If time was the only factor needed to write “successfully,” we’d have all been crushed years ago by the weight of books and magazines.

    Unwavering desire and a fair amount of talent are the basic requirements. We can find more time. We can improve with practice. But desire is there or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, all the time in the world won’t get that book written.

    • When I was learning to play the piano, I didn’t improve fast enough and decided to stop trying. When I talked to a piano-playing friend he said simply, ‘maybe you don’t want to play enough’. It’s stuck with me ever since. He was right – I didn’t want it enough to move heaven and earth to get it.

  5. I fully agree with you. It takes a lot more than time. It also takes more than hard work alone. The hard work is necessary, but will not get you there without ability. I think also that anyone who thinks they are going to make money by writing a memoir or a novel is being a bit unrealistic. Even if you have talent, making money from a book is not easy.

  6. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve looked at me in frank amazement when I’ve told them that I write. Then they change the subject…always a good sign. 🙂

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