Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The State of the Writing Thing

There's a lot going on in the publishing industry at the moment, and when I look at the traditional presses, I feel only one thing: despair. Recently, I attended a South African literary festival that had a pop-up shop. The most prominently displayed books that apparently *everyone* was talking about were roughly divided across the politics and celebrity crime topics. Nelson Mandela's autobiography stood cheek by jowl with Oscar Pistorius ... Actually, a whole passel of books about the crime. [YAWNS] And if my memory serves me correct, there were a few other real-life political and legal "thrillers" there too. By that time, however, my eyes had glazed over.

Today I saw that a certain author whose BDSM trilogy, which had started life as fanfiction, but after a little dentistry to remove fangs and be presented as another beast entirely, has just announced the release of a regurgitation the story from the love interest's point of view. I felt only one thing: despair.

I review books. I'm one of those reviewers who gives indie press and author-published works a chance, and I can assure you there are more gems hidden among the dross there – provided you are willing to dig a little, that is, and overlook the odd typo or dropped word.

Eventually Nerine did see her books in print.
Which now brings me to my own writing. The past decade has been interesting. I first tried to write short stories. They were... less than successful. I see that now and fully understand why I could paper my entire bedroom wall with rejection slips received so many form rejections. But I got better. I started a writers' group (that is still going), and I practised and practised and practised.

When a good writer friend of mine said harsh things about my writing, I didn't burn her with fire curl up and die in a corner, I applied what I'd learnt to the next draft. Eventually I sold my first novel. Granted, it was to an indie press, but there I had a brilliant editor, who taught me so much about how to approach the editing process. She also helped prune away those bad habits.

I worked hard over the next few years. There were some successes. There were still many more rejections. But the fact was that every time I had one of those successes, I climbed that mountain a little further. Found yet another false summit to surpass, and continue working.

Yet now I've reached the point where I don't see a way forward anymore. The industry in general is so fixated on producing what it *thinks* will sell, that I see so many brilliant voices who've been travelling with me, go unsung or relegated to the backwaters while books that pander to trends or get overhyped for whatever reason, get all the limelight. (The good books are invariably on the bottom shelf.)

And now I sound like a hard-done-by creep.

But jawellnofine, I guess I'm just tired of trying. At this moment in time I'm finding it really hard to summon excitement for my writing when I see what I'm up against, that the good books by awesome authors that I love, get relegated to that bottom shelf.

I'm honest. My stories are strange. They'll only ever appeal to a small circle of rabid readers because the subject matter doesn't conform to what the general consensus wants. (And if I look at what the general consensus laps up, I despair, in any case).

So, I'm going to talk to any authors who feel like I do right now. Writing needs to be fun again. What got you writing in the first place? Write stories for yourself. Case in point: the stories I've been writing for Storm Constantine's Wraeththu Mythos for inclusion in her anthologies have been a breath of life for my writing. It's gotten me writing fanfiction again, which I did this Saturday when I could no longer work and didn't feel like watching telly. I've been reading fanfiction, and seeing how the authors just ENJOY their art and simply TELL STORIES. They don't do this for any expectations other than to entertain. It was good to be reminded of that again. Writing is fun.

And my writing? My novel, The Company of Birds, is probably never going to be of interest to the bigger publishers. I'm not losing sleep over it either. I'm writing this story because it has elements in it that *I* want to read. I'm not stressed about publishing it, because I know that it has a home with one of my publishers, should the agent query mill not succeed. Basically, I've stopped caring about trying to live up to the expectations. I'm writing this story because it makes *me* happy, and if it makes *me* happy, then there are chances it might please a few of my readers.

I'm not doing this for the money. I already have a day job, on top of freelance editing and writing that together bring in more money than my fiction ever has supplied. I'm okay with that. It means that I'm not under any pressure to conform to anyone's expectations but my own.

And that's something that I needed to remind myself of today.


  1. Some of the best advice I have heard in a while. The best we can do is write what makes us happy.

  2. I sometimes wonder if the public only lap up what we see them buying because it's what is actually available, if that makes sense? When you look at stuff like Harry Potter or Narnia, and how popular those are, The Guardian's Wyrd totally stacks up alongside them. I suppose the problem is, as it always has been, exposure, and in such a crowded marketplace, how do you get people to find your own work? Word of mouth is key but it's so difficult to get people to recommend stuff they like without asking them to. Maybe author co-operatives where we all recommend each other's work are the way forward since it's easier to promote someone else's work than your own.