“if he has to write, why then he writes…” This is roughly what my penultimate agent, Bill Clegg, had to say on the subject. This is not so much the romantic point of view as the addict’s point of view. Anyone familiar with the world of publishing will know that it’s bullshit. The writer who is literally an addict, the writer who can’t help himself, the writer who HAS to write, can never be anything but an amateur, because the industry requires the professional to put writing on hold not just for a day or two, or a week, but for years.
Jonathan Galassi is on record as saying that Jonathan Franzen is the most important writer of his generation. Franzen says he has done no writing for TWO YEARS. Well, of course. Franzen is a pro. Freedom had to go through the machine that turns a manuscript into an artifact; Franzen then had to do a roadshow to shift copies of the artifact. The fact that his editor saw him as the most important writer of his generation did not mean that his editor thought his time would better be spent (gasp) writing — that a single appearance on Oprah, for instance, would suffice.
Jaimy Gordon won the National Book Award last year, because Bruce Ferguson submitted the ms of Lord of Misrule. Gordon is 65; she had been teaching full time. Making the finals got her a hot shot agent, an extra $100,000 if she won. She won. The prize, a chance to join the pros. Not to WRITE — only an amateur would expect to use the money to squander the anointed talent on a new book. No, being the Winner meant she could spend a year on publicity, shifting copies of the artifact.
If you literally HAVE to write, you can’t be a pro. By ‘literally’ I mean that you have quit your job, you are using all your money and time to write, get an offer of publication, can just possibly remain sane for 2 weeks of the drudgery of seeing a finished book into print before returning to work in progress; if you are promised editorial comments in a week and get them in two months, you jump off a cliff, throw yourself in front a train. That’s if you LITERALLY have to write. If you HAVE to write, in other words, you’re the kind of writer who is ‘impossible to deal with.’ So you can’t be a pro.
The writers whose work is published are all writers who can somehow manage NOT to write for months, even years. There may be writers who HAVE to write, but if there are we never see their books: no agent would touch them. Mainstream publishers only accept submissions from agents. Indie publishers don’t pay the kind of money that would enable a writer to do nothing but write. Mainstream publishers pay money that could buy time, but won’t let the writer use the time. So the system selects for the writer who doesn’t HAVE to write.
I find it hard enough to understand why agents and editors act in bad faith; can’t at all understand why a writer would do so."
jonathanbogart said: Not sure this holds true for non-“literary” writing. Twilight, 50 Shades, etc., strike me v. much as the product of compulsion, and of course supermarket fiction writers don’t have to tour.
Yup. Over the past 12 years of having a day job as a bookseller, I’ve gotten to know quite a few writers of midlist/genre fiction, and while they do tend to tour and/or do appearances at conventions at least occasionally, most of the ones I know do not spend more than a week or two a year away from home doing promotional work. And even when they’re doing work like that, they’re still bringing the tools of their trade along, and spending a few hours of downtime a day cranking out work.
So yeah, I think this quote is really only true for writers who want to be part of the high-end frontlist literary fiction world. Writers like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and John Grisham are but a few of the many who’d probably tell you that, if you sacrifice the opportunity for critical plaudits that come along with it, you can make quite a decent living, and you’ll get to spend a lot more time writing, if you just stay out of that environment entirely.
(Plus, there’s way more room in the book world for writers like Nora Roberts than for writers like Jonathan Franzen, so your odds of succeeding are a lot better that way anyway.)
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- jonathanbogart said: Not sure this holds true for non-“literary” writing. Twilight, 50 Shades, etc., strike me v. much as the product of compulsion, and of course supermarket fiction writers don’t have to tour.
- michelledean posted this