Sunday, 25 January 2009

Is it worth it?


It's funny how the idea for a blog post develops. Last time I mentioned how, if I were an agent, I might bin a submission because the writer had the same name as an ex-boyfriend. So that got me thinking about crappy ex-boyfriends, and that made me remember the time one of them informed me “you just haven't got the guts and determination to become a professional actress.”

This pronouncement could have been hideously wounding. In fact, it probably would have been, if I'd ever harboured the remotest desire to be a professional actress.

I quite liked amateur dramatics. I'd go in for one or two plays a year, and even “starred” in a soap opera on the university radio station. But that was about it. I had no hankering after Hollywood or the RSC. Neither have plenty of other people involved with theatre clubs. To most outside observers (dickweed boyfriends excepted) am-dram is an acceptable hobby, both for those who are brilliant at it and those who, frankly, aren't.

The same doesn't seem to be true of writing. The moment you blushingly admit that you enjoy penning the occasional short story ... or worse, that you're a member of a writers' group ... or far, far worse, that you've got the nerve to be working on a novel, it's pressure time:

So, have you had anything published?

Oh. Well, d'you think you'll try and get published?

So, you're going to be the next J.K. Rowling, eh?

Mind you, it's very difficult to be a writer, love. You have to be really good to get published. Don't get your hopes up, will you?

It's all right to take part in a local panto without everyone thinking you fancy yourself as Nicole Kidman. You can sing along to Abba in the car, and people don't start smirking about how you haven't got a record deal. You can enjoy a round of golf without anyone adopting a serious expression and saying “What makes you think you're as good as Tiger Woods?”

Writing is different. Increasingly, there's a sense that it's not an interest but an ambition; something not worth doing unless publication – and preferably mega-deal publication with a major publisher – is within reach. Both on and offline, I'm noticing more and more people saying they'd like to have a go at writing, but they're not sure if there is much point when there's no guarantee of success.

Arguably some of those people don't really want to write, in which case, fine – there's no law that says they have to. To the genuine but uncertain ones, however, I say it is worth trying – very much worth trying – for its own sake, not because of what the future might hold.

If writing proves a source of strange inner excitement, if it plunges you into a different existence, if your characters become more real than the shop customers or office boss you have to deal with every day, then it's worth doing. If it makes you look at the red clock-numbers at 3:56am and smile because there are still two whole hours of thinking-time left, if it makes you look forward to getting back to it, if it's the only chance you've ever had to create something that no one else can control, then it's worth the effort. If it makes you feel as though you've said something, when everyone always thought you had nothing to say, then yes, it's worth it. And, even though it would be more highbrow of me to lament that writing is agony, actually, a lot of the time it's very good fun.

So, to any potential new writers who have stumbled on this blog looking for info on whether there's any point: yes there is! Give it a try. Don't be deterred just because someone (a dur-brained soon-to-be-ex, for example) has made you feel that anything short of JKR fame isn't good enough.


(Thank you to Adam Ciesielski for the photo.)

17 comments:

Mummy said...

Lovely post, I really enjoyed reading that. And I agree completely. It's more important to write for yourself. If you enjoy it that's wonderful - if others do, that's a bonus!

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

I did stumble upon this blog last week and avidly follow it. You all make such good sense and it is encouraging to read something quite so inspiring. I love writing and of course I have the next 'blockbuster' ambling around in my head! I can say that the posts on here have given me a great jolt just to crack on writing and stop procrastinating - I have a double first in that!

Ta, great blog.

Geraldine Ryan said...

You're so right about this, Caro - funny how I've never thought about it before. People also paint and draw solely for their own pleasure too or play the piano. But write? I'm not sure I'd do it if no one was reading it though, if I'm one hundred per cent honest. But then I'm just a show off!

Samantha Tonge said...

All you say is very true, Caroline.
I don't seek fame and fortune from my writing, but i would like, one day, to have an audience other than my family and cat:) That, for me, would make it really worthwhile.

But yes, it takes a lot to beat the excitement of a new plot or piece of prose you've managed to perfect to your own satisfaction.

Good post.

Sam x

CarolineG said...

Was just about to write 'what a lovely post' and saw Mummy had beaten me to it. I really enjoyed reading that, Caro. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that publication isn't everything.

Poppy said...

Fantastic post. And I totally agree. I've always known I like writing for its own sake. Unfortunately for me, I'd also now like to get published some day (though no rush). But it's the process that's most fun - in the way you describe so well.

So far I'm lucky that I haven't really had those ridiculous 'so, are you going to be the next JKR?' conversations. I suppose I don't talk about writing much to people who aren't involved themselves in some way, even though i made the decision a while ago not to try and keep it a secret any more.

Gillian McDade said...

So true Caroline! Write for yourself. And for me, it's almost like an addiction, as is reading.

Of course to have a book on Amazon or in Waterstones is an extra bonus :)

Caroline Rance said...

Oh, thank you everyone! I was a bit nervous that this post wasn't up to standard and would let Strictly down ... typical writerly insecurities strike again!

BeckyC said...

If/when you do get published, it doesn't get any better. I am still informed approximately once a week that I am going to be the new JKR, regardless of the fact that a) I write depressing books for adults, and b) they will thus never sell millions of copies and appear on the front of T-shirts. Totally agree that writing for the love of it is the only possible starting point.

susie said...

That was a really inspiring post, Caro. Your own passion and commitment shine through it and I hope will encourage others to feel the same. It IS really hard to face those monotonously regular questions about publication - and especially hard to come up with any kind of satisfactory answer. Only other writers understand.
Susiex

francine said...

For years my friends kept asking "have you finished your book yet?" and I found it very embarrassing saying NO. Now, I have finished it and they have stopped asking "have you had any luck getting an agent?" They seem to find it embarrassing being told "NO".
I wrote it for the 'cathartic effect' it would have on me. Yeah, Yeah, I wrote it hoping it would be grabbed by a very wise agent who would get me film rights, maybe a series on television. I am sure my book is better than most soaps are!
But it is my baby, I will say that, won't I?
So if it was carthatic, can I ask for anything more. I did it, didnt' I. I know that. Do I need to make it public? (YES, YES, YES)

bfs ~ "Mimi" said...

Appreciated your candor! Amen to all of it! ;=)

Rosy T said...

Great post, Caro - heck, yes, why can't writing be just for pleasure, and any ambition we may have be strictly a private matter? Let's take the pressure off ourselves and just ENJOY what we do!

Luisa said...

I loved this post and that's an excellent point you make about writing for its own sake!

ireneintheworld said...

very good post caro. a fabulous read. x

Caroline Rance said...

Thank you all for such lovely comments!

Emily Gale said...

What a good post - loved it.

And yes, the JK Rowling thing - grrrrr! I wonder what people said before JK Rowling existed...