I’m almost tempted to begin this with that quotation from Hamlet about there being something rotten in the state of Denmark.
You see, over the last week, I’ve been reading quite a bit about writing. There’s something quite fascinating about how writers do it – how they make the magic that is their stories – and there’s always that thought, lurking at the back of the mind, that perhaps if you knew how they do, then you might be able to too.
Quite apart from all the writing magazines I’ve gathered, I’ve been reading two very interesting books about life and writing by two vastly different authors: Terry Pratchett, with his A Slip of the Keyboard, and Stephen King, with his On Writing. I recommend them both to anyone interested.
And then, today, in The Guardian, there was a Q&A with two top-selling self-published authors, Adam Croft and Rachel Abbott.
There’s an interesting contrast in the advice between the two, although, of course, the Q&A is more focused as a How-to thing, being titled How to Succeed as a Self-Published Author (and so full of lots of marketing tips), and King’s at least being about writing. Pratchett’s is, mostly, a collection of the articles and essays he wrote over his career as a writer, some about writing, others about the right to die, and at least one about orung-utans.
The title of this small post of mine comes from one of the answers given on the Q&A. The question was about the survival of literary fiction, pointing out that the most successful self-published books are psychological thrillers/murder mysteries or erotica. One of the answers contained these sentences:
“In the end, it’s the readers who choose. We can sit and talk all day about the quality of writing, prose and all of that nonsense, but if the readers don’t want it, what can you do?”
Must admit, I’m not sure why psychological thrillers/murder mysteries (two separate genres, surely?) and erotica can’t be of good quality and have decent prose. I’m also concerned that such things should be termed nonsense – I don’t care so much about whether a book is self or traditionally published, as long as it is well-turned-out and the writing is of high quality. I’ll accept the easier novels on lazier days. But not Dan Brown or James Patterson or EL James. They’re all a step too low.
King talked of writers having a tool-box, in which one kept the tools indispensable to a writer’s life, the most important being vocabulary and grammar. Unless it’s an adverb. King doesn’t like them. Pratchett, while suggesting that grammar, punctuation and spelling have something to do it it, preferred to give advice on how to be a professional boxer, and then saying that writing is basically the same thing, except it isn’t boxing. He talked of the importance of practising, watching your footwork, studying other boxers, and a good diet. Actually, the most important tip I took away from Pratchett’s book was this: Have fun with your writing. Do it because you enjoy it.
And yes, it is the readers who choose if it’s good enough to buy, but the authors can always start by offering something which is well-written and structurally sound. And you don’t have to be traditionally published to write just such a book. There’s plenty of dross published by the big publishing houses, after all.
I like the nonsense of quality writing and prose (I wonder what else falls under that umbrella?) – do you?