Scribbling Hard

A lot of people want to write. A lot of people think they can write, as in the sense of producing fiction or non-fiction. (declaration of interest – I’m one of them) A lot of people think their writing deserves to be published.

But it’s not easy. And in our society where instant gratification of desires is becoming the norm, this can be a problem for our prospective authors. Despite the enormous number of books published every year, there are double, ten, a hundred times that number of people with completed manuscripts they want to see in print.

The situation is not helped by silly proverbs such as ‘everyone’s got a book in them’, or by the fact that these days most people have a computer, or access to one, which renders the production of said book significantly easier than say, thirty years ago. Before computers and word processing software, the production of multiple copies of a manuscript required a huge effort. Not so today: while the effort needed to produce the first copy remains the same, a click on the print icon can produce any number of other copies.

But despite this, few are successful in their quest, as editors such as Teresa Nielsen Hayden acknowledge. Some fall like ripe plums into the grasp of the scam publishers in the same way they have always done, except these days it needn’t cost them as much. The scam publishers have moved with the times and gone digital, tarring a whole technology with the epithet of vanity.

But while more people seek publication, it’s becoming harder to make a living from writing as publishers delete the mid-list and the only guarantee of publication is a former existence as a z-list celebrity. Perhaps there’s a link between the decrease in the ability of authors to make a living from their published work and the increase in size of the creative writing industry providing other work for them. But many writers whose sales have flat-lined must find it a godsend.

There are magazines, webzines, websites, subscription only web-based writing groups, forums and directories. A quick google will find correspondence courses, web courses, college courses, residential courses, short courses, long courses, weekly courses, writing weekends, courses in France, in Greece, in Italy, not to forget academic courses – MAs, MLitts and Phds. And none of them guarantee anything except how to become a better writer. Thirty years ago the only university in the UK that offered an MA in Creative Writing was East Anglia. Today no university worth its External Subject Review fails to offer such a cash cow, because they’re not cheap.

This industry has grown up to meet a demand, but I do wonder how many of the people who attend these courses and are subsequently published, would have achieved publication anyway. There’s no way to tell.

And I haven’t even mentioned the library’s worth of volumes published on the subject of getting published or how to write: how to write romance, screenplays and crime: how to construct your plot, devise your characters, sell your bestseller, and if all else fails, publish yourself.

I don’t know whether to be depressed or encouraged.

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4 responses to “Scribbling Hard

  1. I know someone who did a creative writing course as a first degree at University, and got thoroughly discouraged. He got fewer hours of tuition than in conventional subjects; the tutors, I gather, were pleasant enough, but ultimately not much use. He passed, but by the end had decided not to become a writer anyway. He’s now got a job in the electronics industry, for which his degree is irrelevant.
    I think he’d have been better off studying a subject that told him interesting things about the world, rather than one that just gave him practice in writing (which many students manage to do in their spare time, anyway).
    I’d say that the best training for a writer is to see a bit of life, anbd to read outside what’s currently fashionable.

  2. What on earth’s the point in doing creative writing as a first degree? Wouldn’t it be much better to do English? I wholeheartedly agree that life experience is a far better teacher than a university for writing.

  3. I did English for a first degree (Applied Linguistics at post-graduate) and even though teaching English as a Second Language is looked down upon as a “career”, I’ve had tons of funny/great/sad/weird/scary experiences. I would never have studied Creative Writing, neither would I ever want to “work in publishing” which seems to be the other way people get published nowadays (apart from being a z-list celebrity).

    I had been thinking along the same lines as you, about how depressingly lucrative the “get published” industry has become. I’ve just had a near miss with an apparent “agent” who turned out to be a scammer, and it irritates me that wherever a person has a hope or aspiration there seems to be a corresponding person ready to profit from that.

    My goal nowadays is to write and to write well. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care whether or not my books were published, but being published is no longer my top priority. I believe my writing has improved since I made this decision, and I am no longer so desperate that I will be the ripe plum that falls into the faux agent’s hands.

    By the way, off topic, but at the Edinburgh Fringe a street performing comedian decided to make me the focus of his act when I walked past him and refused to smile at his prejudiced jokes. What is Edinburgh like at this time of year?!

  4. My goal nowadays is to write and to write well.

    My goal too. Still hopeful of publication though, if not with the novel I’m shopping around at the moment, then the next one. It’s better after all.

    Edinburgh doubles its population at this time of year, so it’s not normally as busy. All the street theatre can be fun for a while, but if you’ve seen it all before it can get old very quickly. Like me probably. 🙂

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