Back to Basics: I, Wordbot – or, who is the author anyway?

Okay. So, you’ve started writing – let’s say, something.

Where do you see this expedition taking you, as an individual?

To the Oscars? To the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards? To a disciplinary at work? To the headmaster’s office?*

*Usually if you start by penning your work of genius on the walls and furniture.

A few writers do well. A few do very well indeed.

For the majority though, it’s the worst hourly rate anyone could wish for.

What person in their right mind spends 17 hours a day for weeks/months/years on a soul-baring project, for the small chance of grossing $10 from Amazon Kindle in the first fiscal year after publication?

  • Do you visualise yourself turning into a 24-hour book-pimping machine once you’ve completed the fun part (viz, writing the story)?
  • Do you plan to change the world by preaching your message to the masses with the concise summation of “Buy my book! And write me a review!”
  • Do you want social conversations around you to gravitate away from the fondly-remembered “What are you up to nowadays?” and more towards “Do you know, I have no time to read anything anymore. I can’t even keep up with the latest Terry Pratchett and Jeremy Clarkson…”

Perhaps there’s something to be said for keeping your new hobby a secret. That way, you can succeed or fail in private.

Maybe analyse your reasons for writing. Do you desire to be a more interesting or worthy person? Instead of inventing interesting and worthy characters, maybe go out into the world and do some volunteering. Or take up an adult education class.

People write for many reasons. Catharsis and therapy, for their own entertainment, because they simply can’t find books to read that they identify with… to learn, to share, to teach, to excavate old personal bones of contention, or to throw light on dark corners of their life. Some of those dark corners seem to contain many heaps of used tissues. Remember, what makes you happy (or sad) may not be viewed the same way by everyone.

Anyway. Selling is a different job altogether, and if you don’t see yourself as a salesman (I’m certainly not one) by all means write – but don’t let the business of being ‘an author’ take away the enjoyment of writing. Just write, publish, and move on.

Being an author doesn’t have to define you. Again, rather like that thing what may merely light your own candle in fiction being the complete witch-trial pyre in other people’s minds and cultures – what you picture the job description of ‘author’ representing in your own mind, may manifest itself differently in other people’s.

When I was very young, someone made it clear to me that their idea of a writer was a useless bum with no skills whatsoever. My own idea of a writer was Barbara Cartland in a pink frilly dress writing about men in tights and ladies swooning, or possibly Clive Barker with a pint of snakebite and blackcurrant, writing about dead things and the afterlife. But the thought of being useless and having no skills was also taken on board, and I’m proud to say I have avoided gaining any of the skills that I should have supposedly gained by not writing. I found that the opportunity to learn more interesting skills came my way instead.

Writing shouldn’t be your excuse for avoiding life, but rather a way of expressing your experiences and philosophies of it. If you don’t have any experiences that you want to write about, and can’t manifest them (either legally or physically, such as sprouting wings), like the best of us, make them up – but it’s your own slant and viewpoints which will tell your readers who you are, through the medium of your characters.

So let’s talk about the taboo subject of authorial leakage. Unintentionally, or otherwise, what private agendas and personal revelations may surface in the process of revealing your new talent to the world.

Writing is like any other art form – so far in the West, until recent history, held as being mystically separate from the laws of real life. Free speech, artistic licence, call it what you want.

There are different forms of art. Art that is life-affirming. Art that inspires criticism. Art that inspires debate, and art that instigates discussion on what constitutes art. However, in modern history, public concerns are voiced more frequently about art that inspires crime and atrocities.

The old-school art school tend to stand by their guns that art should be allowed to be art in any form, whether it’s a dirty unkempt bed or half a cow in formaldehyde. But if it’s a dirty unkempt child or half a pet dog, that’s the NSPCC and RSPCA notified.

With the advent of social media, and internet-based reality live-streaming TV, some people are sharing ‘art’ that should more accurately be described as ‘evidence’. And with certain art forms inspiring domestic violence and murder on a daily basis, now in the headlines with alarming regularity, the conscience of the artist has to be considered as much as the consumer.

For instance, compare the theoretical concept of a designer of a war propaganda poster that leads to an uprising and mass genocide, to the writer of a play that inspires a sick man to go home and shoot his dog. Both had a detrimental effect. One, you might argue, was only doing their job, and was not directly responsible. But which one?

That’s the worst case scenario that you might potentially face, at any point in your career. A crime of any scale being credited to you as the inspiration.

When the paranoia bugs strike at the heart of your art, and you find that your hobby has become a form of inadvertent disclosure about the deepest and darkest places where you occasionally hide the used tissues, it helps to examine and monitor yourself as you write. Um, or maybe seek counselling, and take a bit of a break until things normalise around you again.

At least, until your fantasy world is looking a bit more healthy.

What’s your basic need for recognition, as a writer?

Some examples of an artist’s basic needs:

  • To share an enthusiasm for a specific theme or genre
  • To exorcise a past event or relationship
  • To shock the audience
  • To make people laugh
  • To make people cry
  • To make people angry
  • To gain any reaction whatsoever, usually in as an obscure fashion as you can muster
  • To prove something
  • To disprove something
  • Revenge
  • To make money
  • To make someone love you (good luck with that, have you tried baking? Or giving them a lift anywhere?)
  • To win awards
  • To give your imaginary friends something to do
  • To brag about how clever you are

Note that ‘to be a book promoter/salesperson’ is not on the list! 🙂

The skill isn’t in what you can excavate from the depths of your soul. The skill is in filtering out the story and making it user-friendly, so that whatever inflammatory critique it inspires doesn’t also have the police taking an interest in your magnum opus appearing on a convicted felon’s Kindle, highly annotated and shared with members of his gang…

Don’t worry that writing your book will have your friends and family looking at you funny, talking behind your back, or avoiding you. They’ll be doing plenty of that when you start asking them to buy it and to leave you reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

And that’s BEFORE they’ve even read it 😉

L xxxx 🙂

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