I recently asked an artist what his dream job would be. He then bounced the question back to me. ‘What would your dream be as a writer? What would you wish for? What would your dream writing job be?’
Let me think. Is Succession hiring?
Seriously, the writing I most want to do is my own books. I’m always fighting for the time to work on them, fitting them around other gigs and commissions. And, with the time they take, they certainly aren’t paid at professional rates, but the rewards of art are a complex thing. (You might like this post if you want to consider those questions further.)
What if my own books could be properly funded, instead of squeezed into gaps? If I could get an advance or a sponsor, perhaps through crowdfunding?
I don’t think that would be my dream. My books are unpredictable in timescale. Not the Nail Your Novels; I know what they need before I start, so can reasonably finish in a few months. Not Quite Lost, my travel memoir, was also swift. But Ever Rest was glacial; seven years, between other commissions. Lifeform Three took two years, and I don’t know how I managed that. My Memories of a Future Life took a lot of apprentice drafts several decades ago, which don’t count because I wouldn’t start in such a muddle today, then it spent several years in infuriating disorder, then came right in a four-month blitz.
What sponsor could tolerate such a haphazard production timescale? I wouldn’t ask them to.
If I knew people were waiting for delivery, would I feel obliged to finish faster and less thoroughly? I probably would. I hate to disappoint.
On the other hand, would these novels have been finished faster if I’d had an uninterrupted run?
Perhaps, but here’s another question. Did they need the other work I was doing in parallel? The book comes from the soil it was grown in, the weather around it. Different soil, different weather? Different book. And some books need time to muck about and grow up.
Although a patron would be an amazing stroke of luck (and if you want to be one, I’m all ears…), most of us get our books out anyway. We always have.
But while we write on a mysterious self-directed solitary mission, a book is not a solitary thing. All our perfectionist angst, our multiple edits, our discussions with beta readers, our careful reworking has one purpose – we are creating with the idea of the eventual reader, their journey and experience.
Writers are not monks in a contemplative order, separated from people and the world. We are reaching out. We are illusionists, assembling a longform work of magic. A novel – or a piece of poetry or creative non-fiction – is built to be performed. It is dead unless it comes alive in other minds.
To do all that work, and nobody reads it? That really makes writing a lonely business.
There’s my wish. That my books are read.
What would you wish for?
There’s a lot more about writing in my Nail Your Novel books – find them here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.