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Further On Down The Road

December 15th, 2014

Road-blogLooking for inspiration in some back copies of E-Zee Writer, I came across a great article by Esther Newton called ‘Plan B.’ It’s all about what to do if your dream of becoming the next Ian Fleming or Toni Morrison doesn’t pan out. Obviously, with my history of not finishing fantasy trilogies, it got me thinking, eventually wishing I could go back and have a quiet word with the writer I used to be in the mid-nineties, when the first words of my magnum opus were committed to floppy disc (remember them?)

In those days, I used to compare myself with other writers all the time, so when Stephen King said ‘Your first draft should be finished in a season – three months,’ I felt dreadful. And when I visited a retrospective exhibition on the life and works of Georges Simenon, it nearly finished me off. Creator of super-sleuth Jules Maigret, Simenon started out as a journalist. He carried on writing for newspapers and magazines right through his life, but working on fiction he would jot down some basic character notes and a starting scene, then write a chapter a day until it was done. A novel a month – not a bad rate. He produced 200 in his lifetime, as well as countless articles and features, and I remember feeling very depressed coming out of that exhibition. Don’t think I spoke to anyone for a couple of days.

As time went by though, I started picking up on the rhythms of other writers. Ian McEwan, (author of The Cement Garden and The Comfort of Strangers, amongst others) produces between 700 and 1000 words a day – more like my standard. And J. R. R. Tolkien, the King (if not Absolute Emperor) of fantasy trilogies, didn’t write The Lord Of The Rings in a month, it took him sixteen years. There’s also a whole load of writers who worked through long apprentices doing other things before getting their ‘big breaks.’ Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens all began their careers as journalists, whilst Salman Rushdie and F. Scott Fitzgerald were both advertising copywriters. And that’s without even starting on the big names who did entirely unrelated jobs: Kurt Vonnegut – car salesman, Hillary Mantel – social worker, and the aforementioned Arch-Duke of Horror, Stephen King – high-school janitor.

Shall we all let ourselves off the hook, then? We may not have won the Booker (yet) or got a review in the Times Literary Supplement. But no one can see what’s coming over the next rise, and you certainly don’t have to be a sexy twenty two year old to produce a bestseller. As long as we keep working, our breaks will come – eventually. In the meantime, there’s loads to do, and money to be made from articles, letters, features, blogs, ‘How To’ manuals, competitions … and all the rest. So, like the song says, lets go ‘Day by day, just one step, one step at a time,’ and …

Keep on writing!

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