On writing

Churning out novels is hard work

I always wanted to be like Jaime, in Martha Grimes’ novel Foul Matter.

Foul Matter is about authors, editors, egos and contracts in the publishing industry. The authors in the story include best selling writer Paul Giverney, who is between contracts at the moment, literary writer Ned Islay, and Jamie.

Jamie churns out four books a year under various pseudonyms, and is the only writer in the group who actually makes a living from her books.

I realise now that I will probably never be a Jamie, simply based on the speed at which we write (and remember, there are two of us), the length at which we write, and the genre we write in. It’s a while since I read Foul Matter, so I don’t remember exact details, but I always imagined that Jamie wrote mystery and romance.

I tried to write a romance once.

This was many years ago now. I have learned and written a lot since then, and gained a writing partner as well.

My reasoning was similar to that of many other novice writers. Given that romance is one of the largest selling genres in the world, surely it would be an easier field to break into. (In my defence, I had devoured Mills and Boons as a teenager. I knew the market had changed, but at least I was familiar with the genre.)

It was hard, hard work. I persevered for 20,000 words before I gave up.

I found that old novel the other day. The writing wasn’t too bad, and the characters were okay, but the story failed to spark. It was boring.

It felt like one of those writing class exercises where the teacher brings in a series of objects—say a handbag with contents spilling out of it—and says, “Write about the owner of this handbag,” and you feverishly write, because you know you have to present something at the next class, but frankly, the owner of that handbag does not inspire you.

The most important thing writing that novel taught me was that one has to be able to live with a book for the whole of its life. If you can’t love it for the whole of that time you are making the writing process hard, and taking away everything that is enjoyable about it. It becomes a chore.

Then writing stops being fun.

Why choose a career that takes so much of your effort, of your time, if it’s not fun?

That’s why I’ll never be a Jamie.

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