Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Next step - career issues for a working writer.

This is the shake up. I have been wondering what the 'next step' is for me. I have been lucky enough to take my writing up a notch every few years. Slow and steady with the intention of winning the marathon rather than the sprint.

I remember a moment when I was almost over the line with publishers, getting my books read by the editors but not quite accepted. Lovely personal rejection letters. Then for some reason I suddenly realised it was fine to write a book that people actually wanted to read. Till then I had been working towards an idea of perfection in craft. I was working on character and flow and sentences. I loved so many difficult but beautiful books. I was working towards making the perfect difficult book.  But it is just as hard to write a good novel that no one wants to read as it is to write a good novel that people want to read.

So I changed.  I focussed on the memoir. I focussed on sex. I broke through that wall.  I feel now like I have hit another wall.  Not with my writing, because I still keep steadily learning new things and moving from project to project. My books are well reviewed but not very financially successful. A few hundred copies is not going to delight my publisher and to appeal to a wider audience I don't have to dumb it down, I just have to find a subject that resonates on a universal level, something that is going to be easier to hook people with.  I need to treat this game like fly fishing. I have all the right technique, I have even learned how to craft a well-structured book (although this was hard at first). Now I need to change my bait. I need to find topics that are going to hit a cultural nerve. I can still write my difficult beautiful things - or try to, but now I need to step up. I need to write about subjects that people are going to want to read. I need to find those universal themes of interest and take my characters to those subjects and rest them there.

I am not the kind of person who was ever destined for a meteoric rise. I am not going to wow people with a big award winning book or become famous because of my personality. I am a work horse. I am a plain sturdy hard-working writer. Each rung of the ladder is hard won and I don't leap over any. I grab the next rung and haul myself up and it is exhausting but that is how you run a marathon.

The book I am struggling with at the moment is difficult but I can see how it is about something that people are interested in. It has wider implications. If I get it right it could net a new audience for my work. I feel sad for Steeplechase which I am fond of. It is a book that people like and a book I am proud of but it is a difficult sell with no razzle dazzle to wow a crowd with. It will quietly sit in my backlist, work horse that it is.

I just can't lose heart. I can't let myself slide backwards or fall off the track. I can feel sorry for the books that will fade despite all their careful work. I can mourn them but I have to keep running slowly even when my physical resources are stretched.

Next book then. This hard step up to the next rung on the ladder. Throw everything into the next step forward. Look back as the others are standing on the podium glinting with medals. Be happy for them. Allow for the inevitable day of sadness. Wipe tears. Move on. Remember this is the long game and that is not nearing an end yet.


plumeofwords said...

All the very best of luck for this new book, and for keeping at it.

It sounds like some of the realisations detailed here are important, and heartening -- e.g. the no need for dumbing down, the acknowledgement that you have the willpower to be the metaphorical workhorse, etc.

Take heart, and keep on!

Melba said...

Oh my god Krissy I so get you. Good luck with it.