28 August, 2012

Demotivational Encouragement

"Twenty-four," said Scott Bradfield, and he laughed.  He and Steve Erickson, author of Zeroville among many others, were giving a seminar on short fiction.  Someone had asked how many stories one would normally have to write before creating a publishable one.  "Twenty-four stories."  Steve laughed, too.  "Sorry," said Scott.  "That is actually a saying among some authors, but it's complete bull.  You'll write however much you need to write."

In some ways, just like Karen Blixen's quote ("Write every day, without hope and without despair.") this sums up everything you need to know as an aspirant.  This is how you will learn to write:  through practise.  That's the biggest reason why how-to journals and suchlike are smeg.  I'll add some further words to Scott's, though, "...or you'll give up."

The point is, you're going to need to write a great deal, and this post is about reminding you of the path up the mountain.

For those of you who gaze into that invisible distance and say, "Cool," then good for you.  In fact, I've never met an author who didn't say that, back when they were aspirants.  It's the less obvious reason that professional artists are dreamers.  It doesn't mean letting everything else in your life go.  It just means fighting for this, now (see "To Will and to Be").  Sometimes that does mean letting things go, as we've discussed in previous posts, but it ultimately means deciding how badly you want a thing.

I'll ask a little trust, here.  Take this post to heart.  Feel the hardship ahead and savour it.  Know it will be a long road, that your first novel almost certainly won't get published, that editors will reject your work and you won't know why.  Know that every author in history has faced these exact same difficulties, and they aren't better than you.  They've just been doing this longer.  Know that you'll succeed eventually if you keep hiking. 

I'll end with a long quote from Thomas H. Uzzell's classic, Narrative Technique:  A Practical Course in Literary Psychology, published in 1923 and revised in 1934.

"The average beginner may well expect to write a million words before he will have noticeable facility in style ...

"The more detailed information I get as to the things successful writers actually do (as distinguished from the things that are often written and believed about them) and compare it with the actual deeds of young writers, the more I am convinced that the thing to be envied in the successful writer is not so much his 'genius' or even his 'personality', as it is his willingness to write for the sake of writing in his years of apprenticeship.  The painter spends years at his drawing, the pianist a like amount of time at his scales, but he writer too often thinks he has adopted an art without these laborious preliminaries.  Not so.  You can no more write good stories without playing literary scales than you can execute a Brahms concerto on the piano without your years at the keyboard."


Farmer Kidd said...

Brilliant quote in the last paragraph! Here's to putting ourselves through an apprenticeship - may it result in writing worthy of publication and joy. Nice post.

Wm. Luke Everest said...

Glad you liked the post! I'll refer to that Thomas Uzzell book more in the future. It's a classic.

I like your attitude. I strongly believe every author who can admit there's a craft and dedicate themselves to learning it will achieve their goals in the end. Best of luck to you.