Saturday, October 26, 2013

Want Success As A Writer? Stop Writing

Lionel Shrivner was an overnight sensation when, seven books into a distinguished but largely unnoticeable publishing career, We Need to Talk About Kevin, “hit a social nerve,” became an international bestseller, won the Orange Prize for Fiction and inspired a feature film.

Writing in The New Republic, Shrivner says:
Make no mistake, I’ve led a great life -- yet one that, fiscally anyway, may be decreasingly on offer for young writers. Advances are down. Typically for fiction these days, my latest novel has sold roughly two (for the author, less lucrative) e-books for every hardback. Publishers are more impatient than ever—and they were never patient-- with a first novel that doesn’t make a splash.
Besides, your talents are equally endangered when a book does make a splash. If you really want to write, the last thing you want to be is a success. Now that every village in the United Kingdom has its own literary festival, I could credibly spend my entire year, every year, flitting from Swindon to Peterborough to Aberdeen, jawing interminably about what I’ve already written—at the modest price of scalding self-disgust.
With so many demands on a the time of a writer, when is an author expected to actually sit down and write?
Writing the books themselves gets fit in here and there, like making time for taking out the trash before bed. I have grown perversely nostalgic for my previous commercial failure -- when my focus was pure, and the books were still fun to write, even if nobody read them.
Damned if your books are successful, damned if they aren’t, but Shriver’s concern goes larger, still, to an industry whose fate currently seems to hang in the balance as hordes of new voices try to be heard in an ever larger cloud of cacophony.
Hence I not only worry about publishing’s entire economic infrastructure imploding, as single talented voices are drowned by a populist clamor of amateurs eager to be read on the Internet for the price of a double-click. I also worry about writers of the near future who make it—only to blog, tweet, e-mail, text, and Facebook their precious time away; only to be swept up in the confoundingly elaborate architecture of appearances, celebrity profiles, website questionnaires, and photo spreads built atop the fragile foundation of a lone imagination at a desk.
Despite the demands on her time, Shriver continues to manage an impressive output. There have been four novels since 2003’s breakthrough We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her latest, Big Brother, a suspenseful novel focused on the unlikely topics of love and obesity, was published earlier this year. Publishers Weekly called the book an “intelligent meditation on food, guilt, and the real (and imagined) debts we owe the ones we love.”



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