Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Writing For Fun, And Other Lunacies

Maybe it’s just me, but a chart of this writer’s writing life would probably look a lot like a seismograph during a quake hitting 7.2 on the Richter Scale, or a polygraph attached to Janet Evanovich during an interrogation during which she was asked if she really believed - like, seriously now - that four of her novels were worth an advance of fifty million dollars, or thereabouts.
(What bugs me about the Evanovich demand for $50 million advance - I’ve never read any of her novels, so I’m in no position to say if she’s worth it, although it’s fair to say that you’d need thumbscrews to truly convince me - is that if she’d only asked for $49 million, there’d still have been a spare million left over to divide up between a thousand or so other writers, giving them not necessarily a living wage but the hope that some day, they might just be able to earn a crust from this gig. And you’d have to imagine that, out of that thousand, at least one would be able to come up with something a little fresher than a tired reworking of a raddled old post-feminist parody. But I digress.)
  Anyway, that seismograph chart - the life of a struggling wannabe writer is one of rapid and violent ups and downs, and far more downs than ups. That goes with the territory, puts fire in your belly, and if nothing else, gives you an overwhelming desire to succeed even if it’s just to prove the bastards wrong.
  The last week or so has been pretty much typical. A little birdie whispers the very bad news that one of the best Irish crime writers has had his / her American contract cancelled for lack of sales. Shameful stuff, totally unexpected and utterly depressing, given that he / she is a terrific writer who is never less than entertaining and also pretty illuminating about the world we live in right now.
  That’s the biz, I suppose.
  For me personally, it’s been a decent week. I got a green-ish light on a project I’ve been working on for about two years, of which more anon. I also heard that there are two US publishers taking a good long squint at BAD FOR GOOD, and that initial reactions have been very positive. Not that that amounts to a molehill of beans, in real terms, but still, it’s good to know that someone out there is reading it, and liking it.
  I’ve also been doing quite a bit of writing, largely because I joined a ‘writing group’ last month. Four people, decent skins all, coming together to pool resources and give one another a helping hand over the various humps and hillocks that get in the way of putting words on paper. We all have our own agendas, and we’re all at different stages of the publishing game, which will be very healthy, I think. For my own part, my needs are threefold. One, that said decent skins apply shoe leather to my skinny white ass and get me writing again; two, that that process will help me rewrite a novel currently labouring under the weight of its 149,000 words into something more taut, elegant and accessible; and three, that I can get back to writing the way I used to write in the good old days before I ever got published, and start telling stories just for the fun of it.
  That might sound a little naïve, but during the last two years or so, I’ve started at least five different novels, investing anything between 10,000 and 30,000 words in each. Every time I came grinding to a halt, worn down by the constant process of second-guessing the industry, particularly the bean counters to whom most editors have to answer these days, worrying if what I was doing was commercial (very probably), or commercial enough (hard to say), or if I wouldn’t be more profitably employed shouting down a well (very probably).
  Fun. Not a word you hear very often when people talk about writing in particular and the publishing industry in general. But it’s why I started writing, way back when, those halcyon days when the process of putting words in their best order was enjoyable for its own sake. A very serious kind of fun, of course, given that writing is a serious business, whether or not the business takes you seriously. But fun.
  My little girl arrived home yesterday from crèche with a paper folder full of drawings and doodles and paintings and sparkly stuff, my favourite of which you can see above. Bright, colourful, bold, fun. Was Lily worried about what anyone thought about her picture when she was painting? Hardly, given that she’s only two years-and-a-bit old. Had she any idea that when her silly old sentimental Dad saw it, his heart would feel like it might explode? Probably not. Did she just get stuck in and splash the paint around and do the best job that fun would allow? I’d imagine so. Will anyone ever pay for it? Not that I’d ever sell it, but no.
  The ‘writing group’ met for the first time last month, and the plan is that we assemble in mid-September with 2,000 words each to show for our efforts this month. The good news there is that I’ve already racked up 15,000 words in the last three weeks, although the bad news - given that I’m supposed to be rewriting the damn thing - is that said 15,000 words are all brand new and freshly minted. Mind you, the process of writing that section has allowed me to identify not only a massive, glaring flaw in the novel, but also how to rectify it. I’d say that that 15,000 words will save me about 40,000 by the time I get into the heart of the story.
  Anyway, good news / bad news. This week it’s mostly good, and high-ho for upward and onward, at least until next week, when I’ll very probably plummet off the precipice again.
  The main thing, though, is that it’s all good, that I’ve started to rediscover that sense of fun again. Maybe, given the fact that none of my previous offerings have overly taxed the boys ‘n’ gals at Nielsen, I’ll have to send out the redrafted novel under a pseudonym, as I’ve discussed before. And maybe (very probably) it’ll never see the light of day, because I’m already a beaten docket as a published writer at the age of 41.
  And so what? What I get from writing - fun, joy, self-worth, all the good stuff you tend to forget about after too long at the coal-face - is far too precious to entrust to the publishing industry, or at least the publishing industry in its current, ultra-conservative incarnation. As the quote from Isak Dinesen I’ve tacked to my PC monitor says, “I write a little every day, without hope and without despair.”

  Lately I have been mostly reading: DEXTER IS DELICIOUS by Jeff Lindsay; COLLUSION by Stuart Neville; FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French; RIVER OF SHADOWS by Valerio Varesi; DON’T BLINK by James Patterson; TIGERLILY’S ORCHIDS by Ruth Rendell, STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson, and THE DOGS OF ROME by Conor Fitzgerald.


Donna said...

What a lovely post Dec, and a great picture from Lily. I'm glad you've rediscovered the fun. Writing for me is always fun - but then I don't have to worry about it paying the bills. I, too, have a couple of manuscripts on the go, and then a few weeks ago I had an idea for something else and have been concentrating on that one. It's probably utter shite, but I'm having a lot of fun with it and for me that's the main thing. Getting published is a lovely bonus, but I just love the act of writing even if I'm the only person to ever see it.

Sorry to hear about the he/she with the lost publishing contract. That's always so horrible to hear

Donna said...

Oh, and PS - brilliant news on the greenish light and fingers and everything crossed for the brilliant BAD FOR GOOD.

Naomi Johnson said...

Trying to find again the fun in writing, trying to maintain an even emotional keel about one's writing -- I wish I had some good advice for you, but I can only offer my encouragement, for what that's worth. I hope one day soon that I will once again turn the pages of a newly published (in the USA) novel by yourself.

Ali Karim said...

Great post Declan, good to see you in top form, less worry and just write for fun, as the universe has a way of resolvinng itself


Alan Griffiths said...

Good post Dec and like the other comments say it’s good to see you in good form and having fun. As a reader, your work has always been fun; in a good way I mean and oh so enjoyable to read.

Best of luck with all your projects and fingers crossed that one of those irons you have poked into the fire turn white hot for you.

As for Lily’s lovely picture; you could never put a price on that – it’s just priceless.

Kind regards.

Dana King said...

The Dinesen quote sums up my current attitude exactly. I'll finish the WIP tomorrow, then start looking for places to send it. A new project may begin next month, if I can decide what it's going to be.

Sitting down and writing for the fun of it may well be easier for me than it is for you, as my position resembles Donna's, at least superficially: I make my living elsewhere. I used to think it would be nice to make a living as strictly a writer; now I'm not so sure. Maybe the optimal position is to make enough money to go to some conferences and buy beer for friends as they pass through town, so that I could walk away with a clear conscience if it started to get me down.

But having fun is the key. If I'm not getting paid (and I'm not), then what other reason could there be for doing it?

That's great news about BAD FOR GOOD. Keep us posted. You have the chops, now you just need a break.

Declan Burke said...

Much obliged for the kind words, folks, as always.

"The universe has a way of resolving itself."

Indeed it does, Ali ... and for the very great part without any input from us at all.

Cheers, Dec

michael said...

Since I agree with everyone's comments about having fun while writing, I thought I might cheer you up about Janet Evanovich payday. It is nice to think one of us writers actually got that much money. The quoted $50 million may have been an excuse to leave her old publisher for her new one. Her latest book number 16 of the Stephanie Plum series was a best seller before it reached any store. This follows a long line of books that spent months each on the best seller list. How much are four sure best sellers worth to any publisher?

Writers such as Evanovich offer the rest of us hope. Who knows maybe that budding artist Lilly and you will someday team up to produce a best selling comic book like Evanovich and her daughter recently did.

I like the idea the idea of the writer making lots and lots of money.

My problem is with the Stephanie Plum readers. Those willing to buy whatever Evanovich hacks out no matter what quality. I enjoyed the early books but the last dozen have been lacking of any creativity. Evanovich herself has said she has no plans to let her characters grow or change. Why should she when readers want the same safe crap rather than new entertaining books that take a risk. Oops, I said I was going to cheer you up, Forget this last paragraph.

Well, let her have her millions, she can't take away our fun.

Dorte H said...

Keeping my fingers crossed for you - may you have much fun, but also a bit of success!

I sent off a Danish manuscript to a publisher yesterday, well aware that the chances for a first novel are almost non-existing. But I did it, and recently I have begun writing an English cozy mystery. No idea if it is ´commercial´ at all, but the first 25,000 words have been such a pleasure to write.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Great post. Go get'm man. Got a lot of people rooting for ya!

lil Gluckstern said...

I'm glad you're having more fun these days, because you certainly give a great deal to your followers. Lily's picture is pretty neat given her age. I work with kids so I feel qualified to comment on that. If it is of any use, writers on this side of the pond are despairing about publishers, and the quality of books that sell. A lot of them are going the e-book route, as you have. I buy books from the Book Depository in England so I can read you guys even if the books don't make it here. I don't read Evanovitch or Patterson who I think is very rich, but not very good. I'm routing for you to go to paper so I can read you some more. Keep us posted.

Declan Burke said...

Again, folks, much obliged.

Dana - congrats on finishing the novel (said he, presuming nothing stopped you typing 'The End' in the last couple of hours).

Dorte - Good luck with the m/s, I hope some publisher sees fit to plunge an expensive bet on it ...

Cheers, Dec

John McFetridge said...

Bad For Good is the canary in the coal mine of publishing - if it can't find a proper home that sends a strong message about that state of the industry for me - all formula, all gimmick all the time, I guess.

So, let's hope those two publishers get into a bidding war.

Declan Burke said...

Ha! The canary in the coal mine, I like it ... singing its little heart out for all it's worth, and then keeling over, invisibly poisoned.

Not a bad metaphor for my writing career, actually ...

Cheers, Dec

Pepper Smith said...

There's nothing like being able to bounce ideas off of and get solid kicks in the pants from writers you trust. It's worth it, even if it makes you a little sore and leaves shoe prints on your behind.

Lovely picture. That sort of uninhibited creativeness is something we could all use.

And good news that Bad for Good is getting a good looking-at, and your other project has been green-lit.