Writing is not typing

March 19, 2013 § 2 Comments

One of my own rules is to quote only from the original source: I am going to break it now:  “That’s not writing, it’s typing”. (Truman Capote, I believe, of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road ).

People who don’t write may indeed think that writing is typing. Last summer when I was talking to a friend who I had not seen for many years about the difficulty of getting published, the advice given was that I should write a bestseller and fill it with sensational material. Sometimes you are amused at this sort of advice, at others, depressed.

Do people suppose because I am trying to write serious fiction that all I have to do is just drop a gear or two, and then I could whack out a bestseller? I only have to sit down at the word processor and type until I reach a target of 70,000 words. Then the words THE END could be added and I could bundle a copy into a envelope and sent it to publishers. On receipt, they would publish my novel with scant regard for my obscurity. And within a few weeks, my novel would be a New York Times bestseller.

Then, I could feel pleased that I had put the bestseller, I had tucked up my sleeve, all that time, into circulation. How silly of me to have been aiming so high for nothing when I could have been earning a great deal of money from my bestseller.

Now I must explain to people the following:

1. Writing any book requires a great deal of effort and time.

2. If you are ‘insincere’ about the book you are writing, your readers will sense that.

3. Many people attempt to write bestsellers but they do not succeed.

People have suggested other things to me besides writing a bestseller. Someone suggested I write a screenplay or perhaps a play. I haven’t an idea how to do either. Wouldn’t it be better for me to stick to writing novels ? After all, I have some idea how to write those.

Last November, a published writer, to inspire me, told me of a friend of hers who had written a children’s book, about a hamster with some connection to Hampstead Heath. The writer lived in Hampstead. The local bookshop sold it. I should mention also that he had a very well paying job in the BBC, and had no wish to be a serious writer. She suggested I might set a story in Finsbury Park, the largest park near me.

People do mean to be encouraging but I would almost prefer if they were being malicious. At least, you could write the malicious remarks off. There are some differences between that writer and me:

1. I do not have a well paying job in the BBC.

2. I do not have a whim to write a story about a hamster and be quite content to see it sell a few copies in the local bookshop.

3. I am not dabbling in writing.

I have ambitions, not whims. I want to be a published writer of stories that have suggested themselves to me. Stories of finned creatures in Finsbury Park are for somebody else.

Please be careful what you say to the unpublished writer. She is a very sensitive creature. And, at all times, but particularly before suggesting some years’ long project she undertake, understand this: writing is not typing.


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§ 2 Responses to Writing is not typing

  • Tish Farrell says:

    Oh how well and wittily you have summed up the angst of writing. Just know you are not alone in this. Having had quite a few things published, I’ve come to the conclusion that what one probably needs to banish the aim of ‘being published’ to the back of one’s brain. And this is true even when you have been. The main thing is to keep writing your truth, and as you say, not succumb to Hamstead Hamsterism. There may, though, be something of value in questioning oneself as to whether one might try some other genre. Just thinking of David Almond here. He spent years apparently struggling in the adult literary field, and then out of him popped Skellig which is one of my favourite books (children’s or adult’s). You may not want to write a screenplay etc, but it might not hurt to look at how one might set about it. It’s a way of ambushing any limiting defences that you might have set up in your subconscious. Just a thought. I think I’ve spent a lot of time on the hamster-route and it just runs you ragged in the end – much like my childhood hamster which at night used to empty its cosy sleeping box and all food supplies into its wheel at the end of its cage then, peddle like crazy, obviously intent on making its escape. Not only did it lose all its food and straw in the spinning, but was also a sitting duck for our cat who learned how to take the wheel off. Yes, just like writing. Onwards and upwards! And thanks for making me smile before breakfast.

  • Peripheria says:

    I was not aware that David Almond had written for adults. I have not read all of Skellig but most of it. My not reading all of it is not a slight. It still remains one of the few children’s books I have, as an adult, read a good deal of. In fact, I read it partly for inspiration. Occasionally when I read a book, I mislay it and then find it hard to take up. Or worse still, I have a bad habit which gets worse of having too many books on the go at the same time. Sometimes I have put aside a book with which I have been very impressed (Woman in Berlin) and then wonder why I haven’t finished it.

    You make a valid point about keeping an open mind.

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