We live in a transient inter-active world where fast feedback is the norm—especially where jobs are concerned.
If you are lucky enough to have one, your doctor will give you eleven and a half minutes.
Accordingly it is extremely difficult—if not impossible—for most people to come to terms with an activity which seems to produce neither visual results nor income for a year or two—or longer. In fact, not infrequently the intangible nature of a writer’s work, compounded by the seemingly interminable length of time a work takes, evokes impatience to the point of irritation—if not anger and contempt.
People get even more testy if they are not readers—because then they have no idea of, or sympathy with, the end result. In effect, they regard a book writer as someone taking far too long to achieve a pointless result.
I mean what’s the point of a book? It’s much better to interact with real people. As for that fellow, Tolstoy—good grief, he was screwing around for ten years and all he came up with was one book. I know WAR AND PEACE is a long book, but I doubt he knocked out much more than a page every three days. That shows how lazy writers are.
This normally results in advice—such as: “Why don’t you write for magazines?” or “Why don’t you teach?” or “Why don’t you write a short book and sell it on Amazon?”
Why don’t you find another line of work?
The common denominator is “Why don’t you?” where the implicit complement is “…do something which will yield a faster result and pay you some decent money?”
Sometimes these questions are genuinely well intentioned—if not thought through—but it never seems to occur to such questioners that expressing such skepticism might well be regarded as hovering somewhere between thoughtlessness and bad manners. And that it can be quite demoralizing to have one’s work dismissed in such a cavalier manner.
Over the years, I have tried to explain various aspect of the writing business to people—but rarely with much success. Typically, they have a mental model derived from movies—which is grossly inaccurate—and that is about it. In such a model, the writer normally has a close relationship with his agent (who does about ten times as much as one really does)—and traditional publishing is treated with reverence.
Frankly, such a model virtually defines fiction (the other well known definition of fiction is a publisher’s royalty statement). In addition, the book world has changed beyond recognition over the last couple of decades—and continues to change. Self publishing is now a viable option, e-books have grabbed a useful share of the market, books are read on anything from the printed page to a phone, and audio books have become direct download digital files. Also, books are now facing completely new forms of competition with the internet delivering most.
Since I pride myself on being a professional communicator, this may well reflect negatively on me—but I think it more probable that it is the timeline that defeats them.
In fact, I do consider all the advice I am given—just in case a gem lurks there—but I have yet to discover many lay people who have much of a clue how the writing business really works—or are interested. And not too many people—even inside the business—understand it fully either. In principle, it is simple. In detail, it is complex, fast evolving, subjective, and its rewards are elusive. Primarily, the process is its own reward.
People follow sports and celebrities—disasters, wars, and politics. Who, but a masochist, follows publishing?
Am I bitter about this? Not for a moment. I might have been in the past—but the feedback from my readers has been so wonderful (and so prolific) that I am completely confident that I am doing what I am meant to be doing—and that is before I factor in the sheer joy of writing.
I’m also very aware that whereas it is my job as a writer to read, observe, and analyze--and be generally aware of what other people think and do, so I can write from a position of strength—non-writers have no similar obligation.
They don’t have to understand. We writers do.
We understand, we explain, we entertain, and we create. And a book takes as long as it takes. All that matters is that it be a good book.
Better yet, if it is excellent.