No Royal Road - Debbie Bennett
I was looking for a suitable phrase to title this post and came across this site. Number 48 wasn’t what I was actually looking for (I’m not even sure what was), but seems curiously apposite: there is no royal road to learning. No easy path for writers, no shortcut, no wide avenue paved with accolades and awards. Which isn’t strictly true 100% of the time I guess – there will always be somebody who appears to just get there by sheer good fortune. Being a celebrity (and I use the word loosely) can often guarantee a book deal and one can always hire a ghost-writer after all. Remember the fuss over a certain person who when asked what her book was about, allegedly said ‘I don’t know – I haven’t read it.’?
And sometimes, just sometimes, being in the right place at the right time with the right idea can be the key to breaking through into the big time. Although even then, many well-known writers will say it took them x number of years to be an overnight success.
For the rest of us, it’s a long hard slog to be a writer. Or at least to be a good writer. And therein lies the rub (another quote, or mis-quote as it happens – that Shakespeare chap has a lot to answer for). So many wannabe writers want to be writers, but equate writing with good writing.
I’m a member of a writers’ group on Facebook. I’m a member of several writing groups actually, of varying memberships. Some are dear to me – Cupcakes, you know who you are! – and are a small, select group many of whom have met up in real life for long lazy booze-filled lunches over the years. Others are bigger and often appear to be peopled by writers who have not yet learned there is no royal road. Posts such as: I need to write about xxx. What shall I write? Or: How long should my chapters be? Or: I’m going to write a novel about yyy. What should be the first line? Or (and this one did make me open my mouth wide): I don’t have any time to read, but I want to write a book which will become a huge film. I may paraphrase a little, but I kid you not on the content.
Now I totally get that for some of these people, English is not their first language and kudos to them for even attempting to write in a second language. And we dream big – we have to in this game because nobody will believe in us if we don’t first believe in ourselves. And I understand that everybody has to start somewhere and we were all beginners once. But there really is no shortcut to simply getting one’s bum on a seat and writing. Anything. Any style, any length.
How did we do it? Those of us who have written and published books over the last decade or more – who were honing our craft before the web was invented. Before Facebook, how did we find stuff out? We went to the library and borrowed and read books, of course. Want to write a thriller? Who writes and/or publishes them? Let’s read a few and see how they work – how long the sentences are, how the author uses shorter sentences to increase tension and makes the reader want to turn the page. We learn that chapters can be any length and while a story can be as long or as short as you want it to be, if you want a traditional publisher to be interested, you have to at least acknowledge the conventions of the genres and the rules by which each individual publishing house operate. In short we learn that you have to learn the rules before you can break the rules.
It takes time. And words. Hundreds of thousands of words, where we find our voices, we understand how to put those words together to make rhythm and cadence and we craft paragraphs and chapters which say exactly what we want them to say – no more and no less.
There seems to be a general unwillingness to learn, to apprentice. These writers want instant success: I finished my novel last night. How much does it cost to publish it? Not even a please. Because if Miss Winner-of-Some-Obscure-Reality-TV-Show can write a book, then it must be easy, mustn’t it?
The internet does not have the answers for this. Really it doesn’t.