For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a book. Though my bucket list is in a state of perpetual flux, “get a book published” has always remained at number one.
I created this blog as a means to that end: a way to practise my creative writing. I hoped it would be a good platform on which to experiment, get feedback from friends and the collective hive-mind of the Internet, and provide an (admittedly subjective) way of measuring how I’ve improved over time.
Skimming over the last five years of blog posts, I have mixed feelings. Yes, I can certainly see improvement: I can see that my writing has progressed from “unutterably dreadful” to merely “very bad”. But occasionally I’ll see something I’m proud of, something that can still make me laugh.
And yet, the material I want to write isn’t what I’ve been practising! I intended to write fiction, and this blog was supposed to help me focus on that. Instead, for the majority of my posts I have wallowed in what I have found to be a comfortable and easy arena: opinionated ranting. And although it has been fun, and has certainly helped me develop that kind of conversational writing – it was never my intention. I want to write fiction!
My wife and I own his’n’her Kindles. Well, when you’ve been married for nearly two decades and have full time jobs and annoying children, what else do you do with your precious time in bed together? That’s right: you lie in silence and read books.
The Kindle self-publishing concept is a marvel. It gives amateur writers a way to make a bit of money from their work, ferments the dream that something might “go viral” and become a writing sensation, lets avid readers pick up a potential bargain … and, possibly, encourages conventional publishers to soil themselves. Their days may be numbered.
But there’s a downside: much of the writing on offer is appalling. Apparently the key skill that a publisher brings to the literary table is that of knowing how to write rejection letters.
I like comedy/mystery fiction, and it seems that there are a number of self-published authors who believe they might be the next Terry Pratchett or Jasper Fforde. I’m reading one at the moment which has a passable premise … but an execution that drives me to the pits of despair.
The jokes are poor, unsubtle, signposted well in advance, and completely predictable. The story is linear and formulaic, with no plot-twists or character progression. It feels like the author made little attempt to plan in advance; preferring just to type whatever was in his head from beginning to end. Ctrl+S, upload, job done.
About the best thing I can find to say about the book is that it is short – so the pain doesn’t last very long.
The very existence of this book makes me angry. But why is that? Is it because I’m spending my precious last moments of my waking day reading it? A bit, but if it were only that then I’d write-off my losses and delete it. Is it because I’ve wasted money? 99p for the first book, and then the same for the sequel (to give him a second chance) isn’t going to cripple me. I spend more than that on a sandwich every lunchtime.
No, I’m angry because I think I could write a better story than that … and yet I haven’t. I’m angry because the author has demonstrated a skill I know I lack: he had the resolve to see it through.
There’s something else that bothers me, too. What if that really is the only difference between us? What if I’m really not as good as I think I am? What if we’re both equally terrible writers, both have well-meaning but misguided friends who tell us we should self-publish … but he doesn’t get distracted quite so easily?
Perhaps reading his work is a warning for me: I should knock any notion of professional-writing on the head, and just stick with blogging about idiots I overhear on the bus. My spot on the “authors who shouldn’t have bothered” bookshelf is reserved and ready, right next to his.
If there’s one thing the world has in abundance, it’s rubbish fiction – just ask the guy who has to put up posters in railway stations. I really don’t want to contribute to that.
Nevertheless, I’m still enjoying writing, no matter how poor it is. And there’s a chance I’ll hit on something one day, or persevere with a complete novel. I check the visitor stats on my blog, so I’ll keep writing for as long as I have readers. If you guys want to stop me you’ll have to vote with your feet … or with a high-powered rifle.