I’ve read about 30 writing handbooks in the last few years. One of the best is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s not a writing guide as such, more a motivational boot camp nag into how to overcome obstacles in the creative process.
He really knows what he’s talking about, from long and bruising experience:
Together they started a publishing company called Black Irish and published a sequel toThe War of Art. It’s called Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t and is available as a free audio download if you sign up to Audible.
Writing may be joyful, but making a living from your words is a long, hard slog.
I returned to creative writing in 2013, since when I’ve self-published 45 titles as ebooks, written a dozen unpublished short stories and novellas and five crime novels. I’m glad that I didn’t upload my first Cornish Detective novel in 2015, as it would have disappeared like a fart in a tornado! Self-publishing is great, because it allows anyone to become a published author…the trouble is, millions do.
I’ve just endured the malarkey of querying literary agents and will be moving on to promoting myself by social media posting and blogging. This feels like dodging between the wrong ends of telescopes, to peer up the lenses to see if, far, far away someone is looking down the other end examining me… maybe showing an interest in my writing.
No one said it would be easy. That I’m a stubborn oaf might finally be playing in my favour, after 60 years of banging my head against a brick wall! My métier is being rejected by literary agents without being disheartened. My hide is as thick as a rhinoceros.
It’s good to have armour and a positive attitude, for looking at the careers of famous authors shows what a struggle they endured. Steven Pressfieldis the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and historical novels.His The War of Artand other books on writing are inspirational, especially when your creative spirit is flagging.
Steven Pressfield spent 27 years writing before achieving success, working minimum wage jobs, wandering aimlessly from state to state, couch surfing and sleeping in his car.
Author, literary agent and writing guru Noah Lukeman warns that it may take ten years before a writer gets anywhere. Lots of famous authors persevered for years until their first book was published.
Whenever I feel weary, I remember this advice from Danish journalist Jacob Riis:
Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.
This week, a cartoon popped up in my Quora feed, that reminded me of why I’m glad to be a writer, as it helps me to live in the moment.
As Franz Kafka said: “So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time beginning.“
I know there are miles to go before I sleep with the contented thought that I’m successful as an author, but the long and winding road still beckons me.
How about you?
Where are you headed? Towards a traditional publishing contract or self-publishing?
How long have you been on the writing road?
What success have you had, so far?
“So does stepping off a cliff: make sure you’re facing in the right direction before beginning” – Paul Whybrow
The most helpful quality a writer can cultivate is self-confidence—arrogance, if you can manage it. You write to impose yourself on the world, and you have to believe in your own ability when the world shows no sign of agreeing with you.
Wise words indeed, after all, why the hell should anyone want to read your book? You’re an unpublished nobody—how dare you think you’ve written anything good enough to be enjoyed by readers? When submitting queries to cloth-eared literary agents, the whole world of publishing is one big question mark, forcing the author to become an exclamation mark of cockiness! Damn, I’ve just infringed someone’s copyright (see below).
I recently stumbled across a word new to me, which sums up the characteristics needed to be an author who doesn’t give a damn for the opinions of others—menefreghismo.
As a word, I doubt it’ll enter common usage in English…which raises another point—are authors being arrogant by using long words in their stories, or are they demonstrating their love of language, which they hope will be shared by their readers?
As an example of supreme arrogance, in 2018 an author applied to trademark the word ‘cocky’, to protect her romance novels, which include it in the title. To my jaundiced eye, this is more of a clever ploy to gain free publicity, rather than genuine concern about readers buying other authors’ books.
The thing is if you don’t believe in your story, why should anybody else?
I don’t think that’s arrogance. It’s more self-confidence. Quite where delusion fits in depends on the ambition of the author for their story.
Being a writer is lonely and bruising to the soul. Writing guru Steven Pressfield summed it up well: The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell. whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt and humiliation. (From The War of Art)
To counter such misery, he gave this advice (which mentions that word again!)
I’ve no way of knowing the fate of my Cornish Detective novels, but if they have any success, attracting readers who like them, then it would inevitably bring me a certain amount of attention. I’m too stoical to become arrogant from being in the public eye, which is largely a hoopla of marketing, trying to flog books.
If people love my books, then great, I’ll be glad to have given them a few hours of entertainment—and maybe make them think about things in a different way.
This poem describes the sort of fame I’d like:
The river is famous to the fish.The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom. The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors.The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured. I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back.I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.