Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The secret to becoming a famous author

I had an important job to do today. So I cleaned my desk. I couldn't think about the important job - it was too hard. So I decided that the fact that I was unable to begin said job was all down to the fact that my desk was a bomb site and set about rectifying that situation immediately.

In the course of my cleaning blitz, I unearthed an article that I'd printed off in March, intending to read immediately. Clearly that did not work out for me. However, as I was in major procrastinating mode and as the deadline for the important job ticked ever nearer, I decided that today was the perfect time to finally knock that article over.

It was a series of the top 10 tips for writing by a collection of famous authors - think Margaret Atwood, Elmore Leonard, Roddy Doyle,  Jonathan Franzen - and includes everything from 'get a good accountant' to 'don't open a book with the weather'. (You'll find it here.)

One tip that comes up regularly - and is ubiquitous in 'how to write' guides the world over - is the Write Every Day maxim. At the recent RWA conference, one NY Times bestselling author repeated over and over that she got up, went to the gym, went home, and wrote about 2000 words. Every day. All I could think was that she clearly did not have small people insisting that she attend their assembly/reading/Easter Hat Parade.

I write every day. Some days, I write up to 5000 words a day. More. Unfortunately, these words are not confined to one particular project. Today, for example, I did some work on my important job. Some work on another important job (with a more forgiving deadline). I wrote a blog post. I wrote a letter to Mr6's teacher explaining that I needed to drag him out of school and off to see a snoring specialist. I wrote three polite emails requesting interviews, one polite email following up a request for an interview, and several other emails organising my social life.

I suspect that this is not quite what the famous authors had in mind.

I think part of my problem can be found in Jonathan Franzen's number eight tip: "It is doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction."

So I have decided to concentrate on the words of Margaret Atwood (one of my favourite writers): "Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak."

See, if more famous authors gave groundbreaking tips like this, we'd all be famous authors.

{image: The Storque}


  1. I love that article. My favourite tip was from Anne Enright: The first twelve years are the hardest. So inspiring when one is up to 11.5 years. It's all about to get easy!

    Until then, I am choosing to ignore both Franzen and Atwood. Aeroplane time is for drinking, reading or sleeping, and if I didn't have an Internet connection I couldn't be commenting on this blog. Besides, what would Franzen knwo about writing fiction?

  2. oh my God I have that exact same article sitting in my dusty in tray - you know, things to do, pending, stuff to file, stuff that will never get read. I was going to put a tip up each day/week on my blog as a sort of reminder but have never got round to it!!!

    So that'e the secret all along. A pencil. Who knew?

    5,000 words a day is pretty good going. I had to re-read that - thought you'd written 500.

  3. What a wonderful resource you have (re) stumbled upon! I loved Elmore Leonard's tips - well written and funny. Impressive in an article like that. Keep at it dear sis. It will happen :)

  4. Deerbaby, I was hoping 5000 words was a typo. I had almost convinced myself it was. I aim for 1000 words of fiction 4 days/week.... less than Al writes in a day! Sob.

  5. I'm so going to read that article. And pencils, well, I just love em.

  6. I always go to write "wow, I love your blog!" but then realise how much I sound like a spammer! :)

    Great one - the Jonathan Franzen quote stood out to me in particular. I've just rented my own office (as of last week: SQUEE!) and have decided not to take a computer in there. Ever. I have three kids myself, so these two days a week I'll have in there have to be put to good use!

    Anyway, spammy or not, let me just say that I really dig your stuff and will be back. Cheerio!

  7. I love lists and tips and I love procrastinating too and I love this post! :)

  8. I've got some really nice pencils - my favourite is one of those solid graphite ones, makes lovely marks.

    If only I'd known before that they were my ticket to successful authorship, I wouldn't have had to waste so much time procrastinating about it.

    (What? You think you own the franchise on procrastination? I've got 2 assignments due this week - do you see me working on them right now? But, pshaw! they only count for about 2500 words, so you'd probably knock them over in lunch break... Gah!)

    You really do make me laugh out loud. Gold.

  9. There's great wisdom in Margaret Atwood's remark. I don't spend a lot of time on planes but in my last year of studying once a week I would spend 6 hours on trains (three hour trip either way). Once you've looked out the window once the landscape doesn't really change, so suddenly you find yourself with a lot of time on your hands and little to distract you. It was amazing what I got done in that time. And none of my pens ever leaked...

  10. I'm actually going on a plane on my own next Monday for the first time in four years, so I'll try it out and let you know if it works. I agree about writing on a computer, flipping back and forth to email, blog and more is very distracting.

  11. You've reminded me about some of the advice I read when I first decided to start writing. Write every day was one - and that freaked me out - and I even saw this *ahem* wonderful advice (can't remember who from, but obviously not a parent): A writer must put writing before all else. If you have children, your writing must come before said children.

    It almost put me off, until I had a reality jolt that not all advice is good advice!

  12. It's true there is no secret other than - get on with it! Now getting it published .....well that's the trick!

  13. Yay - an excuse to buy more stationery in my search for the perfect pencils. Oh wait, that wasn't the point, was it?

    Anyway, reckon there's a reason they're all famous published authors and I am not. And pretty sure it isn't *all* down to the fact that I don't write with a pencil.

    Great (procrastination-supporting) post...thank you!! ;)

  14. I just admire you all...go forth and write!!! I tried reading Alias Grace years ago and I quit after 40 pages...perhaps I should give it another go!

  15. Wise words from Margaret Atwood, who's also one of my favourite writers - I've been stuck far from shops before now when the only pen I had ran out of ink mid-sentence. So frustrating. I now carry a pencil tin with several pens and pencils, just in case!

    The advice I liked the most was Roddy Doyle. There's a man who understands the all-embracing category of Research that is any writer's friend. :)

    I'm very impressed by your word count, too, but I read this article when it came out, so we're quits, right?

  16. Great article! Great post!

    I write every single day, but it's not the sort of stuff that makes one a 'writer'. Corporate shiter more like.

    And then there's blogging where I pour my heart and soul into pithy, interesting, witty comments. You can see how successful I am at that.

    Overall I think I need to listen to Diana Athill (who I have never heard of and whose name I first read as "Anthill") and CUT.


  17. I agree with the 'write every day' maxim. And it's easy when you're writing a first draft, but in those times between, when revising or plotting, it's a bit more difficult.

    (As a Canadian, I appreciate your appreciation of Miss Atwood)

  18. Look, I'm not the most relaxed of aeroplane passengers. I sit there evaluating every bump and every sound and watching everyone's expressions after each said bump and sound to see if I should be worried - or worse - take my crash position.
    Therefore, I just can't relax enough to read anything more than an article in New Idea, let alone read a book or, God forbid, write one on a plane!

    Whatever works.

  19. When I was much younger, in primary school, my teacher always liked my essays, so I told myself that when I grew up I was going to be a famous writer. Hah! That didn't happen, I can barely keep a blog going. I've come to think that maybe my teacher just liked my work because I could spell.

  20. I think the secret to being a writer is don't give up don't ever give up even if you get the door slammed in your face!

  21. Thank you for this! Going to happily print it out and hopefully read it before the end of 2011.......


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