Sunday 18 December 2016

Advice for writers #3 #4: hidden gems or crazy counsel? A book that is universally loved doesn’t exist

Continuing the advice for writers theme, here are two quotes that I believe come from the writers’ own experience more than any desire to generate clever soundbites. 

No one can challenge the success of either Harper Lee or JK Rowling, but is their advice generally applicable and useful beyond their own writing lives?

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e. do not cave in to endless requests to have ‘essential’ and ‘long overdue’ meetings on those days” (J K Rowling)

Many people will relate to this one, not just writers. Anyone who works from home will recognise this issue. People ring for a chat, call round to see if you’ll go out shopping, bring children or dogs to your doorstep so you can, ‘Just keep an eye on them for half an hour.’ They wouldn’t do it if you worked from an office or in a factory, but that home context gets labelled as not *really* work, not *proper* work. 

Saying no isn’t the issue. The fact of the interruption can be hugely disruptive in itself. It might not be meetings, essential, overdue or otherwise, but yes, JK Rowling hits on a good point here. A writing day is not the same as a day off. Don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise.

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide” (Harper Lee)

I see this one as more personal to Harper Lee and less applicable generally. Very few writers will be catapulted into stellar success and the public eye as quickly or as comprehensively as Harper Lee. Likewise the majority of writers will not have to put up with the levels of scepticism that she did with regard to whether or not she was the author of her own book.

The generalisation, in my view, is that those who take up a career in writing will find that they develop a thick hide. The more successful they become, the more people will read and comment on their work and not everyone will like it. Attitudes are subjective, the written word generates argument and debate - and so it should, it's a large part of how progress happens. That said, I wouldn’t advise anyone to work on the thickness of their hide before embarking on their career as a writer, but it’s as well to be aware that success will bring criticism. 

My own view: a book that is universally un-hated stirs so few emotions that it is more accurately described as universally unnoticed. A book that is universally loved doesn’t exist.

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