I met up with a friend and writing colleague recently, to discuss a forthcoming literary event we were doing together. For reasons of convenience, the fact that there was a decent coffee shop, and no doubt for the same reason salmon and wildebeest invariably end up treading familiar territory, we met at a local bookshop.
As if that were such a strain.
It was one of those barn-like places where books come at you from all directions, and if you’re of an easily intimidated frame of mind, you’ll feel a little awed by the sheer volume of… well, volumes.
But it could easily as have been one of the local independent bookshops, as the net result was the same: I felt a warm glow spreading through me like a virus – and it had nothing to do with the coffee.
I have to admit the visit did me the power of good. Because it took me right back to the years before I got published, when I’d find myself in a bookshop, eyeing up my favourite authors and wondering how they’d done it. How they’d got there.
And thinking: I want to be part of this!
(That desire has in no way diminished, by the way, even though my 20th published book comes out in January).
By being part of, I meant being published – and there was, as there is now, such a huge variety of possible subjects to choose from, it was a little like being in a sweet shop and not knowing where to turn next.
That’s not to say that this recent experience was instantly productive or impressive. I had the drive home to follow, during which many creative thoughts probably slid out of my brain and fell onto the hard shoulder to join the bits of shredded lorry tyres, the occasional shoe (why always one?) and the unfortunate wildlife which hadn’t managed to join the chicken on the other side. But I did reach my PC with enough energy remaining to make me sit down with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for what I was doing for a living.
And that was worth its weight in gold.
Writing being the solitary procedure it so often is, we can so easily fall into the habit of getting too wedded to our keyboard day-to-day, of simply having our minds cluttered with the very idea of being productive, come hell or high water. It’s a bit like thrashing around in the sea and not going anywhere; it might look impressive for a while, but it soon gets tiring. This false productivity also comes at the expense of self-motivation, because it can leech away that fantastic yet hard-to-explain buzz which set us on the writing path in the first place.
A good way of resetting your writing default, therefore, is to re-acquaint yourself with the marketplace. And the only way of doing that is to get out there in it, even if just for an hour or so. Forget the internet and all those soul-less sites which, although packed with colour, information and ease of access, simply lack the sheer atmosphere and tactile quality of a room full of books.
It means going to a bookshop or library and becoming absorbed by your surroundings. Pick up a book or ten and check out the blurb. See what’s out there and allow yourself to take in the sheer volume and variation of published works, whether in your favourite genre or not. Check the latest publications and see what’s hot – and who the publishers are. Do a quick word count to see what’s current, and take a peak at how the opening couple of paragraphs are handled and compare them with your own style.
It’s also worth looking at the strap lines on books. Yes, it’s marketing-speak, and meant to catch the eye for a split second before the reader moves on. But do the snappy lines give you any ideas? Do they throw up an image in your mind? If so, what kind of strap could you think of for your current/future project?
Many books also contain a lot of information about the author (their websites) and the publishers and agents (check the attributions pages). This is especially useful for the yet-to-be-published, and at least gives you a name to aim for when making that first submission.
Of course, some might say there’s a down-side to being surrounded by so much published material. The very sight of so many books, many claiming to be ‘best-sellers’, can be a rather brutal reminder of just how much competition exists out there. Well, very true. But life is all about competition (sorry, kids) and trying to overcome it. Instead, take comfort from the fact that those authors on the shelves all had to start somewhere – and most of them probably did a lot of what you’re doing right now before they got their big break.
The worst thing in the world would be to try and pretend that the successful authors don’t exist.
The best thing in the world is to try your utmost to join them.
· What do you want to do – write or push words around?· Renew your desire to get published by becoming absorbed in the marketplace.
· See what else is being published and compare it with your own writing.
· Take in the books on the shelves and reinforce your determination to put yours within distance of joining them.
Originally published in Writing Magazine, this article also appears in 'Write On! - The Writer's Help Book' - available in paperback and ebook:
UK - http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1908006773/