Thursday, May 05, 2005

Other people's efforts

The British constitution (unwritten, by the way) provides for the state to reward those who have contributed to the public good by being awarded honours of one kind or another. Perhaps the most famous of these are the titles awarded to life members of the House of Lords (John Smith becomes Lord Smith) or to those who are knighted (John Smith becomes Sir John Smith).

However, there are lesser honours, which in their abbreviated forms are known as the MBE, the OBE, CBE, and so forth. The OBE, for instance, stands for Order of the British Empire -- a relic of the days when we actually had an empire.

Human nature being what it is, the award of these honours is not always greeted with universal approval. The OBE, for instance, is sometimes said to stand for Other Buggers' Efforts, the criticism being based on the idea that Smith often gets the credit for work which has actually been done by Jones, Brown, and a number of others.

Well, all that is by way of saying that today's post consists entirely of OBEs -- bits and pieces created by others and not by me.

First, Maud Newton leads us to a story by Jill Bauerle, who tells us that, while working as a waitress in a glamorous New York restaurant, she found herself serving her own agent -- or, at any rate, the woman who, four years earlier, had undertaken to sell Jill's novel. A bit depressing really, but all too credible, dear Readers, all too credible. Anyway, the story has a happy ending. Of sorts.

Next, Mad Max on Bookangst 101 gives us (3 May) an account from 'Richard', another of Max's cohort of anonymous, published, yet aggrieved authors. This is yet another tale of woe about the horrors of modern publishing, featuring tales of the disasters which can await you even if, by some extraordinary circumstance, you ever end up in print. See, I am doing my best to teach you to see sense, and if you will persevere in your folly then it ain't my fault.

Finally, 'Archer', who has commented on various posts on this blog, has produced an interesting quote from H.L. Mencken in relation to my post of 2 May about long-term career prospects for writers. Because comments can get overlooked, I have fished this one out and reproduce the Mencken quote here:
Like most other editors, I receive a great many letters from them [young authors], and many of those letters ask for counsel. One question is in nearly all of them: Shall I throw up my job in the rolling mills and devote my whole time to poetry (or to short stories, or to criticism, or to the novel), or shall I hang on to my job and try to write in the scant leisure of my evenings, or on the Sabbath, when I should be engaged in religious exercises?

My answer is always the same: I advise them all to stick to their jobs. And for a plain reason: I do not believe it is possible for a man to write more in a day of 10 hours--that is, more of the best that is in him, more that is genuinely worth writing--than he writes in a day of three hours. The view to the contrary, so common among young authors, is a great delusion. It is grounded upon the error of assuming that creative work is a mere matter of time. It is, in fact, nothing of the sort; it is a matter purely of ideas. The more good ideas, the better the artist. I believe thoroughly that the world has never seen a poet or a novelist who had more good ideas than he could get on paper in three hours' work a day. There have been plenty of men, of course, who write more, but what they wrote after the three hours were up was second-rate stuff--and sometimes third-rate, sixth- and tenth-rate stuff.

The danger that confronts the young author with nothing to do all day but write lies in the temptation to go on after the period of good work is up. The day lies before him. He still has paper on his table and ink in his well. He has notions of industry; it seems shameful to quit so soon; moreover, it is apt to cause talk within his family. So he plugs away gallantly and the result is a great mass of stuff that begins by being good, then proceeds to be indifferent and ends by being dreadful. But it is all precious to him. Contemplating it, he quickly loses his critical sense. In the end he is judged by his average; and his average tends to go lower and lower. I could name names, but refrain in Christian charity. The beaches of beautiful letters are strewn with the corpses of diligent men.
Interesting, no?


Dr Ian Hocking said...

The later comments by this editor are interesting, but they overlook the fact that those three hours aren't filled in glorious isolation. Typically, they are squeezed into an evening that follows a day's work.

Tonight, I'll be returning to my house (after a quick vote) where I will sit down and write 500 words on my novel. I work full time and I write tired. Would my book be better if I wrote it without bleary-eyes? Definitely.

Should the unthinkable happen and I become financially able to write full time one day, I will do so in a trice, because it will improve the quality of my fiction. To suggest that too much time provides an opportunity to write crap, I'd say, yes, I agree - if you're a writer who writes crap. Cutting out the stuff that doesn't work is Writing 101, and I'd be surprised if more than a tiny proportion of full time writers are guilty of this.

archer said...

I work full time and I write tired.

My solution is to get up obscenely early--4:45 a.m. every day--and write until 7:45. This has several advantages: (1)You get a good thousand words without a single ringing phone; (2)The coffee is first-rate; (3) In the unfortunate event that someone finds out what you're doing, they think you a dangerous lunatic rather than a contemptible idiot.

Constance said...

Many writers, who work and write part-time, think if they write full-time, their writing will be better. What many find out, is that the extra-time gives them time to realize their writing is less than they thought.

I never really thought my writing was much. Now that I have the time to do it, I know it isn't. However, I have realized that writing can be fun.

Mark A. Rayner said...

I have to agree with Ian on the last quote. If you put in a full day working at another job (particularly a job that requires writing) then your novel is going to suffer.

There is also the little matter of all the stuff writers have to do that is not writing. My first novel is coming out this month, and it is thrilling. I have also spent at least five hours a day for the past two weeks working on marketing the darned thing. (I'm told that authors have to do this when they're published by big houses, not just "boutiques" like my publisher.)

That said, I also believe it's important for a writer to have some kind of experience outside of writing. Grist for the mill, etc.

Thanks for a thought-provoking quote.

TS said...

Nice Blog!!!   I thought I'd tell you about a site that will let give you places where
you can make extra cash! I made over $800 last month. Not bad for not doing much. Just put in your
zip code and up will pop up a list of places that are available. I live in a small area and found quite