The market for fiction shrinks every year, the attention paid to novels by the media diminishes monthly, booksellers demand ever-lower prices, everybody in the industry says it’s the worst it’s ever been. And yet more academic or private creative-writing programs are created every year, and the demand for advice on becoming a novelist remains furiously high. Indeed, the selling of advice on writing has become a self-supporting industry: I know young writers who are doing masters of fine arts in creative writing so that they can in turn become creative-writing teachers in similar programs. Any magazine article like this one generates Internet responses as lengthy as any novella. The discussion of creative writing seems more popular than creative writing itself.
I’ve noticed this trend myself, especially given the latest round of hot tips from pros. (As an aside, I always want to point people to Alan Moore’s 5 tips on writing.)
There’s a fetish concerning being a writer. People want to know how things are done. What time they write. What pens they use. What they drink beforehand. There’s a thirst for backstage gossip.
I wonder where it all comes from?
Being a writer is often a dream job for more people than you think, and there’s probably a reality check required for the most part. That said, there’s a huge disparity between dreams of writing, and knowledge of how to be one – where to find an agent, how to get published, what route to take, what gods to sacrifice to, that sort of thing. (Another aside: use Google, because it’s all out there.) And somewhere in-between an information industry has sprung up.
From all the panels I’ve sat on at conventions, and all the questions that I’ve been asked, this lack of knowledge has created an atmosphere where people worry too much. They agonise over every single detail of a cover letter to agents, over how many words to make a novel (answer: as long as the story), a whole load of stuff that stops people from the most important bit of all.
So, I think Neil Gaiman says it best, in his advice to writers:
You finish what you write.