Don’t get me wrong, I love writing books, and wouldn’t want to stop doing it. You’ll have to take this MacBook from my cold dead hands. But the medium of writing is a curious one, and there are some parts about the process which I really dislike.
1) I don’t like that you can’t improvise with words. Not in any satisfying sense. I used to play a lot of music – guitar, keyboards, whatever, and I loved the fact that you could improvise melody or chords, make up the music on the spot. Cool little riffs that sent a shiver whenever the right notes came together at that precise moment. Words don’t do that so easily. Sure you can nail a good sentence at any one point, but the option exists to change it – always, until the book is done. And that’s a good thing. From nailing it, to publishing it could be months, years. With music it’s out there, for better or worse, in that instant. What’s more, there’s a whole new skill-level in that improvisation – not every musician can do it well. When you write, the sentences are worked over so many times, so the final product will rarely, if ever, possess that same sense of immediacy that you get with live music.
2) I don’t like the fact that writing never goes away. Ever. You’re in the car, you think of a plot point, and you stop listening to your girlfriend or partner because that plot point has to make it onto paper somewhere. Or you’re thinking about the story and forget to ring someone when you said you would. A common mistake is to believe that writers just sit down and write, but I don’t think it ever stops. It takes over your mind throughout the day, probably nudging more sensible stuff out of the way.
3) I don’t like that writing isn’t all there is to writing. Writing is only half the craft – the rest is taken up by research, or planning, all the way through to doing promotion, interviews, guest posts, sorting out your website etc. Writers don’t just write anymore. They are a brand. And you have to deal with that fact.
4) I don’t like the fact that a lot of people tell you how you should write. Everyone is an expert on language and grammar and has a thousand suggestions. Listen to a musician and you can hear good notes and bad – they’re obvious – but language is more subtle, which turns concepts of right or wrong (and therefore everyone’s opinion) into a loud and messy grey area. The words are just there. However, there are a lot of people who claim that language is some rigid structure, dictated by the lords of a super-basic Creative Writing 101 classes (they’re usually the loudest crowd). Stray from their gospel and you’re fair game to them. Their way is right! These people, more than others, preach how to write. You probably shouldn’t listen to them either – you’ll end up writing like an uninspiring, soulless machine.
5) I don’t like that the behind-the-scenes people don’t get rewarded properly. There’s an awful lot of work that gets put into every sentence; there are suggestions and a thorough massaging of words, and this comes from people other than the writer. There are structural edits, then line-edits, then copy-edits, then a proof read. (And there’s designers and marketeers that help, too, in other ways.) There are a lot of people involved in presenting readers with a book, or making one a success, but they never get credited with their efforts. And they really should, because they make authors – if only more readers knew just how much it’s a team effort. My editors are Julie Crisp and Peter Lavery, and Chris Schluep in the US. Just so you know.