Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Today I'm mostly going to be stressed. In a good way. I'm writing a week in advance of posting it but when you read this it will be the day of my very last AGM of the Soc of Authors in Scotland, and also our party for 200 which I've been organising with military precision. (Last email document to the committee was headed "The Micro-Manager Strikes Again"). The sun will be shining and I will be welcoming well-known faces to the glorious tent that is the Party Pavilion. I'll post you some pics if I remember to get my camera out of my bag.

Anyway, that is so irrelevant to this post. On the other hand, bearing in mind that this post is about being irrelevant, that is perhaps relevant in itself.

Pointy Thought 4 is: Do not tell your potential agent/editor how much you love writing. It is so not relevant to her / him, though it is to you.

Fabulous blogger Rachelle Gardner prompted this thought. See her post from last week here. It's also very relevant to the conversations (here and here)I've been having with you on covering letters and will be mentioned in my post on Aug 22nd when you get the results of that exercise while I am doing the accompanying workshop in the book festival.

She's absolutely right. The fact that you just love writing and have been indulging your passion since you were two is the sort of detail you can keep for your memoirs or for a talk you do to the Women's Guild. In other words, AFTER you've been successfully published.

When, as an unpublished writer, you tell a writing professional that you've always loved writing, you are prompting all sorts of reactions in the professional's mind:
  • loser alert
  • where's the emergency exit?
  • tell me your name so that I can remember not to read anything you ever send me
  • another one for the wood-burning-stove
Well-known fact: all agents and editors have wood-burning stoves for exactly this purpose.


Anonymous said...

Here's my question: how many published writers 'love writing'?

I'm published. I don't love writing. Most days, I hate it. Of course, it's the only thing I can do: my single skill and my sole source of income. But the reason I'm commenting on this blog, and will then read every other writing blog--and then every progressive political blog--this morning is because I'm desperately trying to avoid writing.

The Pro

David Griffin said...

I'm surprised by a professional writer's words who says he/she mostly hates writing! That must be a real slog for you most times, may I say. (Although it's a slog for all writers, but who perhaps avoid hatred of the task, as this surely makes the slog even worse?)

That's useful advice Nicola, thank you. With the handful of agents I've written to over the past twenty-odd years I've luckily avoided that newbie-writing-to-agents aspect. (I think I mentioned my poetry and the few short stories one time, but I expect this produced a similar type of yawn).

So, I've learned that all agents have wood-burning stoves for use in winter to keep warm by the cherry glow of manuscripts! I believe it! ;)

I suppose I love writing when it's all falling into place. But even when one is wrestling with sentence after sentence, producing only a mere 250 words per day or something, I can still honestly say that I've never hated writing; at those times, my emotion has been despondency.

But who am I to say: I've only just started writing again in earnest after almost 25 years! And it's still foggy ahead but the car's moving so I'm loving it. Drat, there, I've said it.

Deb Salisbury said...

> Well-known fact: all agents and editors have wood-burning stoves for exactly this purpose.

ROFL! Thanks for the giggle.

I pity the Pro. How sad to work at a job you hate most days. I love writing, even on the bad days. I enjoy editing my work. The only part I find painful is social media outreach.

Anonymous said...

Well, in my defense, I hate it less than any other job!

And I'm hardly alone. I suspect that the majority of writers feel that this quote hits the nail on the forehead: "Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."

The Pro(crastinator)

Nicola Morgan said...

Interesting discussion! I have to be brief as am between events and am exhausted, but I think it may help if we liken writing to running a marathon - it's painful and difficult and sometimes runners must wish they weren't doing it (and at those moments may feel they hate it) but ultimately they must get huge pleasure and satisfaction. (I am only guessing!) I love the results of writing, I love the ideas stage, I adore when my characters start to speak to me and when they do things without me, I love the sense of power and I certainly love it when I feel my words have worked. But there are times when it's frustrating or I lose my voice or it just doesn't turn out as I want - and that's horrible. But gosh, if I hated it I shouldn't be doing it. Why would someone want to read what I hated producing??

Sorry, that did not turn out short!

Anonymous said...

I dunno, Nicole--you mention everything except the actual physical act of writing! I love the ideas and the moment of flow and the power and creativity, too. It's the -writing- I'm not so fond of!

The Pro

Helena Halme said...

I think I might hate writing, so no danger of me ending up in the wood burning stove for that particular gaff.

My son loved Edinburgh, by the way, his first time in Scotland and not the last, he tells me.

Sally Zigmond said...

Surely the reason agents hate the 'I've always loved writing' query letter is because it's fatuous. It says nothing about the manuscript and smacks of the amateur. It sends all the wrong messages. Hence the wood-burning stove.

To them writing a novel is a job. Whether you love or hate writing is irrelevant to what they actually want to know, which is, 'can I sell it?'

David Griffin said...

I agree that 'Can I sell it?' is uppermost in the minds of all agents but surely there must also be the question: "Is this writer committed?' (I don't mean in some institute, heehee!)

In other words, if they are a one book author (everyone's got to start somewhere...) have they the determination, will, patience, and...erm, masochistic attitude (no, delete that one!) to run another marathon, to use Nicola's analogy?

And the only way some new authors know to tell the agent about their determination, etc., to continue writing, is to bring out the tired phrase: "I love writing", I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Nicola! Nicola! I do know your name.

See? I hate writing so much that errant 'e's leap onto the screen.

The Idiot Proe

Elen Caldecott said...

I heard somewhere that Douglas Adams hated writing. His agent had to go around to his house and physically make him sit in his chair so that he would meet deadlines. Can remember where I heard it tho' so it might just be urban legend!

Hope you're having a great party!

catdownunder said...

Writing terrifies me. Living inside a book in progress is frightening. Even my blog scares me. I do not even know if I can write. I just know I have to try. Something makes me do it. It is as essential as scrubbing my fur.
The hardest thing of all was putting my paws in the bottom drawer and pulling out that manuscript and sending it off. I am a coward. I would never dare to contemplate the equivalent of pink suede shoes - or purple suede boots.

Katherine Langrish said...

I absolutely loved writing in my far-off youth, because I could let it all flood out and nobody else was reading it anyway, so I could do what I liked. The older I get, the less I love it, because I'm more critical and less easily pleased with myself.

So, no, most of the time I don't love the process of writing, any more than a mountaineer actually loves the step by step business of slogging up Everest. Base camp... Khumbu Icefall... Camp One... Camp Two... Camp Three... South Col... Camp Four... It's heart-pounding, stressful, exhausting.

The view from the summit, however, is to die for.

Nicola Morgan said...

Sally - exactly.

David - I know what you mean, but there are other and much better ways to convey your potential career prospects to an agent / editor. The trouble is that too many people who claim to love writing are not good enough at writing. It's strange - in other areas, we tend to love what we're good at, but in writing love seems to be blind, and those in love are often delusional.

I think the comments from lots of people here as to whether they love or hate writing, or aren't sure, are a pretty good indication that loving or hating doing it is pretty much not the point. As Sally says, it's fatuous. It's also unprofessional. It should be kept for the writing group night out, and kept out of the professional approach to someone who only really wants to know where your talent lies.

Anonymous Pro(e) - I think you secretly rather like writing! You seem to be enjoying yourself writing here anyway!

Elen - I was indeed enjoying it! It was fabulous. It one point I stood back and stared across the sea of heads and saw Ian Rankin, James Naughtie and Antony Beevor chatting away, glass in hand, and I thought "Wow, how did this happen???"

Cat - all of those things ring a bell! It was turquoise pointy shoes today.

Helena - glad he had fun!

Catherine - great description. I think most of us can identify with that

SleepyJohn said...

I couldn't help grinning at the anonymous pro and his daily struggle to write. When I was a full-time writer I was just the same, but I venture to suggest it is not hatred but simple pro(crastination), as he let slip himself in a later comment. There is a big difference between writing for pleasure and writing for food. The first is usually pleasurable and the second is usually hard, encouraging what David Attenborough called 'displacement activity', meaning 'casting around for any excuse to avoid what should be faced'. He was referring to animals threatened by predators, but I think the same applies to writers threatened by creditors. I wrote about this recently on my own blog apropos of a perceived difference between the approaches of American and English writers.

I do actually think that a pleasurable outcome, especially after a long, hard struggle, is at least as rewarding as a pleasurable process. Especially if it enables one to buy chocolate - http://health.howstuffworks.com/human-nature/emotions/happiness/science/chocolate-high.htm . Which might explain why our blogging hostess manages to combine pleasure and profit in her writing.

Nicola Morgan said...

SleepyJ - lovely link! Now I know why I eat chocolate (though Nigella is not my fav person or role model)