for writers and readers….
Out of a human population on earth of 4.5 billion, perhaps 20 people can write a serious book in a year.
Some people lift cars, too.
Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in barrels, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.
Photo Credit: Alexander Popov on Unsplash
I think she underestimates the capacity for serious writing in the population. Assuming serious means relatively meaningful [as opposed to the romance fluff which pays the bills] not just non-fiction.
in a year.
That’s the point’s she making. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to the very few who can produce a serious worthwhile book in a relatively short period of time. Most people need longer.
I think that this quote, unlike your usual choices, is very depressing because it basically says ‘forget it, germs, you won’t get anything meaningful done, it takes genius.’ And it doesn’t. It takes hard work, dedication, and the guts to believe in a project. I could probably name 20 people I know who can write a serious, meaningful work in a year – and of course, what does ‘serious’ mean?
Sure, if you can’t take a sabbatical for the research, or are waiting for a window of opportunity to visit a particular place, this drags the research out. But do you count the research? some research is a lifetime of learning and experience, like that of Heather King in with writing her book about the horse in history [an invaluable resource; I recommend it to any regency writer] and the research she has done for her novels? she collated it in, as I recall, about 4 months, and I was glad to have been able to help her with some of her research. She was inspired and wrote in about 3 weeks a children’s book ‘Harvey and the Big Red Bus’ which is a tremendously helpful book for children grieving lost relatives.Now, I consider that meaningful. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ took 2 years. ‘1984’ took just over the year, but Orwell had been thinking about it for 4 years before that. Does the thinking count?
Lucy Worsley churns out books regularly; based on years of research. How do you divide that up?
Suppose you can only write your masterpiece at the weekends. So you can only get 10,000 words a week written. It still builds up. I think this writer sounds pretentious and I hate pretentious.
I took a more optimistic view (which is why I included it as I share your distaste for Authors who speak to us from the dizzy heights of their own success and brilliance). I thought she was saying that don’t beat yourself up if your book is taking a very long time – most do.
However, you’re not alone in being uneasy about this particular passage. It comes from The Writing Life published in 1989. I’ve just found this balanced Kirkus review which calls it one of the “perplexing inaccuracies” in the book. Here’s a link to it.
She was using hyperbole to drive her point but maybe she missed her mark by doing so.
Many thanks for sharing that review. I dislike hyperbole as well… though part of that might be living with autistic menfolk, in that one becomes a bit autistic in outlook oneself with regards to being more literal.
I see where you are coming from. I think that to clarify it one might say that it is not given to everyone to write in volume; because everyone is different. Enid Blyton wrote 50 books a year on average, but all her books were children’s books and many were not very long. She was also, by all accounts, a grumy old cow in real life. My husband wrote his first novel in four months. He’s spent the next two years writing half of the sequel. Harper Lee wrote one book [let’s ignore the second travesty] which impacted heavily on the world’s viewpoint.
I think the important point is to enjoy writing, however much gets done! and not to stress about block.