...is generally a long one. There perhaps exist shortcuts for some (so-called celebrities, the very lucky and the obscenely talented – although this last group’s virtue usually has its origin in hard work / time spent on the road), but for the rest of us we’d better get used to the long game.
And so, with the luxury of a book deal, I wanted to look at the reasons I think I finally got there, lest you think I’m just a lucky so and so. Or a celebrity.
Ø An apprenticeship served. Somewhere between plucking a few strings on your first acoustic guitar and appearing on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage on the Saturday night is, you’d hope, some practice. A lot of it. About ten thousand hours I read somewhere - an arbitrary figure plucked to demonstrate the work needed to achieve virtuosity in anything. And this goes for writing.
Ø A commitment to your art/craft. No longer merely a hobby, you will need an obsessive devotion to your writing. Days you do not write (and read) are exceptional. Indeed, you resent them, that little precious time you find for composition more precious than almost anything else in your life.
Ø A desire to constantly improve. Rejection hurts, but it’ll be one of your most valuable (and frequently visiting) friends in the early days. Don’t fall into the lazy trap of dismissing those who deliver bad news as wrong or elitist or incapable of recognising your thus unrecognisable genius. Come back to their words in a few days and look honestly and hard at them. Give them no reason to reject you next time.
Ø Writing is re-writing. I save my biggest belly laughs for those who post in forums that prose, like visual art, can be spoiled by too many strokes, that you need to know when to leave it alone, to not over-egg it. For me, at least, I can never edit enough. The work can always be improved. Only deadlines and a gathering insanity allow me not to work on something indefinitely.
Ø An original voice / concept. Fuck. Thought I’d put this one last, as it’s a little intimidating. It’s also, I believe, the single most important factor that led to the bidding for my book. Publishers want something fresh, a story or voice they’ve not heard before, that’s going to stand out, firstly from the thousands of manuscripts adorning their desks, and, eventually, from every other book coming out that year. Now, I didn’t start the book with this in mind, so perhaps this is the luck element, a concept that found me. But you can find a unique voice, though, alas, not generally by looking for one! A post on voice to follow soon.