Posts Tagged ‘readers’

barnacleThanks as always to those of you who read my blog and my stories. I do value your company. The fact of your presence has helped enormously in keeping me going over the years, but I do accept that, for the most part, writing has to be a lonely business, a thing conducted for its own sake, whether there be an audience or not. It is a conversation between a man and something “other”, something imaginary. Indeed it might be said that it is through the faculty of one’s imagination the universe rises above its material form. Through the imagination it becomes something more remarkable than it already is; it becomes aware of itself, through us. Writers channel this emergence, they map it, they present it, give voice to it.

But for all of these high ideals, my own attitude towards writing veers with a kind of drunken harmonic motion from regarding it as a case study in futility to its polar opposite: a sense, at times, of the personally numinous. It depends on my spirits, whether they be buoyant or leaden; there is a cycle, a season to it, and the only certainty is that the work goes on.

At the moment things are sinking with the going of the light, and I’m feeling the weight of the material world crushing the last dram of equanimity from me. The devil of cynical riposte comes calling; I despise him for the cheerless wit he is and try to avoid his company, while eyeing the impenetrable, glassy sheen of the material world with diminishing magnanimity. Yet it is from even these unpromising materials the words must be distilled, from this ambivalent foundation the work is to be raised to fresh heights, stone upon stone.

Sometimes the work floats effortlessly, while at others it is weighted down by the multitudinous insults that all writers encounter from time to time. There have always been insults to the writing – discouragements to its finer meaning and to one’s sense of purpose. Once upon a time the insults were the indifferent responses of publishers and agents – strange chimera; half human, half droid-slaves to the free-market, concerned with money-matters and commercial viability, a world I was conditioned, by rejection, into believing I did not belong. I speak therefore from outside of its borders, now, but still am not immune to that sense of insult to the craft.

Nowadays, the insults are delivered by the limpet hangers-on who attach themselves to WordPress blogs like this one. They “like” and they “follow”, in the hope our curiosity will have us wanting to know more about their self-proclaimed successful and sexy lifestyles, about how they “make money” blogging. These limpet forms, these barnacles of blogging, are yet more droid-slaves to the precious bane, indifferent to our words and the worlds we create, other than as vehicles for parasitic attachment.

At times of high spirit these barnacles appear comical or sometimes even a little sad, but when I’m low, they remind me of the gulf between what exists now and that higher ideal of aspiring to honour, while bearing nothing but the nature of our true selves in a world where value is no longer measured in material terms. I look about me and the cause seems lost, but while there are still words to be said, words that might yet excite a more subtle vibration in the hearts of sensitive readers, we writers must write on.

I remind myself the work of a writer is not a destination, not a single revelation, but more of a direction, and a soundtrack to living. For the writer the work is the journey. It is a song, and the end of the song is silence, so the writer sings for as long as he is able. Like the skylark ascending, he fills the air with a lyrical refrain, until his heart fails and his insignificant form is reclaimed back into the bleak waste of moor, into the unfeeling materials from which he was born and above which his song once briefly raised him.

It matters nothing that we have no great power or influence in the world, nothing that we have no sponsors nor champions to repeat our words admiringly, nothing that we have no name, no foothold in the glittering world of form. It matters only that we sing. We have no choice in this, for the song is the universe itself becoming more than its materials, rising above them, through us. And I can think of no more important a work than that even if we pass our lives in complete obscurity.

I would sooner be the singer of songs, singing them alone, even into the teeth of a howling gale at bleak midwinter, than a barnacle clamped down among the slime, holding out for the myth of infinite riches. Beware, dear barnacle, lest like Midas, you be one day granted them.

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man writing

It can come as a shock to a first time would-be author, how difficult is is to interest a literary agent or a publisher in your work. You’ve studied the market, you’ve penned your masterpiece, honed it to perfection and sent it off, confident your genius is about to be recognised. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, after the first dozen submissions your confidence in that early victory is by now mired in something more akin to trench warfare. You grit your teeth and lob it over the wall, again, and they lob it back, but try as you might you can’t beat the odds and outshine all the other manuscripts agents and publishers are inundated with. It’s strictly a buyers market – and there’s nothing we can do about that.

Some writers persevere and make it, others persevere their whole lives and don’t. Others give up along the way and get themselves a proper job while some, like me, decide to self-publish for free online – better that way, I think, than my kids having to dispose of a shed full of unpublished manuscripts when I finally shuffle off to my cosy little study in the sky.

But, whichever category you fit into, there’s always a risk you’ll become downhearted, even desperate, for that one last shot at fame. You need to be careful at this point because it’s precisely now you become vulnerable to the predators who circle the publishing battlefield: vultures, on the look out for that most fatal and profusely bleeding of all literary wounds: the shattered dream.

But cheer up chum. Don’t look so glum. Pay me some money and I’ll make that tired old manuscript of yours really shine. Honest! It’ll shine so bright it’ll light up an agent’s eyes. Pay me some money and I’ll print you a thousand copies. Pay me some money and I’ll market it for you.


Think very carefully now. Follow the money, and ask yourself: who profits here? For all these enticing offers of “help”, you still have no guarantee your work will ever reach the shelves of the book store. And for all of those rosy assurances, most likely, it won’t. Call me old-school, but I believe a writer must never pay anyone anything in pursuit of “publication”. The fact that so many of us do is the one thing responsible for the vanity publishing industry’s persistence in the face of a technological revolution that should have wiped it from the face of the earth.

But how do I go pro, if no one will publish me? I know. It’s a hard road and I’ve been there. I fell by the wayside some time ago, and found myself a quieter backwater, one where there’s no money, but plenty of readers and that suits me fine. Go pro? Then persevere with your submissions to agents – you never know – or write for free until someone offers to pay you. But don’t let your love of writing, your devotion to the muse, your obsession for your subject – whatever you want to call it – become a financial liability as well.

Remember, you are the important one here. You are the source. Yours are the fingers on the keyboard, night after night. Yours is the head lost for years in the mysterious labyrinth of creation. Yours is the book, the poem, the story. If you can profit from that, then do. But when others seek to cosy up, and offer their literary consultancy services in exchange for money, a writer needs to be wary.

Your writing is a gift, take pleasure in it, but don’t let others use it to make money out of you, when there’s no guarantee you’ll be making any money out of it yourself. You want your little piece of immortality? I know. I understand. But you already have it. If you self-publish online, or keep a blog, your words will remain in the clouds until the sun burns out, and that’s as much immortality as anyone can expect. No need to feed the culture vultures.

What more do you want?

Oh, fame,…

Pfft,.. that old thing.

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