Filthy Lucre

What motivates authors to write can vary greatly. An Iowa MFA grad has their sights set on no less than the stars in the literary firmament. A grifter seeks to make money from a profession in which no skills are required. While the former needs no goad to spur them to hours of agonized labor, the latter strike me as coming at the enterprise all wrong. And not for the reasons you might think.

No matter what the outcome, the process remains the same. Many hours spent alone in front of a white wall. The commercially minded author seeks to lower that input of time to the minimum possible, because that maximizes the return. The results of such lightning-fast writing are not hard to guess. Lots of dialogue, lots of action, lots of typos. You can almost draw a cartoon balloon containing the author’s dreams of the future movie made for TV.

Such a glib attempt at writing is doomed to failure. It is caused by a woeful misunderstanding of how gifted and hardworking supposed hack bestselling writers are. Even given the time spent touring and other marketing demands for their books, these authors turn out a book every year. They retain their readers year after year. Now, how many of us can say that?

While the strengths of such writers vary, what doesn’t change is the sheer immersion a reader feels after opening such a book. Like all good writers, commercial writers are weird. They live their lives through characters they weave out of thin air. Even as an editor I know what that’s like. I have spent my life involved in dramas that leave me woefully unprepared for cocktail party repartee.

What does it take to create such a fictional world? Lots of psychological insight, lots of details, lots of perfectly fine scenes cast into oblivion. Writing is the hardest thing you will ever do, so why would anyone think it is an easy road to riches? Plus, I haven’t discussed yet what lies at the end of all those lonely hours. Skeptical literary agents and editors in New York who have seen everything under the sun. How much does it take to impress them? Probably not fodder scribbled on a plane tray.

To be the best, as in any profession, you have to serve an apprenticeship. You have to learn what doesn’t work just to get to the level of writing something people might find interesting. And you have to keep on doing that for 300-400 pages. It’s a labor of love, no matter how you splice it.

“People are lazy, and they want their fast food via the television.”
—Dean Winters

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine

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