The Fiction Writers’ “Club”

I was caught by surprise the other day…

…which led to that tweet and now this blog post. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, whenever he was in his house and not actually writing my (now late) uncle seemed to have the landline telephone glued to an ear. Even when I was around, he was often talking with someone – regularly early in the mornings, usually some other writer, or his editor, or his agent. (His agent was a prima donna I met a couple of times who also drove him bonkers; but she also knew all of “the right people.” He had been a new writer; she had just left her agency to go out on her own and he was her first independent client. Within a decade she had become wildly successful, but stayed his agent, he liked to joke, as a “charity case.” Think of “Bebe” on Frasier… except, uh, more so. LOL!)

In fact, sometimes, I remember him talking through the speaker phone even while he was writing. Although he was not then writing, I remember also once sitting in his office with him and he ringing his Paris publisher (he always had MASSIVE phone bills) whom I had first met a year or so before in Paris. He could have emailed the guy, but no, he wanted to talk to him, so he put the man on the speaker for me to be able to join in:

[Excerpt from Distances: Atlantic Lives, 1996-1997, Copyright, 2015. Paperback version. Click to expand.]
He would also complain to my mother (his younger sister): “Why do I always have to call you?”

More than once I heard her hit back, “I can’t spend my whole damn life trying to get through to you! Your phone is always busy! Who are you always talking to at 8 o’clock in the mornings?”

That was before social media and widespread mobile phones. Late in life he took to Facebook, and at least his phone was now no longer always busy. He loved messaging and commenting on authors’ pages. “I saw you were on Facebook again so I was sure you were sitting there,” I once overheard my mother joke when he answered. “Uh, who is that Spanish babe you were just trading comments with? She’s too g-damn young for you, moron.” (Brother and Sister did love each other, really. LOL!)

He did have a Twitter account. But he never really got into Twitter. Wow, but he would have LOVED Twitter’s #writingcommunity:

My uncle would be on that hashtag lots…pontificating, sharing “authoring war stories” and now and then going volcanic over this politician or that one, or maybe trying to chat up some lady writer. LOL!

There is a downside, though. One of the real eye-openers I have also had in involving myself in it since late August and early September has been the way in which many authors appear to approach their writing and discuss it. On Twitter and elsewhere on social media we see both an outsized sense of self-importance often weirdly mixed with an inferiority complex coupled with defensiveness.

To clarify, it is nowhere near everyone; but I have seen it from quite a few. Have some authors always been that way but without social media we just never saw it? Were they restricted to writing letters to each other and talking to each other over the phone to do their griping and “backstabbing”? Probably… particularly when I recall some of my uncle’s writing “chums”… who would have probably shoved their “best friend” over a cliff if it would have gotten them a “best seller.”

I think too many new writers also approach the craft now unhelped by the likes of that recent creation, #NaNoNaNoNaNo, which conveys the impression that banging out a 50,000 word novel in a month is not only reasonable… but “ANYONE!” can do it. We are also inundated with opinions on “the best way” to write. “Everyone” has advice.

“You need more beta readers!”… “You have to write first person!”… “God, don’t write first person!” Etc., etc., etc.

However, a writer will freeze with indecision and never write anything if he/she tries to follow EVERYONE’S, err, trenchant advice. Because it is impossible to make any book satisfy everyone. You will quickly turn into a headcase as a writer if you look to try to please “the world.”

[Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald.]

And we need to remember too that even great writers did not – and do not – get everything their way. Fitzgerald spent a huge amount of time in crippling debt. One minute the world seems to be yours for the taking, but within a year or two the sales of your new book may disappoint you and those critics who praised its predecessor now claim the craft has passed you by.

For us mere writing mortals, yes our books may be decent to good, but there are LOTS of other decent and good books out there too. Sure, many books are far worse than ours – including many that will frustratingly sell more than ours. But that is the writing game and it has always been so and always will be.

If I have learned anything since 2013 in writing five novels, it is five points:

1) Do not measure myself against anyone else: everyone writing is doing something different for their own reasons.

2) I know what I write likely will appeal only to a limited readership.

3) Avoid reading or putting too much reliance on reviews: any good ones may go to my head and any middling to poor ones will only discourage me. (I borrowed that outlook, I admit, from my uncle, who took that position generally.)

4) Do not expect to make piles of money from writing.

5) Above all, try to have fun with the creative side, and have a sense of humor too in interacting with readers and other writers, because, in the end, chances are that camaraderie will be where I will get my best sense of satisfaction.

My uncle once cornered me back in those same long ago 1990s about how for his next novel he planned to “borrow” the name of a friend of mine for a French policewoman character and base the character on her personality. “Oh, dear God, no,” I recall half-laughing and, horrified, blurting out in response. I actually did not think the character idea was a bad one; what I did not want was him “appropriating” my friend that way; and I was also trying to hide that I was terrified because I knew full well he had written a New York policewoman lead in a novel previously.

He was also smiling at me as he said it, and in moments I realized he was probably teasing me. I say “probably” because I will always also feel that, deep down, he was actually, uh, testing me possibly – that he was floating the idea in my direction to gauge my quick reaction to the suggestion. He never wrote such a novel, but whenever I see a French policewoman character in film or on TV I remember his “threat.”

When he was writing, he was all business. However, he also loved having some FUN with fiction. I try to do the same and I feel we all should.

Have a great weekend, wherever you are. 🙂