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Friday, 30 March 2012

Guest Post: Lee Lowe - Confessions of a Compleat Non-Professional

I've been instructed not to include any X-rated content in this post, and since I love to swear, especially when talking about writing, I'm going to make a deal with you. Every time you see the word 'the', preface it with your favourite four-letter word and we're good to go.

The publishing world—now, don't forget those four-letter words—has not welcomed me with open arms,1 but neither has the reading public. I can't boast hundreds of ebook sales and certainly not 1.5m like Amanda Hocking or similar feats by other members of the Kindle Million Club. My last royalty payment from Amazon KDP yielded the august sum of US$24.96. Combined with an outstanding check for a short story, soon to appear in an American literary journal, my current earnings from writing, excluding the translation work I do, just about cover this year's hosting for my website.

In my self-delusional mode, I like to claim it's because my fiction is available for free in most places—and admittedly, my downloads have numbered in the thousands. But millions? Nope, not even when one my novels is on offer for £0 from Amazon, as is Mortal Ghost at the moment.

Downloads, of course, do not necessarily translate into readers. And I'm not likely ever to have hordes of those. If you want to know why, check out the reviews at Barnes & Noble—plenty of unhappy readers!2

So what am I doing here? And why am I bothering?

To begin with, as many of you have already gathered, I don't define 'professional' in terms of income. But nor do I see it in terms of reader satisfaction—at least not readers other than myself. I am my own first reader. My only reader. No one else matters.

Yes, I hear those four-letter words. How can she be so contemptuous of readers? What is a book if not a means of communicating to those very readers? How self-obsessed. How onanistic. How unprofessional.

Quick, delete her post before someone thinks she represents self-published writers. (And why is she even publishing then?)

The answer, I suppose, is that writing is how I define myself. It's what I do, and have always done, even when I wasn't writing; when I didn't have the self-discipline to shut the door on my five kids and concentrate, when I didn't scribble long into the night or well before dawn. (I'm terribly admiring of writers who manage that!) I'm dreadful at plotting but love sentences—beautiful, intoxicating sentences. In my next life, if I respect my work, maybe I'll be reincarnated as a much better writer—though it will take rather a lot of reincarnations to become a writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Marilynne Robinson, Alan Hollinghurst or Hilary Mantel. In the meantime, all I can do is keep struggling for the words that, far too often, just won't come. This morning, as every morning, I may get to write one good sentence. And then, if I'm lucky, another.

Aha, you'll say. No wonder people find her stuff so awful, so unreadable, so . . . unprofessional.3 Doesn't she know that a novel depends on far more than good sentences? Well, I do, and yet I don't: tell a story badly, with the wrong words in the wrong place,4 or not enough of the right ones, and it's another story—or none at all. And when I'm trying to tell it, there's no one else there, sitting by my side, whispering or stuttering, typing or deleting, facing the difficult, the impossible, the [four-letter word] self-punishment of writing.

But then there are the moments when it all comes right, perhaps only for a single metaphor or a brief run of sentences. For some indefinable reason the gate of horn swings open,5 letting the perfect words through. It's a feeling like no other. You are alive. You are fulfilled. You are validated—true validation, which is not in the eyes of the world, but your own. Tonight, at least, you can sleep.6

Next morning, you may decide those words aren't quite right after all. It's no coincidence that I used to obsess over my children's practising (sax, piano, violin, cello) or my temperamental heritage tomatoes. If you've got that sort of personality (disorder?), then you either medicate . . . or you rewrite. I like to proclaim it takes courage and stamina not to be satisfied with 'good enough'. But the fact is, you can't help yourself—you'll go back and fix it. Because you know. Because no matter how much praise you may get, or how many awards, or how much money, you know.

So while there is nothing wrong with readers, or with earning enough to bid on those rare tomato seeds you've just spotted on eBay, the essence of professionalism lies in self-respect.


1Cliché alert, but you should see the stuff conpubs—conventional publishers—approve.
2Somebody out there is going to assume I wrote this review myself. I didn't. Mine would have been much harsher.
3Why won't I cough up for an editor? Stubbornness, undoubtedly, as well as a hard-won lesson from my mothering days: the best learning is self-learning.
4To paraphrase Coleridge, since good fiction means the way poetry does.
5The gatekeepers must be snoring.
6Insomniacs may well mutter, 'Get real.'
~~~


You can find Lee's fiction and blog at her website.
Lee recommends the audio version of Corvus, narrated by
Welsh actor Ioan Hefin.
Read an excerpt from her current work in progress.
For occasional tweets: @LLeeLowe
And just because, the trailer for her filmmaker daughter's latest film!

5 comments:

AJ said...

An amusing and thought provoking post. When my internet connection stops being so annoyingly slow I'll be following your links.

CallyPhillips said...

Hi Lee, your post is very interesting because it raises a number of important questions: Is writing a communicative act? (what is/is/should there be a/the relationship between process and production?) Why do we write? Why do we read? What is professionalism? How do we gauge 'good' fiction? I'm not going to attempt to answer these questions in a box here but I will think on. Also, I'll do you the respect of reading your work before I make comment on it/your views. I've downloaded Mortal Ghost and Corvus and will get onto it. I have to say that I believe my reading these books is a communicative act and that therefore establishes some relationship between us. I think I have some sympathy with some of what you say, but I need a) time to process and b) more information about you/your writing to be able to give an informed opinion... it may form the basis of my own blog on this site next week! Thanks for putting your head above the parapet and I'll be interested to see how this 'debate' grows.

Debbie said...

Twice recently I've come across that word "onanistic". It's very, very rare for me to see a word I've never heard of ...

julia jones said...

professional is obviously a good respectable thing to be - and it would be so great if our writing also paid our mortgages but let's sometimes stand up for the AMATEUR. The amateur is the person who is doing something because s/he LOVES it.

Anonymous said...

nice idea.. thanks for sharing...