by Rachel Grosvenor
Ah to be a writer. It’s a wonderful thought, isn’t it? I have always wanted to be a writer, even when I was very small. And then, at thirteen, I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And that was that. I would imagine my favourite authors writing their works with relish. There’s Tolkien, walking around the woods at Sarehole Mill, Hobbits running just ahead, the promise of a pint of ale at the Green Dragon awaiting him. There’s Lewis Caroll, his imagination full of white rabbits and tea parties. What a vision. Who wouldn’t want to spend their days in a dreamland? Oh, and there’s Dickens, furiously writing away in his study, finishing his masterpiece A Christmas Carol in only six weeks.
Don’t go on to me about Tolkien and Dickens, I hear you say, what distractions did they have? There was nothing to do but read and write in those days, apart from visiting a public hanging or two. You’re quite right, and therein lies the problem with that classic image of the writer. I held that image dear to my heart, until I actually tried to write. It isn’t just the fact the our phones are alight with the magic of the internet, that a single moment of research can now send you into a rabbit hole of irrelevant yet entertaining information, or that once your novel is written you have a 1 in 1000 chance of being picked up by an agent – I think that we may have been lied to about the ease of being a writer.
It’s a fairy-tale story of sorts. We hear those tales of writers like E.L. James (whatever your views of Fifty Shades of Grey – you cannot deny that this author’s success story is an attractive one), who appeared to be an overnight self-publishing success, and even went on to write a book about how to write. It’s an example of the old creative writing cliché – ‘Everyone has a novel inside them’. The next thing you know your Facebook and Instagram algorithms are lighting up with adverts telling you that yes, you too can become a writer! Fancy earning money writing? It’s just this simple.
But I’m afraid, as anyone who writes knows, it isn’t simple. When Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings he was actually procrastinating – he was supposed to be working on his academic work. When he had completed it, he had real trouble getting it published in its entirety, eventually writing to his publishers to say ‘I would gladly consider the publication of any part of the stuff’. When Dickens released A Christmas Carol he didn’t even earn enough money from it to cover the costs of publishing, and this was in part because he kept editing it at the last minute, unhappy with the final product. The image of writers and their successes has always glossed over the difficulty behind the craft – while everyone might have a story in them to tell, not everybody has the time, skillset, and thick skin that turns a story into a novel. Hemingway said it best when he said ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed’.
But of course, nothing worth doing is ever easy. Being a writer has some glorious moments of triumph – the days when ideas are flowing, your characters are charming you, the story is exciting and your fingers are managing to keep up with your thought process. Those are the days that make the editing process, the writer’s block, the administration, worthwhile. And, if you hear a story of someone else’s writing success, be they a first time author or a creative writing PhD, raise a glass to them. None of us know how long they sat at that typewriter, bleeding.
About the Reviewer
Rachel is an author and Creative Writing tutor from Birmingham, UK. She currently lives in New Zealand, where she spends her days writing, tracking Lord of the Rings film locations, and being inspired by the incredible scenery. Rachel has a PhD, MA and BA Hons in Creative Writing, and has spent many years lecturing and tutoring on the subject. She can be found on Instagram at @teachmecreativewriting.