Is a question that’s been haunting me. And if so, in what way and to what end?
The loneliness of the long writing form is one engrained in cultural consciousness and held a little too tight by the writer. I don’t speak of the emotional state but the creative one.
Compare with a film and the number of contributors deserving credit is so considerable they must be squeezed to unreadably tiny print.
With my first book I wrote as I thought I should. Much of it clashed with what I wanted to do, but I felt shackled by all the books I had read and advice I had heard. Write to genre, know your market and of course the unsaid but always felt, ‘we are the gatekeepers of your future, please us..’
Write to Please Yourself. When You write to Please Others You end up Pleasing No one – Benjamin Franklin
Its an almost impossible thing to measure. I still often wonder am I writing as I want, or as I feel I should?
The widow of Raymond Carver, Tess Gallagher, recently re-released some of his work in the belief that his voice was compromised by his editor Gordon Lish. He achieved great acclaim on the back of those compromises. Yet they caused the author a great deal of anguish, robbing his work of something he felt he needed to say. It raises the question, who was the true author? Created by one, moulded by another; was Carver merely the clay?
Even those inspired by the likes of Dan Brown and James Patterson, the purveyors of commercial produce, still hold themselves to be artists, with voice and vision. And given his penchant for ‘the seventy two year old, brown eyed, 200 lb, five foot eight inch ‘ constructions, Brown’s prose is distinctive and much discussed (derided) across the board. Who is to say in a hundred years that your great great great grankids won’t be sitting down in a lecture hall to study ‘Dan Brown: Master or Destroyer. Prose and religion in the early 21st century’.
If he compromised his voice, let an editor rub out those unnecessary details? Would be still be Dan Brown and would the read be the less for it? Blander, duller – some would say it couldn’t get any duller – but if the quirks, the mistakes, are erased?
So if you stick to your voice, perhaps you can compromise on content? In no other format is content and delivery, voice and story so inextricably linked.
In song you have singer and songwriter. Composer and lyricist. The same song can be sung by Dame Shirley Bassey and Nine Inch Nails and in doing so two different pieces of art are produced, yet the notes, the melody and the words never change.
But to change the voice of a novel you must change the content. And if you change the content, how does that effect the voice?
‘You should write, first of all, to please yourself. You shouldn’t care a damn about anybody else at all. But writing can’t be a way of life, the important part of writing is living. You have to live in such a way that your writing emerges from it.’ – Doris Lessing
In the 1980’s Lessing wrote under an alias, Jane Somer. Unlike the recent ruse by Jk Rowling, Lessing worked completely alone and her book was actually refused by her own long time publisher with a cursory, ‘commercially unviable’. Lessing claimed it proved that ‘nothing succeeds like success.’ It certainly suggests her voice was either utterly indistinct or simply something her publisher had never paid attention to.
Many claim in the current climate that to succeed in books you have to be a brand – a few elite dominating the market, selling on the power of name alone – King, Brown, Rowling, Child. Patterson, the best selling writer in the world (more than double his nearest competitor!) doesn’t even write his own books. He oversees – like a director on a film set. And some would claim his output is the same soulless mulch. But he is selling.
There is no doubt he is writing for an audience of hundreds of millions. I am sure he does believe in himself – as a brand. His vision a production line. Is he still in his own way uncompromising? Honest and consistent, delivering what people want in the way they want it, regardless of the criticisms that might come his way. And he maintains he is a storyteller, simply one who trusts other voices.
As a writer I have to quibble – stories I too find easy. I could have two dozen books a year if all I had to do was the outline, but where they live and breathe is in the writing. I think of the strict linear form of his work – the outline never deviated from clear – and I think of all the ideas I’ve had – inspired dialogue, sudden subplots, unexpected relationships – that sprung from nothing except the act of writing itself.
It takes time, it is the hard work part, but its not mine if I don’t write it. I know that with absolution, even if I fail I will still be ten times closer than anyone else could ever get.