Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Writing - art or craft? (as a pig in a poke I'm partial to old chestnuts)


It seems like a long time since I first began scribbling. It was actually eighteen months ago, no time at all; not long even as a proportion of my life. I believe I've blogged before about how I started writing because I found myself with time on my hands when my children left home and I relinquished a position of responsibility at work, although not my job iself. So, in a moment of boredom, I picked up a pencil and discovered I can write. I wrote compulsively for a few months and actually thought it was easy. I still find writing easy; producing a book is another matter altogether. Back to the confession... where was I? (OK I'll stop prevaricating) I completed a 'story' and thought, "this is rather good." So, in the spirit of having nothing to lose, and without having shown a word I'd written to another soul (talk about fools rushing in!) I typed up my 'work' and sent my MS off to 3 publishers who specialise in crime fiction.

Within 2 weeks (I kid you not) I had a phone call from a publisher who was interested. She asked me to send her the rest of the book. This is where it all began to unravel. In my ignorance - may I call it naivete? - I'd submitted what I thought was a book in its entirety, all 25,000 words of it. Discovering that a real book is a minimum of 80,000 words, I (oh the embarrassment!) cobbled together four stories I'd written (remember I'd been scribbling compulsively for about 4 months by now, 2,000 words a day every day, over 1/4 million words now if not more) and submitted that as my 'book'. Sensing a cornucopia of plots, my publisher promptly signed me up for 3 books, and brought in a brilliant editor to sort me out. Said editor read my work and immediately commented that it read like a collection of stories cobbled together. I was busted!

My publisher (whom I adore not only because she spotted potential in my (very) raw talent and gave me an opportunity to develop as a writer, but also because she is a genuinely lovely woman) and my editor (who could hone in on a splinter in a forest) have allowed me time to sort my ramblings into a coherent narrative. So I feel it's only fair to come clean and admit that the delay in publication hasn't been entirely down to 'other people'. It was me all along!!! I can only add that the past year has been the most amazing experience for me. Most writers work for years before finding a publisher. I've done it the other way round, finding a publisher and an editor and subsequently putting in the work. I've been incredibly lucky to have benefited from their advice. I only hope the book sells after all this and that my publisher feels it was worth the punt, speaking as a pig in a poke.

All of which raises the question: can writing succeed as a creative outburst, or is it a craft requiring thoughtful planning and careful refining?

37 comments:

Monique said...

Oh Leigh, I'm glad you're back. So, are you rewriting at the mo? Or have you finished. You are so lucky.

I think it will sell. Good crime stories are always selling and all you need to do then is wait for the screen right to turn up. Now wouldn't that be great? And can I write the script? Please, please?

Hey. blow me, I'm the first to comment!!!

Charles Gramlich said...

That story of sending the stuff to the publisher, 25,000 words of it, is just amazing. The stars aligned right there, along with the fact that you must have shown amazing talent in the work.

Bill Clark said...

This is too funny, Leigh! Thanks for coming clean and sharing the full story with us. When your book rises to the top of the best-seller lists, this will make a great tale to tell on all your appearances on the telly! :)

Note that I say "when", not "if". You obviously have a great talent for writing, and now that your publisher and editor have kindly put you on the right path, the result should be nothing short of masterful.

Keep us posted (as it were)!

BernardL said...

I agree with Charles. What you sent them must have been stunningly good.

'can writing succeed as a creative outburst, or is it a craft requiring thoughtful planning and careful refining?'

I don't believe there is a right or wrong in how you get published. I've read an incredible variety of stories explaining how different authors broke through. Your querying experience lends a mystique to this getting published gig I never would have imagined. :)

spyscribbler said...

That sounds like a great beginning! The path is different for everyone, it seems. Sounds like you showed a lot of talent! It's a great story. :-)

Art or craft? Art IS craft! Whether you do it at the beginning, the end, or with someone's help, it's in the mix, somehow. :-)

Sleepy said...

Other than my blog, I've never shown another soul anything I have written!
'Showing your arse' my Dad would call it.
Letting others 'see' a deeply personal part of yourself.

That's probably why I write and delete, write and delete, write and delete!

fizzycat said...

Hmm, writing must have a creative outburst to begin or at least an idea. Not being a proper writer like yourself , I can blog fairly haphazrdly without too much planning. I think I would find plotting a novel difficult. If someone gave me an idea I could make a shortish story but think padding it out to a novel would be tough. Yep that's my photo , taken when messing about with a camera about 6 months ago. Regarding the weird guy on the blog photo, I am convinced there is an agency in London that ensures at least one mystery person will be on your set of photos when they are looked at.Looking forwood to reading the book and the film now Monique is involved ( any walk on roles offered!) only joking , Fizz.

dabrah said...

Love the story of how you sent off what you thought was a complete book, and what they thought was a sample. Very funny.

I think you must have a great talent for storytelling. I can't wait to read your book when it's finally in the stores.

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

I enjoyed reading your post Leigh. I find it quite the other way around. I've re-written my book oh so many times but still haven't found a publisher for it.

Your book must have indeed been very special.

Best, Anne

The World According To Me said...

Well, you've definitely got a talent that the publisher and editor have spotted. I'm sure everything after that will slot into place.

I am so looking forward to reading your book. I've been telling all my friends how a soon-to-be-published writer has commented on my little blog!

Debs said...

You must be a great story teller/writer and thankfully someone saw that. Good for you.

I cant wait to read your book.

Dx

Leigh Russell said...

Monique - I'm always writing. As for the script - here's hoping!

Charles G - I've just been lucky. And what a ride it's been.

Bill C - keeping my fingers crossed (makes typing awkward...)

Spyscribbler - art is craft. As in artful and crafty?

Sleepy - showing your arse! I like it.

Fizzy - walk on parts? there are a few bodies!

dabrah - it didn't seem funny at the time! But it is funny, isn't it?

Anne - keep trying till you strike lucky.

World according to me - feeling's mutual. I get very excited when people stop by and comment on my blog.

debs - thanks for that, debs. I keep working out how many months till publication... then it'll be weeks... then days... I'm certainly enjoying more than my fair share of anticipation!

Josephine Damian said...

Leigh: A very interesting path to publication.

Saw your comment on the Rap Sheet and followed you here only to find many of my blog peeps have already discovered you. Jeesh!

I've given you a link in the crime scribe section of my blogroll.

Leigh Russell said...

Josephine - thanks for adding me to your blogroll. That's very cool.

Mima said...

As a reader not a writer, I have no idea! But I was fascinated to hear the full story behind the delays. I think it just goes to show what a great writer you are that the publisher saw such potential in you. For me as a reader I am much more likely to pick up a single novel rather than a collection of stories as I like the time to get involved with a character and story! I am looking forward to yours though however it may turn out, novel or collection!

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks, Mima. I feel like a hamster on a treadmill - no, that's not quite right, is it?! It will feel strange when the MS is finally done (if that day ever arrives. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm stuck in a time warp.) Cut Short had become a way of life for me. Not that I haven't been writing other stuff too... but that's another 'story'... I'll tell you one day.

Leigh Russell said...

I just reread my last comment and see I've written "Cut Short had become a way of life for me." Does that Freudian slip mean it's finally finished? ?????

Bernita said...

We delight in stories like these.
They give us hope.

Leigh Russell said...

I agree, Bernita. I think it is inspiring, because if this can happen to me, at my ripe old age, then there's potential for anyone to reinvent themselves at any time of life. I saw this on Josephine Damian's blog tonight - "It is never too late to be what you might have been." (George Eliot) I think that's going to be one of my quotations that I stick on my drawers, along with gems like: "I never want to see anyone, and I never want to go anywhere or do anything. I just want to write." (P.G.Wodehouse)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

What a fabulous story. I'm quite envious of it, actually.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks, Susan Helene. I think I've said in another context that if I wasn't me, I'd be quite envious of myself... It has been hard work, though, and I feel I've somewhat paid my dues now, after my lucky initial contact with a publisher.

I appreciate that I must write effectively to have been signed up so quickly, but I'm also aware that there must be thousands of equally talented writers who never have a lucky break.

It's quite astonishing, how much one other individual can affect our lives so much, not only family and loved ones, but also complete strangers who just drop into our lives and change everything. It reminds me of a plot I'm working on... only the change isn't for the better... sorry - got to go...

Eryl Shields said...

Both, of course: it starts as a creative outburst, and then becomes a finished, readable, thing in itself with the process of editing and refining. Well done for getting both aspects sorted.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Eryl - of course both are necessary. Let's hope soon it will be "well done for having got both aspects sorted" instead of "getting"!

tykobrie said...

Wow, so many comments. I'm new to this, so might need some help here and there.

Barbara Martin said...

"Writing - art or craft?"

Both fit. Congratulations on your book deal. Your book will sell. Good crime stories will do well by people who read other genres. I like crime stories as they help me with my fantasy writing.

Leigh Russell said...

tykobrie - likewise, but I've found the blog is full of helpful people - especially when I've encountered gremlins - shhh they might be watching... in my computer...

Barbara martin - your fantasy writing looks cool.

Mel said...

Wow what an incredible stroke of luck and stick with it, I have read some of the authors you have mentioned and will be pleased to try yours out as well!
I think outbursts are great, that is how I tend to write then do the mopping up later, ideas splurge but the craft afterwards cleans it up.
Roll on March 2009

San said...

What fabulous luck and apparently, fabulous talent!

I love this story of getting your first book published and I look forward to seeing Cut Short come out. I wonder if it will released in the U.S.

Akasha Savage said...

I think you deserve all you've achieved. I love reading your blog, so can't wait to be able to read your book. :)

Leigh Russell said...

Mel - Yes, I can't wait until March!

San - Thank you. Yes, Cut Short will be available in the US. I'll let you know nearer the time.

Akasha - Thanks. I'm always a bit surprised when people respond to my blog. I try to be honest & then I think maybe it's a bit dull? Writing fiction is so much more fun!

polona said...

it's obvious that you must have a lot of talent and i suppose you were lucky to come across people who were able to appreciate that and guide you on the right path.
i'm confident you will have succeeded.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks, Polona. As I said, I've been lucky. It's phenomenal how another person's decision can affect your entire life. I don't want to sound as though I'm preaching, but it makes me think about my responsibility towards others.

skipper&cathryn said...

thanks for your comment on my blog. As a compulsive book buyer (and I see we share quite a few fave authors) I'll look out for yours - and congratulations on publication

Leigh Russell said...

Hi skipper&cathryn.
My book's not even published and I get excited when someone says they might buy a copy. So far I must have about 25 "sales"! I'm sure my publisher would be impressed with that but I find it exciting!

fizzycat said...

Reason for knitting a wasp explained. The instructions for the knitting project at the Prima magazine website requested anything to do with picnics.They suggested knitting sparrows, which I find more bizarre than wasps. I knitted the sandwich and put a wasp on top because no doubt they will recieve many sandwiches and I wanted mine to be unusual and it amused me to place a wasp there.A bee would not work. I don't mind wasps till autumn when they go weird cos their mouths have changed and they go aggressive. I believe their mouthparts, which have been changed so they can feed youngster only at this time, allow the wasps to eat just liquid food. Thus they go for fruit and sweet things . Then if we have a lot about, the jam jar trap thing is used to catch them. Contents, jam brandy and water with a lid that allows wasps in but not out( paper or card with small holes, heard of foil as well being used). Not totally pleasant but not totally unpleasant for them.Sorry for the weighty tome got a bit carried away there.

zetor said...

Thankyou for visiting my blog. I will be keen to read your book . When is it published. The cover would definetely catch my attention.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Fizzycat - I think you've just given me an idea for a story. I've been writing some short stories which I'll blog about soon. One about a wasp could fit in well with a couple of others that hinge around different insects. (It's not quite as insane as it sounds).
Thanks for the inspiration!

Thanks Zetor. The book's due out in March (I hope!)