Sunday, January 4, 2009

Thought for the week

The number of people in the world who would ever dream of picking up a hitherto unfamiliar musical instrument and expecting to be able to play Mozart on it is presumably very small, so why is the number who think they can write a good novel without ever thinking or bothering to read up on the history, the theory or the techniques of novel-writing, or indeed without ever (apparently) having read a novel at all, so very very large?

This is a constant and undiminished source of astonishment.

Then again, a constant and undiminished capacity for astonishment is one of the paths to a happy, or at least a non-disappointed, middle age. So at least there's something in it for me.


Paper Knife said...

To which I can only say, 'Amen, sister'. I have encountered many aspiring writers, who claim never to read anything by anyone else because it would 'spoil' their own style, and yes, it does indeed show that they have not read anything by anyone else, but not for the reasons they suppose.

I think one needs an undiminished capacity for astonishment in order to survive as one grows older. Either that or the brain explodes from being unable to cope!

anodyne Brownie said...

of course Anyone can tap out 5000 words and con a publisher (Barbara Cartland, Naomi Campbell, Ivana Trump) BUT making them add up to a compelling read is another art altogether.

"oh, you're a writer?
Yeah, no, I thought of writing a book"

Lefty E said...

Though this is not my "field" I tend to instinctively agree. This is on the basis of my general suspicions about 'talent' - lots of people have it, but you need discipline, in both senses - work, and knowledge of the craft.

Incidentally, Pav, I visited a cousin for the first time in ears over the break, and he's writing a 'verse novel'. I heard bits of it and its great - comes with musical backing in parts by a musician collaborator.

From my limited grasp - Im assuming teh verse novel to be the original form, no? Beowulf, Chaucer etc?

M-H said...

And 'Amen, sister' again. I recently met a woman who claims to be a science fiction writer, but who proudly claims to never read any published scifi. I found it laughable, frankly. The sample of writing she showed me was technically adequate (ie grammatically correct) but uninspired and derivative. She was complaining about how hard it is to get published. Uh-huh. My attempt to discuss genres, styles, and the politics/business of publishing was unsuccessful, sadly. Why can't people see that there is specialist knowledge everywhere, and that we all need to tap into it to live in our complex world?

Anonymous said...

Heh, but then there is that widespread sentiment that we all have a book in us. Every time i get a little time rich my step mum haseles me to give it a try. then there are all those back covers which list the 15 or so carreers that the author had before writing their blockbuster. there was a doonsebury comic about that meme back in the seventies.


Bernice said...

I blame the publishers. EMI wouldn't stick your untrained musician in a recording studio, nor could they hire Carnegie Hall. And don't get me started on self-publishing. That is why we have editors. To edit. Hopefully. (recycling bins help too)

Legal Eagle said...

I occasionally had delusions of writing fiction during my late teens and early twenties. I never got very far. I always had an interesting big idea, but there was no way I had the skill to turn that into a book. Yep, I appreciate that it's really hard.

Feral Sparrowhawk said...

Pav, are these published books you've been asked to review, or are you working as a reader for a publisher?

I ask because I can understand that there are stupid, arrogant people in the world who think they can write great novels without doing the hard yards beforehand, but I'm bewildered as to why anyone would publish them.

It's particularly an issue for me because I'm currently polishing and repolishing a non-fiction book proposal before having the courage to send it off. Part of me can't believe its good enough, but part also notes that an awful lot of books of limited merit seem to get a run.