The other night I was sat reading the book for my first ever book club meeting next month (Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, since you ask) and, in a rare scene of domestic tranquillity, my husband was sat next to me on the sofa looking at Earth Pics (@Earth_Pics) on Twitter. (That’s right, the telly was OFF. Sign me up for my subscription to Organic Vegan Yoga Weekly now.)
The raison d’être of Earth Pics, for the uninitiated, is to share astonishing or beautiful things from around the world, captured on film. Every so often, Husband would interrupt my reading to show me something particularly astounding. Photos I saw:
- a German cavalry soldier circa 1935 standing ramrod straight and perfectly balanced on the saddle of his horse whilst firing his rifle;
- a towering wave in Antarctica, turned to a snow-coated tube of ice at the very moment when it should have broken;
- two oceans joining, a clear line between royal blue on one side and turquoise on the other, because the waters for some reason don’t mix;
- a couple of 1940s types playing tennis on the wings of an aircraft in flight.
Anyone with access to the internet can see this stuff. It’s amazing. We should spend our days in a state of perpetual amazement. We should pause on that very first photo and spend the evening discussing it. We should spend the next day telling our friends about it. Instead, we murmur to one another how wonderful it is and move on to the next one.
My point is this: when everyone has access to these incredible images, to a world of fantastic, eye-popping, brain-scrambling photos and paintings and video, all at the click of a mouse, how on earth do you get your material noticed?
I don’t just mean this little blog (though I mean that too, obviously). But setting aside the wonders of Earth Pics and thinking about reading for a moment, there are five centuries’ worth of incredible books out there. All those classics that have withstood the test of time are now free as e-books. Austen and Dickens and Thackeray and Trollope, all of them amply re-paying second and third readings and all of them available for precisely no pence.
Fair enough, Woman cannot live on the classics alone. But honestly, am I the only aspiring writer out there who reads a new David Mitchell or a Barbara Kingsolver or a Julian Barnes and dies a little inside? When there’s so much writing out there that’s absolutely, bona fide brilliant, what miracle of chance or fate is needed to get a reader to choose to spend hours of their life with my offering?
Taking as read that the odds are stacked against me, I’ve seen two tips over the last couple of days that I think might help.
The first was: be a perfectionist in your writing. Having spent the better part of the last two years trying to silence my inner critic in order to complete my novel’s first draft, I’ll be honest, I find this one a little disheartening. I’d got to the point where I quite enjoyed the freedom that came with recognising this or that paragraph didn’t quite flow properly, that my simile was a bit of a cliché, or that my whole chapter’s structure seriously needed work and ploughing on regardless. This being a perfectionist business sounds like a lot of hard work. That probably means it’s worth doing.
The second was that persistence is more important than talent. I like this. It feels reassuring. Talent seems to me one of those things you either have or you don’t. Persistence, on the other hand, surely just requires a bit of will power.
Both of them, though, imply a degree of effort. A measure of blood, sweat and tears. A soupçon of struggle and strife.
Hmm. I think I might be revising my deadline for completing that second draft.