It is commonly reported that novelists come up with story ideas by asking “What if …?”. Actually, it doesn’t help with producing story ideas; it just provides a way of focusing a general feeling that an idea may be useful into a sales pitch you might throw at a potential publisher.
I’m 44 years old now, and the problem I’ve had with the “What if …?” approach for many years is that I can’t help sticking a “So” in front of it. It’s a real bummer. I think I still have a few good ideas for novels, but I find I question more and more if there’s any point doing anything about them.
This isn’t terribly inspirational, is it? Sorry about that. I think I would have more fire in my belly had I not been published when I was younger. Part of the problem is that I know a little more about how everything works in the industry, and how devilishly difficult it is to get into print. And stay in print. My old literary agent told me back in the day that one of his authors had been rejected by her publisher after she’d had her first six books published by them. Ouch. Apparently, they had grown tired of waiting for her to break through into the big time.
The other problem with the industry is publishers funnelling funds to the big names, leaving a couple of drops to perhaps spill over the edge and land on their hoard of unknown authors. I don’t expect the recession has helped matters any. I wouldn’t mind so much the many hours I would have to devote to a new novel if the chance of some decent remuneration waited at the end.
Probably the biggest problem, though, personally, is my having turned into a miserable old bugger. What do you mean, like we hadn’t noticed?
I went through my mid-life crisis in my early thirties and I’m still trying to shake it off. My passion for commercial writing has waned accordingly. Although I didn’t have many useful or accurate things to say about the world when I was in my early twenties, I said them anyway. I had a lot of arguments with people. If I came face to face with the me of twenty years ago, I would have to punch me very hard indeed.
These days, I feel I see the world more clearly and I don’t like much of what I see. Actually, the world is just fine; it’s so many of the people who piss me off. No doubt I provoke the same reaction in them. Oscar Wilde had it right: “Hell is other people.”
I suspect I have an attitude problem – different to the pigheaded arrogance of my early years, but every bit as bad in its own way, and a major drawback for someone contemplating another novel. I’m sure I could write a far more accomplished novel now, technically and with regards to subject matter, but I really can’t be bothered because I’m not terribly sure anyone would be interested and I don’t really care either way.
I’m hoping I will grow out of this phase. I’d like to rediscover the passion of my youth. From a literary point of view, I suspect it could be pretty powerful when combined with the deeper understanding that comes with age.
For now, though, I am struggling. I think there’s probably a certain phase in life where you transition from the anything-is-possible exuberance of youth to a hopefully graceful acceptance of what it’s really all about. The journey itself can be a little bumpy, however, and, as a writer, I am trying not to take it too much to heart. Tumblemoose said in a recent blog that it’s never too late to change, and I believe he’s right.
I take as my inspiration the supremely heart-warming newspaper article from January 2008 regarding the 102 year-old man who emigrated to New Zealand from the UK. He commented at the time: “What’s important is that when I’m 105 I don’t want to be thinking, ‘I wish I had moved to the other side of the world when I was 102’.”
You couldn’t make it up.