Thursday, July 29, 2010

It's all about the words . . .

So, this is the tough first post. I'd like to say that I've thought long and hard about it, but I haven’t really. Initially I tussled over which of my two pillars of interest to begin with. Should it be a rant over the idiocy of homeopathy, or a celebration of hiking in the mountains of the Peloponnese? Both of these are sure to come, but instead I decide to begin with what it all comes back to – what blogging should be all about.

Huge amounts of people think that they can write, and many also harbor the belief that their writing deserves an audience. Back in the day it used to be diaries and long reams of snailmail correspondence. Now it’s blogs, tweets and emails. For the ambitious there is always the dream of a book – after all “everyone has a book in them”.

This is nonsense. As anyone with half a minute to spare can see the vast majority of the written word that enters the public domain is complete dross. As I’ve already intimated this is not particularly a modern phenomenon, but Web 2.0 does mean that bad writing is not so much in-your-face as jumping out of the monitor and scratching your eyeballs.

And let’s just examine the “everyone has a book in them” meme in more detail. No they don’t.

Ok, a bit more detail. I once worked for a literary agency. My main job was trawling through the slush pile. For those who don’t know this is the vast accumulation of unasked for manuscripts that even crappy agents get through their letterbox, and the place I worked for was rather good. On an average week we’d get about a hundred. If these followed our guidelines they’d include the first three chapters of the ‘book’, or about 10,000 words. In other words they represented a strong commitment by the authors to their writing.

And almost without exception they were complete rubbish – as in there was no need to read beyond the first couple of sentences before rejecting them kind of rubbish. This sounds immensely callous, and will surely anger many aspiring authors, but it’s the simple truth. If you can’t get the first sentence right, then don’t bother with the rest, because no one else will.

Here are the stats: of the 7,000 odd manuscripts I looked at 90% fell into the utter drivel category. About 10% ranged from just about readable to not too bad. About ten or so were pieces I enjoyed reading, or could see others enjoying, but didn’t quite fit the publishing market at the time. One, that’s one out of 7,000, got into print. This is it, if you’re interested. It’s a cruel world . . .

So, I realise I’ve now opened myself up to piles of criticism and invective. (Before you start I know I’ve started two sentences with an “and”, which is considered bad form, but I did it for a reason). However I wanted to make this commitment here and now: whatever else this blog may be, I will try my very best to make it at least readable. Hopefully it will also be entertaining and informative, but if the writing’s crap, then I’ve failed. Let me know . . .

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