Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Why Alexander McCall Smith Depresses Me

I was speaking on Saturday at Wells Lit Fest, and everybody was talking about Alexander McCall Smith who had been speaking the evening before.  He apparently wakes at 5 am, writes 1000 words an hour for 3 hours, then at 8 am goes back to bed for a little snooze before carrying on his day.  This is depressing enough but what really got me was that he doesn't revise his work.  Apparently he just writes it, as if taking dictation from some other place and boof!  there it is, publishable quality.  He publishes 3 or 4 books a year. Swine.

I try to be a nice person, but sometimes I have to admit I'm not really because, oooh, I'm so jealous. How I wish I was like Alexander McCall Smith.  I find writing hard work.  I find getting up at 7 hard work, let alone 5.  It doesn't just fall from my brain onto the page, and I then need to revise and revise and revise to get something that's worth publishing.  

Ah well.  I am never going to achieve that output.  I am never going to get up that early to write.  It simply isn't in me.  My loss.  And now I could go into a bout of self flagellation, but I'm gradually learning not to compare myself with other writers.  They write their books, and I write mine.  However early I get up, I will never write an Alexander McCall Smith book.  And, no matter how many thousand words he writes at unearthly hours of the morning, he will never write a Sarah Duncan book.  

Different strokes for different folks.  It's soul destroying to compare yourself with others, especially when you're at the unpublished stage and a friend gets a deal.  Don't do it.  Treasure your unique gifts.  No one else can write like you.  Write when it suits you, not according to someone else's schedule.  If it's 500 words a day, or 3000 in a whoosh at the weekend it doesn't matter.  If all you can manage is 2000 when you're on holiday, then that's okay too.  It'll take longer to get to the end, that's all.  Because it isn't a competition.  You are you, and Alexander McCall Smith is himself, and everybody must write their own way.

7 comments:

Jen Black said...

By the time you reach your sixties, you may find waking at 5am is no big deal. You may also find your attention span somewhat shorter. I suspect Smith's routine takes these things into account!

womagwriter said...

Well said, Sarah.

Sarah Duncan said...

Jen, that's a fascinating take on it. I won't feel so bad now at lolling in bed of a morning.

Dan Purdue said...

I heard about Alexander McCall Smith's impressive writing routine a while ago, on Radio 4's Open Book I think.

Although at first I was wowed and a little intimidated by that level of output, once I'd thought about it a bit more I realised that the effect it had actually had on me was to limit the appeal of his books. I've not read any of them, and this insight has made me less likely to pick one up. I want my authors to have agonised over every word, to have battled procrastination and self-doubt, to have honed and sharpened every paragraph until they're sure they can't possibly write it any better.

Maybe it's because that's my experience of writing, and I have developed an inbuilt distrust of anyone who claims they can just sit down and let the (right) words come to them. I may be missing out (the popularity of AMS's books would suggest the reading public isn't hampered by the same sort of prejudice as I am), but - as you say, Sarah - there's different strokes for different folks.

Sarah Duncan said...

I have to admit that I'm of the same mind as you, Dan. I've met people who claim that the words just flow naturally and they don't need to edit, and it's usually a sign of poor writing - not that I'm saying AMS is a poor writer, perish the thought, but I think you could certainly call his tales slight, charming though they are.

You'll have to read my books - I can guarantee that every word has caused me angst...

Jo said...

Sarah, you never fail to make me feel so much better! I hope I can learn to stop feeling jealous of published writers and to stop beating myself up. The more guilty I feel, the less I write. Here's to banishing those inner gremlins!

Sarah Duncan said...

Glad I cheer you up! More guilt=less writing is not a good equation, Jo - though I must admit it's not unknown to me. We'll have to try Less guilt=more writing.