Tuesday 27 September 2011

JMW Turner Has Advice For Writers

One day the artist JMW Turner was out sketching.  An admirer offered to buy his sketch which Turner agreed to, saying the price was 60 guineas. 
    '60 Guineas! But it only took you 10 minutes.' 
    'Ah yes,' JMW Turner is supposed to have replied.  '10 minutes, and 40 years of experience.'

I'm dredging my memory of my Art History degree for this anecdote, so it may not be 100% accurate, but it came to mind when I was giving feedback to those 40 first pages a couple of weekends ago.  I've given feedback to so many writers over the past 15 years that it doesn't take much time for me to analyse a text and spot what may be holding the author back.  People sometimes are amazed that it only takes a few minutes for me to see something that they haven't despite hours of slaving away at their work. Well, a) I'm an outsider and b) I've done it before.  10 minutes, and 15 years experience in my case. 

As well as reading other people's work, I've written quite a few words of my own - well over a million I think, given my prediliction for cutting vast chunks out of my early drafts.  The more I write, the easier and quicker it is to write.  Similarly writing this blog.  Posts took ages at the beginning.  Now ideas come often, and take less time to write up.

People sometimes ask me for a possible timescale to publication, and the immediate answer has to be: no one knows.  A deal could turn up tomorrow, or never.  

But I think JMW Turner suggests another answer.  The time it takes will be directly related to the amount of time - writing, reading, giving and getting critiques, researching the publishing business, promoting yourself etc - that you put into it.


JO said...

Time, yes. And effort. And a willingness to learn. I can think of people who are held back by a conviction that they know all about writing already!

Jennifer Mackerras said...

This is the third blog article I have read this week that has reminded me of the importance of actually doing the work. If you want to be an actor, then you have to act. If you want to be a writer, then you have to write.
I write a weekly article for my Alexander Technique website. And because I want to become a better and faster writer, I took up a challenge via twitter, to write a blog article every day for thirty days. It's on the hashtag #talkersblock. It is proving an interesting challenge, and I can already sense that my ability to write effective text is improving. But only time will tell...
Thanks for such a timely reminder, and for some added encouragement!

Sarah Duncan said...

JO - I've met quite a few of those in my time! makes you wonder why they come to a CW class.

Jennifer - that sounds an interesting experiment. I think Nanowrimo has the same effect. It's just like they say about exercise - The more you do, the more you can do. I've certainly found that to be true.