Writers are a self-conscious lot. When they are not analysing their emotions and setting every pulse and palpitation down on paper, they are introspecting about their craft, wondering whether to use pen or pencil, PC or Mac, coffee or cocaine. Dozens of questions present themselves each day before they can sit down to write. What kind of music will get their juices flowing? What is the best time of day? Does word count matter? What genre are they in? Dare they call themselves a writer yet? What is fame really like? Can they expect payment for their grand opus in their lifetime?
Then there is the delicate issue of self-promotion. Facebook or Twitter? WordPress or Google? Should they self-publish by e-book or go the traditional route and deal with those dastardly devils called agents?
They look to luminaries of the industry for inspiration. How did Stephen King avoid the horrific pitfalls? Does Dan Brown have divine wisdom? Is Stephenie Meyer in possession of immortal truths?
Lately I have been studying the life and works of Somerset Maugham. Having written a few novels and plays with little success, he was on the point of giving up and resuming his career as a doctor when he heard that one of his plays had been unexpectedly taken up by a producer.
Lady Frederick, rejected by seventeen managements and all the leading actresses of the day, became the passport to lasting fame and fabulous wealth. Written on the back of a discarded typescript because the author was so short of money, it was an overnight success. By the following year he had four plays running concurrently in London and he became known as England’s Dramatist.
But how did Maugham look back on his life as a writer? Like this…
… I began to meditate upon the writer’s life. It is full of tribulation. First he must endure poverty and the world’s indifference; then, having achieved a measure of success, he must submit with a good grace to its hazards. He depends upon a fickle public. He is at the mercy of journalists who want to interview him, and photographers who want to take his picture, of editors who harry him for copy and tax-gatherers who harry him for income tax, of persons of quality who ask him to lunch and secretaries of institutes who ask him to lecture, of women who want to marry him and women who want to divorce him, of youths who want his autograph, actors who want parts and strangers who want a loan, of gushing ladies who want advice on their matrimonial affairs and earnest young men who want advice on their compositions, of agents, publishers, managers, bores, admirers, critics, and his own conscience. But he has one compensation. Whenever he has anything on his mind, whether it be a harassing reflection, grief at the death of a friend, unrequited love, wounded pride, anger at the treachery of someone to whom he has shown kindness, in short any emotion or any perplexing thought, he has only to put it down in black and white, using it as a theme of a story or the decoration of an essay, to forget all about it. He is the only free man.
[From Cakes and Ale]