The Blurb Offence

Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with The Daily Post

Disclaimer: Things written in the heat of the moment may unintentionally cause offence to the reader. In such cases the reaction may range from minor irritation to shock and severe disapproval. If read on an empty stomach, possible side effects include a scarlet face, foot tapping and finger drumming. To minimise any lasting damage, please take with a pinch of salt.  Contact the author immediately if symptoms persist. 

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I’m not one to get hot under the collar, not even when I’m wearing one, but today’s Daily Prompt managed to get me there. I felt skin prickle uncomfortably and fingers itching to have their say. Admittedly, the fact that I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a while and things are stalling on all fronts did not help, but still. Here it is:

“Write the blurb for the book jacket of the book you’d write, if only you had the time and inclination.” Daily Prompt: BYOB(ookworm)

After reading and re-reading it several times, I had to consider the following options.

  1. Get upset and do nothing. Since smiling is infectious, I can’t be sure that the opposite is not. Do I really want to risk being ground zero for a writer-fueled rage-binge on WordPress?
  2. Assume that Michelle W’s choice of phrase “if only you had the time and inclination” is indicative of a broader problem and attempt to address it (at least in part) by writing an article on the subject.
  3. Let it go. Choose to believe that Michelle’s prompt comes with a wink to those ‘in the know’; something along the lines of: “How many times did you hear that one, hey? Watcha-gonna-do…”

So here we are.

Now I hope that you are not staring blankly at this point wondering what on earth could have gotten me irate about this prompt. It’s straightforward enough. What kind of problem could I possibly have with it?

Let me explain.

There is a reason why when a stranger asks what it is that I do, I tend to waiver. More often than not I will say that I’m a postgraduate research student. Why? Well… Because on the few occasions that I was asked and said that I am a writer, I got one of the following reactions:

— Oh, yes. I’d write a book myself if only I had the time, but you know… Got more important things on my plate at the moment.

— It’s nice that you have the time to do it. I’m too swamped with work, kids and everything else to indulge.

— Aha. Everyone’s at it these days. God knows where people find the time.

You see? It’s the daily prompt in a nutshell: anyone would write a novel “if only they had the time and inclination.”

I don’t imagine that people in other professions get that line. Imagine being at a party, the conversation flows as well as the [insert beverage of choice here]. You go to the counter for a refill and can’t help overhearing the following snippet of a conversation:

“So what is it that you do, Gill?”

“Oh. I’m a paediatrician.”

“You know, I’d try my hand at it too, but I just never get the time. Busy-busy-busy,” said no guest ever.

When it comes to most professions, the assumption is that one would require to put in years of work in order to become proficient. When it comes to writing on the other hand…

It is true that writing a novel takes time. I won’t dispute it. Many an hour that could be spent raising children, shopping, doing the housework, meeting up with friends, making money and what have you, will have to be sacrificed if one is to be a writer. 

What I take issue with is the idea that writers have magicked up spare time for themselves in which to do the work, time that others occupy doing things that are far more important. I don’t write because I have time that others lack. It is not an inclination that I choose to indulge. I write because this is my vocation, and I trust that this is the case with all writers.

Do I believe that there is a book in everyone? Absolutely. We are all story-tellers. Can anyone be a writer? Sure. Anyone can be anything they want to be if they have passion and determination, and if they are willing to put in the necessary work and learn the nuts and bolts of it. This is the case with writing as much as it is with anything else.

The art of writing is more than the sum of free time plus inclination  It is the exhilarating ambiguity of a world yet to be created. It is about finding your original voice as a writer. It is the arduous task of plotting and characterisation, learning the art of description and dialogue, building the story scene by scene until at last the first draft is ready. It is a matter of constantly working at improving one’s craft so that the words we sent into the world may not ring false or empty. 

Writing is fun – yes – but it is also a lot of hard work. We write, rewrite, revise and then rewrite some more. In the words of Kingsley Amis: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair.”

I’ve said my peace.

There was of course a fourth option in reply to the Daily Prompt. That is, I could have simply added my blurb and be done with it. Alright then. Glove taken.

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FINDING SWIFT

September 7th 2011. Jane Swift wakes up to a shocking reality: she has no memory of who she is, where she is, or what brought her there. He was her only visitor, this man who brought her to the hospital after her collapse, yet Jane cannot shake off the feeling that Cedric Stewart is hiding something from her. And then there is Gray… Where do you start when you’ve lost your past?

Armed with an iPhone and little else, Jane begins her journey into the unknown. The more she delves into her past life, the less sure she is whether it’s worth burrowing further.

She feels haunted by the life of a woman she is getting to know, but not like. 

Should she allow her past to dictate her future?

*

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46 thoughts on “The Blurb Offence

  1. Pingback: Well! Done!!! | Words 'n Pics...

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  3. I hear your pain, Vic, and irritation (“totes” – as my teen daughter says).
    It never ceases to amaze me that people have that glib, gormless and – I won’t mince words – completely ignorant view of what is involved in writing a book.
    I had the luck to publish some teenage fiction with a big publisher under another name, when I was quite young, and the number people who looked at me askance, saying “Oh, I’D love to write a book but I just don’t have any time”, as though it were just a matter of squeezing in a book, between work, study and social commitments!
    Your vent is very mild, Vic, considering the provocation!! :
    Btw, nowadays celebrities write their autobiography at 22, so the world is a bit topsy-turvy…

    • You are right, Lee-Anne. I tempered my tongue lest I end up discouraging aspiring writers that may come across the post and this is certainly not my intention. I suppose after spending two days peering over a single page and reworking it line by line, only to decide that it was no good and I have to start afresh in the morning, the phrasing of that prompt made me see red. It could have easily ended before that comma and all would have been well.
      I’m sure that luck played only a very little part (if any) in your securing a publishing deal, but I completely agree about this surprising trend in junior autobiographies. 🙂

      • I was so indignant at the ‘blurb offence’ I forgot to comment on your blurb!

        Wonderful, looking forward to the book… 🙂

      • Thank you, Lee-Anne. Will let you know how it goes. I’m in a bit of a tight spot at the moment. Have revised 2/3rds of it so far, but the last part is giving me a lot of trouble. Must get the seat of my trousers into the seat of my chair again 🙂

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  5. My wife once asked me why I spend so much time writing blog posts when I could spend that time writing a novel, which, if published, might actually earn us some money. “It’s simple,” I replied. “I have the attention span of a chipmunk.”

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  8. I want to go ape-shit when people say they don’t have time. I worked for my brother last year watching two small children for up to 14 hours and day and still wrote of course I lost many hours I could be watching television or dicking off on FB — but I still wrote and worked (the pay was shit, but I’m not complaining). Being a writer means obeying the voices in your head — if you want it you will work for it.

    • I think when people say they don’t have time, what they are really saying is that they would rather spend their time doing something else. Which is fine by me, unless of course they say so just after I admitted to being a writer 😉

  9. “Do I believe that there is a book in everyone? Absolutely. We are all story-tellers. Can anyone be a writer? Sure. Anyone can be anything they want to be if they have passion and determination, and if they are willing to put in the necessary work and learn the nuts and bolts of it. This is the case with writing as much as it is with anything else.” I disagree with this — I don’t disagree with your believing in it, I just think you might have missed a couple of things…

    1) Yes, anyone can write a book. It’s rather like free speech, but there’s a caveat (seldom pointed out). Just because one can SAY whatever they want doesn’t mean anyone will listen.
    2) I teach writing. I think I did a rough tabulation and I’ve taught possibly 10,000 people something about writing and of those maybe 20% would ever actually spontaneously and with desire and discipline write something — never mind a novel — without being forced. I’m not convinced that, generally, people like to write. I’m not one of those teachers, either. I love teaching, I love writing and I love teaching writing. Every semester at least one student jets off into the bright new world of understanding what it means to write and loves it.
    3) I don’t think anyone CAN be anything they want to be. I wanted to play center field for the New York Giants. The biggest problem with that WASN’T that I didn’t practice CONSTANTLY and I even had talent, the problem was OBJECTIVE. I’m female. Now, of course, the Giants have moved to San Francisco throwing another spanner into the works. Desire, effort and talent are NOT the only requirements.

    However, I had the exact same reaction to the prompt when I read it this morning. I don’t have “time” to write novels. I TEACH 7 classes of writing EVERY SINGLE SEMESTER! My job is a 1 1/2 hour drive from home every day. I LOVE your comment about the paed (sorry, cannot spell it the British way) pediatrician who practices medicine whenever he/she has the time. There’s so much more to it than “time” an “inclination.” I get my hackles up when someone says, “It’s cool you write. I’m going to write someday when I get the chance.” AS IF what I do and what I’ve learned to do will has not demanded any time, practice, discipline, focus, humility. I would NEVER say, “I always liked physics. One of these days, I’m going to build a particle accelerator.”

    • Thank you for your comment, Martha. I agree with the points you make, although I am a little more optimistic in certain respects. Of course, even if we all have a story to tell, that is not to say that everyone will tell their story and have it publish or publish it. Although, of course, with self-publishing gaining more ground it does appear that there are fewer obstacles today than were in the past when writers had to convince a publisher to take their work or shell out their own cash for vanity publishing (I mean here of course vanity publishing in its traditional sense of self-publishing).
      The second point you made, I think expanded very well on what I hoped to include in the requirements of passion and determination and a willingness to put in the work and necessary hours. Of course you are quite right. Not everyone likes writing and many won’t attempt it unless forced. It is interesting that you say that only about a fifth of students on a writing course would write something spontaneously, without being forced. It made me wonder what the other 80% were hoping to gain from the course and whether being there was part of their exploring the possibility of being a writer to see whether the pen fits as it were, or wether enrolling on the course is their way of attenuating to force themselves into writing because they know that they would not write otherwise… I would be very curious to know what they would answer to questions along those lines:
      Do you want to be a writer? If yes, why? What do you want to write?
      The last one is rather tricky. Yes, certainly, wanting to be something that would be denied because of matters of gender does appear to be an insurmountable obstacle. However, I understand that there are women’s football teams too, and a girl who was passionate about football may never be able to play for the Giants, but may still find an outlet in being a football player perhaps?
      I’ve taken up the piano about a year or so ago. I’ve learnt the basics for one year when I was in primary school, but haven’t played since. And although I will never become a professional piano player and give concertos with the Philharmonic, I do delight in fashioning music where once were incomprehensible sounds. It will take years for mew to become truly proficient, but I am taking the trouble because it is something that brings me joy – so perhaps it is the same with many vocations. That is not to say that we can be successful at whatever we put our minds to, but we can still do the things we love and make them a part of who we are. There will always be physical and other obstacles. It may be impossible to fulfil our dreams in the way we first imagined them, but to some degree at least I hope that we all have a chance to come closer to them.
      🙂 I remain forever the optimist.

      • That’s what I learned from baseball and I’m happy I learned it at a young age. I had all those years of dreaming and playing and becoming very good at it. Somehow that prepared me for life in ways of which I was naturally unaware at age 12. I learned to regards “success” as the doing of something, what you say here, the joy of it.

      • That’s wonderfully put, Martha. Indeed, there are many ways of measuring success and I prefer to think that to undertake the journey is a success in its own right.

      • P.S. I teach required writing classes. I am sure more than 80% of students in an elective writing class would choose to write spontaneously. For most of my students writing is a chore they have to do to “get through” school. I always hope some small thing along the way, perhaps from my class or another required class, will open their eyes to a larger world where things are not just there to “get through.”

  10. Your book sounds very interesting! Mysterious and possibly a courageous decision to reinvent oneself in a better way?

    I’d like to add to the meat of your post, too, that another response that causes me to hesitate when people ask what I do, is that look on their face of pity, the one that says: “Yeah, but that’s not a REAL job,” even while their mouths are saying “Oh, that’s great!” What is that?! I have doubts that being something like a dental assistant makes one want to stab themselves in the temple with a pen one second and sing from the mountaintops in the next. I’m sure the pay is better, but I’d rather live creating with passion than sucking the spit out of someone’s infected mouth with a creepy, noisy Slurpee straw.

    I’m not apologizing for any offense taken, dentists and their assistants are evil. I think it’s a prerequisite.

    • This appears to be a theme running through my prose: there is always a mystery to uncover, a secret to find and bring to light and usually has something to do with one’s identity – which is always less stable than we might believe it to be.
      I am enjoying the revision process, even though I got a little stuck in the muddle near the end. Will find a way out, I’m sure.
      Can’t wait to let my characters loose on the end and see what readers make of them. 🙂

      You know, I actually didn’t think that it was possible to be a writer. I was persuaded my a very traditional upbringing that if I wanted to write I had to do it in my spare time. It took me a while to come to the opposite conclusion, but I’m here now. 🙂
      It is a real job, even if it may take years to get it to pay the bills.
      Thank you, A.C.

  11. Pingback: Daily Prompt: BYOB(ookworm) | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss

    • If you want to read the book, the blurb did its job 🙂 It’s taken me a while to boil it down to a few lines, but it sounds like it was worth the trouble. Thank you, Robin.

  12. Der… I must not be a writer as I did not take offense; on the other hand I’m NOT a writer in the sense that when asked what I do for a living I reply that I am a public safety dispatcher. So, coward? Yes, quite probably.

    Also, I have but one time been published (a poem, as a child, of which I cannot find the evidence anymore so maybe it didn’t really happen), so I can’t get an author’s page on GoodReads, therefore I am not a writer.

    Except, you know, I am. If I only had the time…

    ;>

  13. Currently I have the ‘time’, the ‘desire’, some would say the ‘talent’, but writing is HARD and by nature I am lazy.
    Great post and great comments. Lots of stuff for me to take in.

    • I am glad that you enjoyed it and, just between us, it does get easier with time. It is all about establishing a routine and sticking to it. Find those hours in the week that you will dedicate to writing, build a fence around them and make sure that nothing and no one takes them away from you. Best of luck,
      V

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