Monday 20 April 2015

Words, words everywhere nor any stories to drink

Frustrated girl Royalty Free Stock ImagesI've noticed something about the burgeoning babyboomer movement—those born before my time and now ruling the world or entering retirement—and that is, they like to tell their life stories. Or, more specifically, they like to write them.

Even if they can't actually string a sentence together.

Over the past few years I've been asked (begged, implored, expected) to "have a little read" of one friend of a friend's older brother's best mate's neighbour's "manuscript" and see what I think.

These people can obviously see that the end is nigh, and they want to get their stories out, before it's too late. I don't blame them, I admire them in fact.

And so, each time, I have happily obliged and been thunderstruck by the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, the "writer" either had nothing very interesting to share (sorry folks, the truth hurts) or has a terrific story but can't write their way out of a kindergarten class.

So many seemingly educated and erudite people have a pretty thin grasp of punctuation and spelling, let alone sentence structure, pace and so forth.

Face it, folks: some of you just can't write!

You may be a bloody good civil engineer or teacher or nurse or whatever you did before you were able to give up your day job and try your hand at writing. But you're not a wordsmith. And that's okay, writing is, after all, a skill. Or, at least, it used to be, and a decently-paid skill at that. It ensured steady employment for the likes of my lot. But now, it seems everyone considers themselves a writer and writing has lost almost all its market value.

No one wants to pay for writers anymore. As more and more people consider themselves budding wordsmiths, even if they're not, real writing jobs have all but vanished. Journalism and editing work is increasingly hard to come by. Writers are being sacked across the board at newspapers and magazines, and those who remain are expected to redraft everything a thousand times for endless digital formats. Writing has never been so poorly remunerated, respected or read.

I blame those who think they're Dickens, but are not. 

Harsh words, I know, but someone has to write them! It's lovely that you're having a go. I don't have a monopoly on the world's stories, you're allowed to have a crack. Except, when you can't do it, please, I implore you, push over and let a real writer steer the ship. Just as you let a mechanic take your vehicle and knock it into shape, give us your stories and we will mould them into something wonderful.

Yet so few of you are willing to do that. After struggling (unpaid) through seemingly endless streams of gibberish, I usually conclude that, okay, there may be a nugget of a story here, but it's gonna take some work. For a small fee, I, or any decent editor for that matter, can whip it into shape.

That's when their words suddenly dry up and things turn very quiet. Nobody wants to pay for a writer or editor (same thing in my book). Everybody thinks they can DIY and when confronted with the news that, perhaps, they can't (in the same way I can't engineer or nurse), it always seems a real shock to them, and an insult. A bloody outrage, in fact!

"What?" they are probably thinking. "That's a ridiculous amount of money! I just want to tell my life story, I don't want to be out of pocket for it!"

These same people who would happily pay exhorbitant fees for legal, financial, medical, mechanical, gardening, real estate (you get the drift) advice, blatantly refuse to pay for advice on writing. They won't accept that it's a skill they may not possess, that someone else can help, and deserves to be compensated for that.

Why has it suddenly become taboo to pay writers to write?

Or editors to edit, for that matter? Sadly, most of these budding storytellers I come across simply bin their "great book" and get back to civil engineering or teaching or nursing or, most likely, living comfortably off the money they earned from their own respected skill. Some do struggle on and get to 'the end', but most never do. And I think that's the saddest part of all.

Just because you can't write, doesn't mean you can't tell your life story. Every life story is worth sharing but many of them just need some help getting to the interesting bits and editing out the crap.

Come on, people! For a few grand, often less, you can have your book and edit it, too! No one needs to know you didn't write every word or that someone came in afterwards and battered it into shape  — that's what Ghostwriters are for, hey Roxy? Why the shame? Why the reluctance?

And then there are the blessed exceptions. 

Just recently I was given an early draft of my sister's husband's old mate's (see how this works?) manuscript about his adventures hitchhiking across the dusty centre of Australia. I smiled politely and settled in for a gruelling read. It was anything but!

At last I had stumbled upon a real storyteller. A non-professional writer who has his own distinct voice and knows how to splash colour into a sentence in ways I can only aspire to. I was very impressed. I mean, the first chapter needs a lot of work, and the rest of it will need some serious fleshing out, but the man has got potential, and I told him that.

I hope this guy does keep at it, but he can't do it alone. He needs to invest in a decent editor and not expect it all for nought. Because if he made the investment, he would end up with an amazing adventure to share with his loved ones. And I for one, would be the first in the queue to buy his book. Hell, he may even make some money out of it!

So please don't let me put you off. If you do have a good story to share — one that's colourful and interesting and different from the rest— persist! Please put pen to paper and tell your tale. And if you can't do it properly, have the decency to pay a skilled writer/editor to help you out. Or just put it in a drawer to read to the grandkiddies no matter what its shape.

And if you don't really have much to say or refuse to accept you might need some help? Go back to what you do best, and read someone else's book.

Happy writing everyone.
xo Christina