Writing: Secrets of the World’s Bestselling Writer

I bought this book a few months ago, recommended by people at the Kindleboards, and finally started reading it last week.

The book deals with the work of Erle Stanley Gardner, and the fact that he was called “The World’s Bestselling Writer” on the cover made me curious, because I’d never heard of the man. The fact that I don’t read a lot of crime detective stories doesn’t help, neither does it help that these were stories and books that my grandparents enjoyed. The book itself was written in 1980, and I strongly suspect that the author lost the Bestselling Writer crown to one blond-haired female writer who writes, amongst other things, about a boy wizard. But we’ll leave that for statisticians to bicker over.

Perry Mason, I’d heard of the stories about him, but also only as something the generation of my grandparents and parents enjoyed.

What then, in this day of the internet and computers, can be learned from a writer who learned to write in seriousness almost 100 years ago, and whose writerly biography is so peppered with implied sexism (merely reflecting the day and age of course, but FFS, was there any purpose for women, in real life and fiction, other than to bring the tea or to be rescued?) that I almost gave up reading several times, were it not that the book is quite pricey for an ebook, and the people who recommended it are people I respect.

Anyway. Putting aside the fact that women didn’t exist back then, the book goes on to reveal a most interesting lifestyle with meticulous detail to fact and study. Also with incredible work ethic and how he went about using the latest technology to achieve his incredible output.

It was an interesting and inspiring read.

I didn’t learn anything major that I didn’t already know–watching people with this kind of inventory this make a killing on Amazon–but I found the book inspiring, because it illustrates so well how a dedicated work ethic pays off big time. Many writers wait around for the muse to strike, whittling away time while they could be writing something. Anything, really. Many writers revise endlessly, and quite possibly revise the death out a story.

As I’ve come to realise, as a writer, you’re not selling stories. You’re selling your ability to produce more stories.

Writing: Secrets of the World’s Bestselling Writer was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Mediocrity is not an option

A bit about my non-writerly life.

When I was in high school, I used to play the recorder. Not the cheap plastic variety, but proper wooden ones. I have a selection of nice concert recorders of various sizes. I played for about ten years before the rest of my life started intruding. Moreover, I didn’t really know/didn’t have the opportunity to play in an ensemble, and it gets kinda boring to play on your own.

Fast forward way too many years. At my kids’ high school, they have a very good band program. Part of the program is a concert every term, and they usually invite a guest ensemble to play. One evening, this was a local community band. I noticed one of the school’s parents playing the clarinet, and talked to him afterwards. It turned out that this group was starting a new ensemble just for people like me. Well, of course, recorders aren’t very loud and unsuitable for a concert band, so I started the flute. That was a huge load of fun. The other people in the band were similarly lapsed musicians, and some people who had never played before.

But. Fast forward three years, and I found myself increasingly impatient at some band members’ inability to grok the general concept of music. Coming in at the wrong time and playing in the wrong key signature are things that can be forgiven, for a new piece, maybe once or twice, but a number of people kept doing this, over and over and over again.

*cue in me rolling my eyes*

The music we played was kinda-OK, a bit too easy for me, but fun. But it required me to do no practice whatsoever. I had become lazy (hang on a tic, I’ll get to how this relates to writing in a minute).

So, I decided to quit that group and go to another group within the same organisation. This group contains a number of people who have serious musical experience. The music is like AARGH OMFG WHAT ARE ALL THESE NOTES??!! But today, I went through all the sheets and sorted it out at my own pace and I actually think I can get up to manageable level within a month or two.

The lesson for writers? Say, you’re in a crit group, and you’re all of the same level when you start. But over time, while the other members are choosing to stay mediocre writers by not working hard at their craft and not challenging themselves (for whatever reason, and I’m not challenging the validity of those reasons), you do work hard and make a few decent sales. Very soon you’ll find that the benefit you get from the group is not what it used to be, apart from the social aspect. If that happens to you, for crying out loud, go and find another crit group.