Friday, 29 October 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

On the whole, the process of writing is pretty unspectacular. The results can be be sensational but, bar our own internal enthusiasm, creating isn't really a spectator sport.

When writers get together to chat they may briefly touch on their idiosyncratic writing routines - times of the day when they're at their most creative etc - but most of the talk will be about the material itself, agents, publishers, other writers that excite them etc.

It's probably because the actual activity of writing is so very personal. Everyone has their own approach. Some like to sit and let the words come while others don't turn on their computer until they've written copious notes and know exactly where they're headed.

Whichever is the case, its only exciting for us when we're in full flow.

This is something of a relief as it means there can't be any sort of 'X Factor,' 'Strictly Writing Idol' (Strictly Bone Idle in my case) show to audition and ritually humiliate up and coming literary talent. No panel of industry 'experts' to pitch material to in front of an arena audience.

It wouldn't make good TV but I wouldn't put it past them. Everything that ends in 'ing' (singing, cooking, acting, dancing, skating, backstabbing etc) can now be nationally validated by supercilious gurus or a phone vote. Writing could be next.

I wonder how rich a culture we would have if it had always been the case.

Sorry, Mr Hemingway you've been voted off.

Miss Austen - you're fired. Particularly as you're letter writing skills are so appalling (see Matt's blog below)

Thankfully writing is about imagination and then skillfully implanting that in someone else's. Something that can't be controlled by producers desperate to harness the next thing to strip and degrade.

But maybe one day I'll have to be in front of a 'celebrity' panel pitching a thriller. I'll be stopped mid sentence and told to choose something else. I'll change it to a celeb biog and everyone will cheer.

In the meantime, 'I'm A Writer Get Me Out Of Here!'

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  1. Actually Richard, unfortunately they've already begun! At the Surrey International Writers' Conference in BC, Canada, they have "Surrey Idol," where they read the first page of a novel (anonymously!) and then a panel of agents tears it apart. It's sometimes useful, and sometimes horrific to see.

  2. Actually, you know, I was thinking it's a shame they don't have an X Factor for writers. That is, not the whole sorry process, but simply a platform where writers can give the wider public a taste of their talents. Writing's just not a performance art, so authors suffer a disadvantage next to singers. TV would be no good for it, but I think we could use something like that on the internet, with a high public profile.

    Authonomy was *not* it.

    Oh and the idea of a panel of agents tearing the work apart. Ouch. Agents, the ones I've come across anyway, seem to know very little about writing for one thing. And as Authonomy proved, other authors are not the best judges. No you'd have to throw it to the public vote, just like the X Factor.

  3. Hemingway entered one of his early stories for a competition to write a short story in the style of Ernest Hemingway. He didn't win.
    At a recent writers' conference, my husband told me that the aspiring authors talked about nothing but writing. The published authors appearing at the event talked among themselves about nothing but sales.

  4. So, did everybody miss the BBC's 'Lit Idol', which aired a couple of seasons back in 2003/04? The winner got a deal with agents Curtis Brown. The 2004 series was specifically aimed at crime writers, and was won by Paul Cavanagh, who later signed with HarperCollins. The show even featured Tony Cowell (brother of Simon) as one of the judges!

  5. Hi Jen. Thanks for dropping in. Sounds savage. Let's hope it doesn't become a trend.

    Thanks for swinging by SAF. Ultimately it's the public that get to decide, however you package it. Let's hope they do it in their own time though rather than being pressured into throwing writers to the lions for the sake of entertainment.

    Hey, Leigh. Great Hemingway story.

    I still bore the pants off people about writing - perhaps my sales need to be better.

  6. Hi Stephen,

    Yes - missed that. Was it done with subtlety or OTT?

    Good news for Paul Cavanagh.

  7. Well, Richard, I'm not saying I actually watched 'Lit Idol' on TV myself. :) But the final when Paul Cavanagh won was held at the London Book Fair, so it was a fairly restrained affair. Nevertheless, there were complaints that the competition reduced writers to the status of "performing seals".

    Cavanagh got an agent, a publishing deal, and several approaches about film rights in his book. So I don't suppose he was the one complaining...

  8. Thanks, Stephen. I'm very glad Paul did well from it. As writers we all have to seize every opportunity. Hope it doesn't become a regular event though. Think there are better vehicles for exposing talented writers.