Authors Jim Crace and Samantha Shannon talk about treating writing as a full-time job
“A good writer isn’t afraid of bad writing,” said Booker-nominated author Jim Crace in a conversation with author of The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon, moderated by world-renown literary agent David Godwin. “That’s because if you sit waiting for that perfect opening sentence, you will sit there all your life. With a first bad draft, everything afterward can only be an improvement.” Gems of advice such as these made for their freewheeling discussion on ‘The Writing Life’.
Samantha said she treated being a writer like a regular job. “I wake up at eight every morning, make my coffee, check my mail and sit down to write for eight hours.” Jim on the other hand said he was “always self-conscious of pretending this was a job”. Either way, the writer’s life is certainly one of solitude. Jim believed he lived between two bubbles — the bustling one he created on his word processor, and the rather quiet real life he spent writing in his converted garage. For how personal an activity writing is, authors are often stung by negative reviews. “I’ve felt like I’ve been kicked in the gut when I first received negative comments.” he says. Jim said that as much as he believed a variety of opinion on his writing only added richness to it, he’d be lying if he pretended to respond with such maturity always.
The writer’s life is also one of constant introspection and self-questioning, especially when faced with other writers’ work. “I constantly feel inadequate when I read other writers. I ask myself ‘Why am I allowed to do this? I’m always between terror and aberration,” confessed Samantha. The writer’s world in Britain was one marked by class associations, said Jim, and since he came from a suburban background he said he was often uncomfortable in a public presence. “We rarely celebrate the regional,” he added. “The first time I was nominated for the Booker, I remember being hugely relieved that I didn’t win, because I didn’t have to give a speech.”
With the wide difference of years between them, David observed that the writing world had changed drastically from when Jim had begun writing and Samantha’s more recent debut. “The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that editors are often accountants these days. Publishing depends on what sells.” Despite money being the primary dictator, and the virtual world overtaking the print one, Jim managed to find hope in the fact that idea of the narrative itself is ancient. “Whatever else changes, narratives and storytelling will never end.”