Hard/Easy Writing

When I was a teenager writing fiction I was constantly told (accused!) that writing came easily to me. When I started writing for the quality London Sunday newspapers I struggled to the point where people watching me said I should find another profession.
My first three novels came fairly easily, for different reasons. When I wrote Aubade I wrote all I knew. I didn’t have to choose what to say about the experiences/feelings/competing beliefs/responses to other writing that flood my brain these days. Writing my second and third novels I wanted to produce x number of words so that I could get the contracted advance and eat.
Of course I was spoiled by writing a highly praised novel at age 16. I expected writing to come easily, and I didn’t have the inner resources (or respect for the work) to fight to succeed when it got hard.
I started out with more respect for journalism, not least because I could earn £20 more for a piece in the Sunday Times or Telegraph magazines than I got for the advance on my first novel. I wasn’t writing to formula and had no idea how corrupt many Fleet Street journalists were about stretching the truth until I started working alongside them. I was willing to pound the streets (I once interviewed every tenant on every floor of every building on both sides of an entire block in Soho) and struggle to craft a story from what I believed to be the absolute truth. Journalism only came easily to me when I lost respect for my assignments: when I moved to New York, twice a year I’d get sent to Hollywood to interview stars such as Julie Andrews and Rock Hudson. That was when I truly wrote to formula.
These days (these last few years) I read almost nothing but 19th and 20th century Russian history and fiction, part of my struggle to learn the Russian language that I’ll probably still be engaged in the day I croak. Which has taught me respect for suffering and genius. While I wrote the new introduction to Waiting for the Sky to Fall I was also reading Thomas Larson’s The Memoir and the Memoirist, with its useful distinction between autobiography and memoir. I thought of writing a memoir about how I became who I am, but I cringed at the difficulty of handling the interactions between the three main things that shaped me (no, pounded me into shape). Maybe three books that covered the same years? Maybe three long parts of the same book? That would truly be opening a vein, and at the very least bloody hard work.

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