[W]e all have Microsoft Word installed on our desktops. We all already spend a lot of time typing. One way to leave one’s mark would be to, say, write a great symphony, but most people don’t know how to read music. Whereas more or less everyone does have the means to put down words on a page and save them and share them. That’s a great thing—I’m all for technology eliminating barriers to communication and expression—but it can lead to delusions. Just because you’ve written it doesn’t make it worth reading. And it’s depressing when people forget that you can’t be a good writer without first being a good reader.

–Chris Parris-Lamb on reading.

Parris-Lamb is a literary agent, and this is from an interview he did with Guernica. There’s a couple of questions along this line, asking Parris-Lamb what are the biggest problems he sees in slush pile submissions. They basically boil down to:

  1. everyone thinks they can be a writer1
  2. a good novel has to have something in it for the reader, not just the author
  3. in order to write, you need to read.

That’s basically it. Interviews in arty magazines that talk about piles of used running shoes, I think, make this philosophy sound more snobbish than it is. Parris-Lamb also doesn’t like NaNo (it’s “insulting to real writers”), which doesn’t help on the accessibility front. But his point isn’t that people shouldn’t write novels that are maybe-not-particularly-good, but that not every novel written for the gratification of the author needs to be published and commercially sold. It’s okay, in other words, to write the book you want to write, admire it for what it is, maybe print off one PoD copy for your own shelf… and then stuff the thing in a drawer, never to be seen again.

I’ve got a bunch of these, as I’m sure most-if-not-all published authors do. They were written at a particular time for a particular reason, and they have meaning to me. But that’s it. They aren’t commercial and they aren’t saleable. They just exist, along with my memories of writing them.

The problem is recognising the difference between “drawerfic” and “published work” can be… tricky, particularly if you don’t have much experience with the latter. Fortunately, there’s a super-duper easy way to get said experience, no fancy New York connections required.

It’s called the bookshop. Enjoy it.

  1. Because most people are literate and can write sentences. Compare and contrast to the way most people aren’t proficient at, say, composing symphonies or sculpting marble. []