What is a difficult task to tackle? And which do you fear? A recent post asked “How do I become a better writer?”, and another suggested that “Writing your first novel can be the greatest challenge of your life”. This seems right. There are millions of people who can write well, but they have no idea what it takes to make people want to read about them, and to write well.
But what are we to do if we need help? Should we try to read all the new novels by our own kind? Why would we want to? Even if we do, what sort of writer are we? What do we want to write? Are we a ‘new’ writer?
To answer these questions, we need to take a step back into history. In 18th century Britain, at least 1 in 6 were illiterate, according to a survey run by Lord Ashcroft. This was higher than many other countries and some of the world’s poorest. How did they get so badly educated? For some it was because they worked in the factory, which meant a good deal of manual labour, others that they were neglected children, both of whom suffered from poor nutrition and lack of access to clean water. Many of those that had been educated, were not the brightest of students: they didn’t get on with their teachers, or their peers. A whole generation of men and women who’d grown up with literacy, would have seen this as a barrier to entering industry or professional life. As a result, they became unemployed in their forties. This is not to say that they had no ambition, or that they hadn’t had talent. I’m sure hundreds of men and women did manage to work their way into well paid jobs, or start their own businesses. But even then, they’d probably not have been in demand for months on end. A more recent post on The Quotable Charles Dickens had this to say:
My parents were at least very hard workers, and I remember their ‘business’ as being about to become a success, but the only person I ever knew on the whole was my uncle, Mr Blackwood. I never saw him till the ’60s, in 1884, when one Friday I was about four years old. I went to play a ball with the rest of the gang, and Mr Blackwood came over to my father’s, and I never saw another man as friendly ever again. I suppose he wasn’t a man you liked to get in the way of,
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