Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reflections on a Visit

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with a "New York Times" bestselling author Ridley Pearson, who spent two days at my school last week as an alumnus and visiting fellow. His classroom discussions were fascinating.

Pearson may be best known for his YA books, some of which are coauthored with Dave Barry, but he has sold many crime novels, both series and stand-alones. He talked to students at length about what it means to be a full-time writer. He spoke of the pressures to constantly sell more and of the limitations to which branding can lead. And, yes, as if on cue, he also spoke of outlining, saying he spends up to four months planning a crime novel that will take him eight additional months to write. Pearson said he currently writes three books a year (11 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and four hours on Saturday and Sunday) and spends upwards of 100 days per annum on the road.

This man is very good at what he does. In fact, he may be the best public-speaking author I have witnessed, and I've been fortunate to hear some heavyweights—Richard Russo, Billy Collins, Tess Gerritsen, and Sharon Olds among them.

I came away from the two days both envious but also somewhat content. Would I love to write full time and sell enough copies to make the NYTimes list? Hell, yes. But Pearson said a couple things that stayed with me: He spoke of the pressure he feels to constantly sell more copies (we all do, after all), and he mentioned wanting to write a first-person novel, something he said his publishers wouldn't allow. Branding, after all, does have its limitations, and the mid-list allows for continuous (even maddening) reinvention.

In the end, I always enjoy spending time with fellow writers, hearing how they work, and discussing the business landscape, which is very different for each of us.


H. L. Banks said...

I don't think most people realize how tough it is to be a writer, what sacrifices have to be made, how, in some ways, their lives belong to their public. It annoys me to no end when people gush about how romantic and wonderful it would be to be a writer. The good ones (writers) are like any other professional in any field, they work darn hard. That being said, most writers wouldn't change it for the world.

Rick Blechta said...

I don't think people get beyond what they do on a daily basis to realize just how hard most people work. They only see the romantic side of some romantic occupations. You're right, anybody who wants to be good at something has to work hard and you don't even have to be a "professional". Try building a house some time!

"I'd love to be a writer. You get to sit around all day and write. It must be lovely." All I can think to myself is, "Wanna bet?" Most of us write because we love to, but that doesn't make it an easy task. In fact, it probably makes it more difficult.

Thanks for weighing in H.L. said...

This is a great post! I have just come back from a book tour in North Carolina (hence reason I didn't blog yesterday - sorry folks) BUT I was traveling with two authors who are far more prolific writers than I. One is a NYT bestselling author. The pressure to improve with each book is huge. I also learned how hard both worked on the business side of writing too. They read other authors in their field to keep up with the "competition" and are extremely savvy. However, sometimes it's nice to be at the lower end of the totem pole. I can enjoy my writing journey because I don't have high stakes.