shiftylaserpistol

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Tag: Good enough

So, what am I writing?


I must apologise for my lengthy absence to my subscribers (if indeed I have any left!) The truth is my writing has taken me in an unexpected direction and one I’m still coming to terms with. In short, I’m having fun again. That’s not to say my previous stories weren’t enjoyable, in parts, but usually I’d sit at the computer with a sense of great gravity and seriousness. I was going to provoke emotion, encourage the reader to think and reflect! I thought the best writing wouldn’t be enjoyable to get down; it had to be excised like shrapnel from an old wound. I was the suffering artist and that felt about right.

Then something great happened. I was encouraged to resurrect an old comedy character of mine, a fellow I created in college after being force-fed a large portion of Charles Dickens. An entitled, semi-deranged and jovial member of the Victorian upper-class; one Norton Pumblesmythe. He’d surfaced now and again over the years, usually as a short one-off to try and amuse a friend, but as a serious endeavour? Surely not. These stories were too light, too immediate, that isn’t the kind of writer I am!

Anyway, it was just a bit of fun. So I wrote another. It wasn’t much easier than a serious story; I ended up doing a fair amount of research on events, manners, language etc of the mid-1800s. It was absurdity couched in genuine history, with much of the decorum of the time so endearingly stiff you couldn’t easily tell it from a modern stereotype. Might make one or two people chuckle, I hoped, but what was it really? It needed a glossary to explain phrases and insults. Was I trying to educate or amuse?

Both, as it turned out. I didn’t study history in school so this era was utterly fresh to me. Major events of the time were both fascinating and ripe for parody. An online slang dictionary I discovered was a constant sense of wonder; insults which were over a hundred and fifty years old but original to today’s ears. People always approached my older stories with a sense of dour obligation, even if they ended up speaking kindly of them. With Pumblesmythe, though, the response was immediate and enthusiastic, a real surprise to me.

So what now? I’m a comedy writer? Well, the genre doesn’t really matter to me anymore. It took me a long time to trust my own voice as a writer, and an equally long time to discover what that voice should be talking about. Do I still feel it should be delivering soaring orations rather than a punch line? I suspect I always will, but that’s just ego; the rejection of something simple and true because it feels smaller, closer than you ever expected.

Being ‘Good Enough’

 

An unspoken, yet widely held, belief about writers is that they sit down at the keyboard feeling really quite good. They have a sip of tea, smile at the blank page like they’re greeting an old friend, and start typing. In actual fact there are many like this, so brimming with self-assurance that they write with a confidence that never trips them up or leaves them agonising over this word or that word. “Easy reading is damn hard writing” Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, but to these writers easy reading is easy writing, they imagine the prose slipping down as smoothly as they lay it on the page.

You may want to envy them. Why don’t they hate writing at least as much as they love it? Why doesn’t searching for one perfect sentence make their brain spin in circles? The answer is pretty easy. They tried to cheat the system. They saw a mountain and found the ski-lift while the rest of us were fighting tunguskan death leopards halfway up the crags of doom. Introspection never occurred to them. Maybe they’re right. You start wondering if you really are just a stereotype with your brooding torment and emotional see-sawing.

But here’s the thing. Every slushpile; magazine, novel, and agent alike, has earned its terrible reputation because it is inundated with these fearless souls. Old hands think fondly back to the 1950’s as a time when you could submit a story and have it accepted or rejected in the same day, previously recognised author or not. Now, it seems, everyone is a writer. Maybe you can blame the internet for making so many of us think we are adept at communication, or the electronic ease of submissions, but the result is the same no matter the cause.

The short of it is: if you have ever questioned your worth as a writer then you are already far ahead of ninety-nine percent of your competitors. This may come as small comfort when you realise, astonished, that the reason editors often don’t give more detailed feedback is that their reward for doing so is usually abuse that they would dare question that writer’s abilities. I know, I know, you want to choke the life out of these people. It’s okay. The important thing to remember is this: don’t get lumped amongst them. When you submit, submit perfectly. There are numerous articles out there on submission formatting guidelines, if they’re not already detailed by the publication you’re targeting, and you should follow these to the letter. Don’t give them an excuse.

Don’t make them think you’ve taken the ski-lift.