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Tag: Inspiration

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.

Little Black Books

 

Writers love to watch, though you must take care to phrase this correctly ( having once said “I like to watch people” in response to a question about my interests, it felt like the social faux pas of an axe murderer ). To this end you’ll come across too many interesting people, situations, and sights to hold entirely in your head. It’s easy to let these go because they seem so small and fleeting, but it’s precisely for that reason that you should note them down. I see my notebooks the same way as the jar under the sink filled with dozens of random screws: all waiting for their place in my latest botched DIY project, short story, or the bigger construction of a novel. You need environment descriptions? Character ideas? Snatches of real speech that can prop up your dialogue like support rods with their authenticity? This material is flowing by you the instant you leave your home, be it in on your morning commute or shopping at the weekend. Don’t be furtive. Treat yourself to a quality moleskine notebook and make it something you’re proud to produce and scribble in ( though it’s wise to be more circumspect in social situations lest your friends feel like they’re on trial ).

If you limit yourself to what you can conjur at the keyboard then you’re already swimming against the tide; anxiety, fear, boredom, none of these will help you recall magical little moments. The great thing about writing is that people are only interested in the finished product; they don’t care about the sawdust on the floor or the fifteen bent nails. So arm yourself with these bullets of prose. You may never need to use them, but it feels a lot better knowing that you have material to page through if you really are stuck. Even if it’s only to convince yourself that this is why you love to write; that when we’re not tensed up and willing worlds to appear then they’re easy to see.

The Grit

Every writer has been plagued by interruptions.  Either they’re stealing time away from their family, juggling work commitments or listening to nearby roadworks and saying the same thing: “I just know if I could get some peace and quiet then I’d come up with something great”.  For me it’s listening to the family in the upstairs flat on their half-term break; single mother with four kids on laminate flooring.  I’m afraid to write anything in the belief that it’ll turn into some thinly veiled fantasy ( all I’ve got so far is a character venting a few people into space. My mind keeps lingering on that one, delicious image ).

It’s grit, you tell yourself.  Gets in my eyes, makes it difficult to see properly.  But it’s also life.  It would be lovely if life came in these little, packaged moments which summed up a meaning or emotion before buggering off and leaving you in peace, but is that going to happen?  Imagine yourself in an idllyic country cabin; a pile of logs for the open fire, soothing sounds of nature, perhaps a babbling brook nearby or the soft patter of rain on the roof.  Ah, serene, but would you get any writing done?  In my experience, no.  You need fuel, and while that fuel may occasionally be pure and smooth, it’s just as likely to be wood alcohol that makes your brain cramp and your hands yearn to strangle.

The irony of writing is that it’s an introspective art which quickly dries up if you don’t expose yourself to life every now and then.  Writer’s block is just as often the sensation of having used up every bit of fuel you have.  So yes, the irritations are good for me, they’re good for you too, if you can get past yourself for long enough to fire that emotion at the page.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to vent some people into space.

Why do we do it?

I’m sure you know the feeling: it’s all going so badly that you start to write “and the monster came out and it was scary and his blood curdled” just to try and make light of things and wrong-foot your internal critic.  One of those sessions where the words are just that: words.  No flavour, no rhythm, no pace.  You start to wonder why the hell you’re doing this in the first place.

For me it was routine enough.  I wrote a few stories when I was young, usually starring all my friends and Daleks.  Much love for the Daleks.  I remember being set a story to write in infant school and, despite the day ending, I was so excited I finished it at home and ran back to give it to my teacher while she was still tidying up.  Then a few years on I’d draw comic strips, creating narrative that way, before I read Stephen King’s ‘The Mist’ when I was sixteen and thought: “I could probably do this”.  I proceeded to make all the mistakes in the book and write some really bad stories.  Back then there was no expectation.  I’d just start building a world and cutting out some 2D characters to wobble their way through it. 

These days I sit down to the page with more wariness than thrills.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still times when I delight at what I’ve created but now writing feels…..well, at least as much a compulsion as it is a passion.  Every rational bone in my body tells me not to do it.  Acceptance rates, authors with second jobs, merciless amazon reviews.  I’m terrified of these things but I can’t stop, no matter how much I may want to.  Get serious about writing and there’s a good chance you’ll get serious about depression, alcoholism, drug abuse.  You want to make something perfect but you’re not a perfect human being; your fingers aren’t brushes, they’re meat and bone, and your mind will always imagine a grander vision than you could ever commit to paper.  Even the greatest artists and writers go off the deep end because the masterpieces they create are still just hints of what they see.  The more you uncover the more you believe is possible.

Think of it as uncovering a fossil, if you just dusted off one portion then eventually you’d go mad trying to imagine the rest of it; that’s what made H.P Lovecraft so great, he understood that a hint is self-perpetuating, it provides no conclusion but it also demands one.  What Alan Moore said about writing was correct: “Don’t do it”.  You won’t be able to get away.

Still, it’s no good, we’re here.  So how did you come to be stuck on this crazy train?