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Tag: Irritations

Wait! You’re reading it wrong!


As a writer you’ll set out to make someone feel a certain way; this much is obvious. You want your characters to be layered and intriguing, for that old formula of “the hero’s journey” to feel fresh. So you get in there, building your players and raising the stakes, trying to make the reader laugh or cry. Annnnd, it’s finished. Finished, not polished yet, but you’re sure the first reader will understand that. Only something goes awry. They have a flick through it and start pointing out misplaced punctuation, quotation marks, explaining the concept of a split-infinitive. ‘There’s a story in there!’ you want to yell, shaken and betrayed by their detachment. ‘This is important too!’ your critical brain tells you, but it feels too much like you’ve just shown someone a painting and they’re fussing over the frame.

Personally speaking, I am not a brave man when I have completed a story. The sense of relief quickly becomes a drumbeat of anxiety, with every small action: print, paperclip, another step to the guillotine. You’ll need technical readers, you accept that, but the acknowledgement of what you tried to achieve should come first. Surely it should! Punctuation, grammar, syntax, they’re the gears beneath the gilded exterior, a point of secondary interest; what kind of joyless Vulcan probes them first? Certainly if your mechanics are so bad that the story doesn’t start, the train just grinds and jerks on the platform, then they are a primary problem. Just go through a normal day as a writer and corrections will pop into your head wherever you look. My forays into internet dating, reading personal profiles, can make me feel like a carpenter watching people hammer nails in with their head. So yes, you can’t go too far in that direction but then what about Cormac McCarthy? Blissfully ignoring all kinds of grammatical rules as he pens his latest work. Surely if your writing is good enough then you can just do it, feel it, even Einstein said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.”

The sad fact is we’re probably not that good. At least, not good enough to thumb our noses at the rules and get a free pass. You need to earn that kind of freedom. So, on my better days, I appreciate the technical readers and feel I can understand them a little better. Art can be such an individual thing. So slippery in meaning that, given the choice, wouldn’t we all approach it armoured with the ten commandments of ‘do’ or ‘do not’? That feels a hell of a lot safer and more solid to plant your feet on. At some point we will need that detachment to make our work stronger. Technical readers, please keep doing what you do. Just don’t ignore the flowers when you’re checking the water in the vase. The flowers came first.

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.