Warning: may increase your heart-rate by 5 bpm

Tag: writing

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.


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?

And so it begins..

Ah, my first post on my first blog.

Self-promotion feels pretty weird, like I’m a budgie that’s put on a high-vis jacket and stepped into a falcon reserve. For years I’ve sat on my stories because I didn’t believe they were ready, or that they were good enough to be paid for. I feel differently about the first now, as for the second I’ll have to let the market judge that as I’m too close to my work. I’m sure any writer reading this will know the dizzying experience of the ‘great/crap’ rollercoaster, in which you can veer between loving and hating your story in one day, often one hour. All the warts stand out to us because we built the thing from the ground up, it can be easy to forget that your average reader doesn’t analyze the way we do and can just relax and get lost in the story. Our profession has one hell of an intimidating history: on one side you have the literary greats which make you like “an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth” ( Kurt Vonnegut ) and on the other you have modern authors who have written themselves into vast fortunes with work that, taken mechanically, is lazy and derivative.

Writers always say we’re in this together but, for me anyway, it can be difficult to be generous to your peers and accepting of big successes when you know the odds. If you stop and think about it for too long then the air starts to feel thin, so I keep bringing myself back to the story.  Put your heart and soul into it then treat it like a product, the product is being rejected not you. That’s the tricky part, of course, because we’d all be writing shopping lists if there wasn’t something of ourselves in every story. I have one sitting here waiting to go to a local writing group tomorrow. Ironically the trickiest thing has not been enduring negative feedback but persuading people that I want and need it. Your friends and family may support your passion but, unless you have some lucky exceptions there, they won’t know how to stab you in the heart the way a good critique can.

Constructively speaking, of course.