Skip to content

Month: July 2012

They liked it!

My friend is a collage artist. “I fancy illustrating a book” she said, “for children. Do you have anything?”
I gave her a piece I’d written about a leaf and the changing seasons. She loved it. “Did you do that on your course?” she asked.
No, I bloody didn’t. I wrote it before I started my course when I still loved to write just to write, when I wrote what came into my head without worrying whether I could make it work, when I still thought I could write! Now it’s all about the angst.
Then someone else saw the story and loved it. Perhaps I need to focus on the positive. They liked it. I wrote it. This course is the only time when someone will give my writing a grade. If I can get through to the other side, maybe I’ll be able to get back to where the words flow but they’ll be better for what I’ve learned.
Of course, there’s also the fact that I wrote that story ages ago so the angst around it has dissolved. I have a feeling that writing will always hurt.


Bloody hell! I had already reached the conclusion that writing seems a lot less fun and a lot harder since I started studying it. Now I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the same can be said of reading.
Recently I have found myself starting books and immediately finding fault with them. Didn’t I used to get pulled on by simple narrative? Wasn’t I a woman who finished the books she started, rather than letting them languish in the company of dust bunnies under the bed? (Apart from that Zadie Smith book, but that was an exception.) I even finished Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and I hated that. (Before you squawk, I’m odd. I think Dickens is like chewing sawdust – broke my English teacher’s heart when I told him that.)
Anyhow, this new critical eye/ear/sense is a pain. I started one book and rejected it because I could see what the writer was doing and felt manipulated. I heard the first page of a new novel, purchased by a publisher at HUGE expense, on an arts review programme. Poncey and self-consciously writerly. “Zeitgeisty” as the lovely CF would say. An interesting idea that might be fabulous in the hands of Margaret Atwood, but I suspect has been bought for the film rights. I’ll have to wait for it to hit the multiplex because the style of page one tickled only my gag reflex. Every novel or story I start, I question the point of view, I doubt the characterisation, I’m on the look out for lazy tricks and turns of phrase – handy reflections that enable physical descriptions (I know it works, but now it appears in italics in my head), dust motes in the air – this is my favourite, I plan to write a thesis on the use of the dust mote in English language fiction, one day.
And does this new found critical faculty help my own writing? Does it buggery. I’m paralysed by insecurity and indecision. Close third, multiple or first person? Too much telling? Present tense, ever? Is she sympathetic? Is he a shallow stereotype? They got published and couldn’t get it ‘right’! What hope do I have?!

Getting back to the bish bosh – and a question of personality

Yesterday two fabulous women helped me chip away at the wall currently standing between me and the blank page. With their help, this is what I discovered…

I need to write like I bake. I am no Nigella, but I make good cakes. I find the process so easy that I am genuinely shocked if someone tells me that they can’t make a cake or I taste the evidence of their ineptitude in a particularly dry piece of sponge. How can you not bake a cake? Chuck in a few ingredients according to a very basic recipe, mix it up, shove it in the oven, bish bosh, a plate of lovely fairy cakes, crisp on the top, moist and full of vanillary loveliness on the inside. Yum. I made bread for the first time the other day. Dodgy recipe meant a slightly false start when I added all the ingredients according to the instruction in the first line and then read the second line about mixing before adding the water. Water is an ingredient! Still my son and I carried on and the result was some beautifully risen, soft, tasty and a little bit misshapen buns. I take the same approach to making jam and sewing – felt badges, bunting, tea cosies, cuddly toys… The point is that I have no training in any of these creative practices but I love doing them and the results are fine, perfectly acceptable, sometimes even bloody good.

So why don’t I write in the same way? Why do I see a blank page as a threat, not an opportunity, and the idea in my head as a deformed swamp monster? Because I am a fool, that’s why. I need to stop worrying about the perfect first line and the details and what the best friend should be called and whether people will sympathise with my character and what point of view I need and my tone and and and, and write the bloody story. Unlike with a cake, I can edit a story. Writing was a lot more fun when I knew less about how to do it! I need to get back to the bish bosh.

And the second discovery is related to the first. I’m new to this. I am allowed not to be perfect. I can hear you. Of course I’m allowed not to be perfect. There’s no one out there telling me any different. But it’s what I’m telling myself that’s the problem. Writing this was my first step. My challenge to myself now is to start writing my story.

But first a question. I needed to talk to other people to reach a fairly duh conclusion. I think that makes me an extrovert. Is that a problem for a writer? Would other writers out there consider themselves extrovert or introvert, and does it matter?