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What the Bloody Hell Am I Writing About? (and other questions from a self-loathing writer)

 

Writing a synopsis is a bitch. Anyone who has had to write one will know this. You’ve written an entire book. Finally, you’ve finished something that doesn’t send you into the corner of your writing room, rocking back and forth in disgust and fear, and now you’ve got to explain what you wrote?

Well, how the bloody hell should I know what I wrote? I just wrote it! Sure, I had themes and ideas and concepts. But none of these turned out exactly the way I thought they would, and as each of my ideas developed and matured, so did my characters and what they meant. And sure, maybe I had a ‘message’ to begin with, but after you’ve edited 60,000 words a good few times, you start to think maybe you had no message, no idea, no clue as to what you were saying, and the characters themselves did all the hard work.

So what does this mean for my work? 

Well, I’ve got to tell you, I’m pretty damn good with spin. You want me to write for advertising, to make something sound amazing. I’m there for you, my friend. You want an outraged letter focused on the school system? I gotcha with the outrage. But selling my own stuff? Oh jeez, well, I just couldn’t! It would be far too much like boasting. And that’s not English at all.

But, we are Creative Entrepreneurs (or trying to be) after all, and selling yourself (no, not like that) is all part of the game. So, sure, if I was to sum up my writing, it’s usually very easy, and I’ve defined it this way many times before:

I write about drugs, love, sex and death. Not always in that order.’

It’s snappy, isn’t it? Except my debut novel Wine Dark, Sea Blue is not just about that. It’s about family connections, and being a different person for your friends and family until you don’t know who the ‘real’ you is at all. It’s about being scared of attraction, of not believing you’re worthy of love. Of being haunted by memories and nostalgia until you’re convinced all you can do is follow in the footsteps of your family, no matter how many mistakes they’ve made. It’s about trusting your friends, believing in strangers and eventually, letting the past go. It’s about things not being perfect or even being fair, but about finding snippets of happiness where you can.

Sounds intense, right? Alternately, it’s about ‘one-night friendships’, how happiness can be chemical, ecstasy and clubbing till the early hours, Camden pubs and Hampstead Heath on Sunday morning. It’s about boys with blue eyes, and best friends who break your heart. It’s about how that person you first loved never really leaves and that terrible moment when you realise that your parents might be flawed people after all. It’s about graduating in a recession, about trying to make art in a world with no funding, when your family think you should get a ‘real’ job. It’s interning for no money, slaving for no reward, and rewarding yourself with a bottle of wine and a joint.

It’s about family and friends, happiness and chaos, drugs and love and sex and death and everything that makes us who we are.

So only one question remains:

How the fuck do I turn that into a synopsis? How do I sell what I created, with the intense complexities of what I think it’s about, versus what it may actually be about? This is where I used to get irritated during English lessons, and in lectures. Someone writes something, and then we sit around talking about his or her intentions, coming up with themes in the book that may never have even been there. We apply a critical view, some theory to how to interpret a text, when really, the author might have just thought it was a good story.

Or, more likely, was cowering in fear in the corner, wondering why anyone agreed to publish them, because they had no message and nothing to say.

I did a terrible thing last week. I read an article where some writer guy said something along the lines of ‘I don’t understand people who get writer’s block. If you’re a writer, get on with it. I have no time for people who sit around and bitch about it.’ (I’m paraphrasing)

My first thought was ‘what a dickhead’. My second was ‘hmm, well, he’s published, maybe he’s got a point. It is better to get on with it rather than be a self-loathing cliche’ and then the next day I did a horrible thing: I said the same thing. To a group of writers and artists. And I felt like a tool.

Because it’s hard, putting your work out there. It’s akin to giving birth and then walking around wondering if someone’s going to walk up to you and say ‘boy, that’s one ugly baby you made there!’ No-one does that with babies. Because they’re people. But they do with books. Especially now that the internet means we can publish our every scathing thought with no regard for what the creator might be feeling.

So there’s my little worry. Encapsulating something big and wondrous that you’re proud of, but simultaneously almost ashamed of, and defining it as something. Something that exists, in the world.

The only thing I can do is turn to the people I trust, and ask what they think I meant. Whether they’re writers, readers, editors or friends- they’ll see the message in the text. Because just as we look down at our newborn baby with the huge ears or crooked nose, we still can’t see anything other than our own egos. But our friends, well, they’ll see the ears and the nose, but still find the beauty somewhere.

 

Note: Also, an advantage of creating a book over a baby is the ability to edit. And that a book isn’t likely to inherit your father’s crazy eyebrows. Win.

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “What the Bloody Hell Am I Writing About? (and other questions from a self-loathing writer)”

  1. It’s interesting you were annoyed at what that guy wrote about writer’s block because I remember you saying you felt similar irritation to people who moaned rather than just ‘did it’ – which I agreed with. I see writer’s block as more to do with the initial idea rather than creating a synopsis, which would seem to me like trying to edit your book into a teeny tiny fragment. Since you’ve written so much and have kept writing, you don’t seem to have a problem in that area. I’m not short of ideas but I’m not great at dedicating the time to them, perhaps why I tend to write poetry rather than attempt a novel – it’s too scary right now!x

    1. It was when I said it to you guys that I felt like a tool. Because I DO agree that we should get on with it, but feeling nervous about it, getting scared and feeling insecure, these are all parts of the process. You seem to have done loads with the poetry you’ve written- so maybe it’s quality and quantity, over…erm…length?

  2. My 9 and 13 year old niece and nephew asked me what my book was about once. It just happened to be around the time when I was worrying about my synopsis. How in the world are you supposed to explain a romance novel to kids? Very carefully. It was a good exercise and it really helped me dumb down my book into a pretty decent synopsis minus the sex, which an agent can guess that its in there. Good luck.

  3. Actually, in a synopsis you don’t really need much of the touchy feeley stuff. Leave that for the book. In the synopsis just tell what happens. They want a beginning, middle and an end. It doesn’t need to be really complected (though it is when its your own book. Other people can give as much advice as they want, but there is a good chance they don’t understand what you’re doing at all).

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