I don’t mean that as a writer, you need to read. That’s one of the basic tenets of writing. I read an article this morning that had a list of things NOT to say to an agent or publisher, and ‘I don’t read because I don’t want to steal anyone’s ideas’ is one of them. Not to say it’s not a fair point, I think we all have that worry, but it’s imperative you’re reading. You don’t ask a painter to create for an exhibition when they’ve never even stepped inside a gallery.
But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way you read. I’m currently in another of those ‘this is crap, this is so crap’ points in my work in progress (40000 words in, I should have expected it) and every line looks boring, or overdone, or slow. So I thought I’d go back to looking at some of my favourite books, and looking at how they do it. So I started reading as a writer. I looked at where she put the commas, how many times she used ‘said’. What the sentences in between the speech told us. I thought perhaps there was some sort of style or code to this author’s perfection. And what did I find?
Zilch. She uses said a lot. The sentences in between do the same that mine do. It’s not that fast paced, it’s just enjoyable to the reader to go on the journey, because the dialogue is funny. And that’s what I realised- when we write, we are judging our own work as critics of the language. We’re strangling the adverbs and looking at individual lines and worrying, worrying, worrying.
But when I read a good book, all those things become invisible. The ‘said’s cease to exist, because they’re just markers. The description translates directly into a vision of a character, I’m not sitting there wondering why she used a certain word, or commenting on the vocabulary- I’m too busy disappearing into the story!
Which tells me two things:
I’m probably not as crap as I think I am right now, and I just need to buck the hell up.
Some of the best writing is ‘invisible’ to the reader.
So happy morning all, I’m off to write some invisible words on the page now.
2012 seems to be the year of the meme. Don’t get me wrong, logging on to UEA’s Meme page on facebook allows for a good five minutes of fun, and makes me a little nostalgic. And I do get the ones on different jobs- ‘What my parents think I do’, ‘What my friends think I do’ ‘What I think I do’ ‘What I actually do.’ It got me thinking about what assumptions people have when I tell them I’m a writer.
For those who are pursuing the same course of action, there are two options. They (after conceding the fact that they too are legitimate writers) agree and we spend a happy afternoon down the pub chatting about the bollocks that is character development and how we’re going to be poor forever. Or they almost snippily question whether ‘we’ (I) should use that term if ‘we’re’ (I’m) not ‘properly published’ (up for a Costa Book Award).
I’m not going to get into that now, because it’s a long and arduous argument that can only serve to make me feel like a failure. I will tell you that I’ve only ever wanted to be three things in my life. When I grew up, I either wanted to be a writer, a secret agent, or a hippie. I actually find that I’ve kind of got a nice mish mash of all three in my life right now. Okay, so MI6 will not come calling any time soon to turn me into a Sydney Bristow character. I do not have the stamina for that. But, for all intents and purposes, it is my job to mislead people. I have to tell a story, keep people interested, keep them guessing. I am a liar. And okay, I do have one of those voice-recordy pens, and a stick that turns into a mini-telescope.
The point is, I’m a spy. I’m spying on your life, taking the interesting bits and making them into fiction. And just as James Bond left his gaggle of love-struck women pining or wishing vengeance on him, I’m probably going to have some casualties along the way. Especially hanging out with other writers- if I’ve taken a personality trait it seems a worse faux pas than borrowing their pencil.
And then to the hippie. Well, okay, so I like incense and make daisy chains and play the guitar atrociously. I occasionally summon up enough political outrage to do things. But this writing life often takes some of those hippie stereotypes. The peace and quiet to write, for example. How many writers retreats are offered in bustling cities? One. And that’s because they understand not everyone can afford to leave London for weeks at a time.
The point being, maybe slowing down and truly embracing the mundane, away from television, pop culture, and…dare I say it (so hypocritically, via blog) the internet, actually improves writing. Or the ability to sit down and write the damn thing you keep talking about. Taking joy in small choices and enjoying a moment that’s not just there until you get to the next one. Thoroughly enjoying a cup of coffee, the perfectly rolled cigarette, properly closing your eyes and listening to a song instead of letting it play on as background noise. Everything in life seems to rushed, such a caterwauling of hopes and aims and objectives and needs that the present seems to fall into past before it’s even been acknowledged. Take a second, breathe and enjoy. Eat cake for breakfast, walk in the sunshine, spend all afternoon drinking with a friend (or a pen and paper). All I’m saying is, we’re meant to be looking at things, truly watching in order to write. And if we’re too busy to watch, then we’re too busy to understand anything.
This all sounds a bit pretentious, I know, but I’m striving to live my life a little more like this. Because, I serve coffee three days a week, I teach people a few days a week, and I have a few days a week to write articles, try and set up a business and actually interact with other human beings. As well as promoting the novel, and starting a new one. So what does this tell you? I should be running around like a moron, getting things done. I should be craned over my desk, typing furiously into my laptop at three in the morning, slaving away on the latest masterpiece, fuelled only by black coffee and a righteous desire to succeed.
Well, you know what? I hate to be the one to tell you this, but writers are people. We have bills to pay, and jobs to do, and the occasional need to flop down in front of the television for three straight hours of Buffy re-runs. The point is this- the cliche benefits no-one. People saying ‘well, you’re a writer, you should be okay by yourself’ or ‘I thought you would look different’ or sniggering if I tell them I’m a writer who also serves coffee. We are not all sitting here in black clothes wearing berets and talking about Kafka. Thank goodness.
For most people, their job is their job. For us, it’s an intrinsic part of who we are. When I say I’m a writer, I don’t mean ‘this is how I make my living’, I mean ‘this is how I live’.
And now this nice little rant/speculation is over, I suppose I should get back to it. Now, where did I leave my beret?
*Note: For those of you who haven’t already-please sign up to Authonomy and back my book. It’s doing really well so far, having jumped up 4000 places in the last week. But I could really use all the help I can get.
You can find the book here, and when you click ‘Back the book’ it should give you the option to register. You can then give it a star rating, leave a comment or put it on your watchlist. It only takes a minute, and you’d know you were helping a young writer on her way!