Can anyone write? Probably
Can anyone be a writer? Probably not.
The difference between the two? Effort, tenacity, courage, determination and the sacrifice of your sanity.
A tutor from a writing course once warned me that writing will take everything from you. Formulating an idea for a novel, script or play is the easy part. Arguably, writing is also the easy part (excluding the hours spent looking out of the window and wondering what the hell to write next!) . What follows seems to tip most writers over the edge.
Proof-reading and editing sucks. I’m only a third way through my first draft and I try to edit as I go, despite advice that the second draft is for the editing. After a few thousand words, I can’t see what I’m reading anymore. The words are blurry and punctuation floats off the page. I get muddled with simple words such as ‘past’ and ‘passed’ and constantly question whether my semi-colons are in the right place and whether my dialogue sounds convincing.
Feedback also sucks, especially waiting for it. Unluckily for me, all my friends are too nice; they just tell me everything is fantastic. But I know it can’t be. I am a debut novelist. By literary law, my first attempt at writing a book will be shite. Everyone’s first book is shite.
And who decides whether a novel is worthy anyway? Literary critics in The Times? Amazon feedback? Your nan? And who do you believe? Apparently, The Great Gatsby was ‘absurd’. Huckleberry Finn was ‘trashy and vicious.’ Wuthering Heights, ‘vulgar.’ Catch-22, ’emotional hodgepodge’, and Moby Dick, ‘increasingly dull.’ Ouch.
Feedback is subjective, but if you’re a fledgling writer, negative feedback could shatter any hope of being successful and send you back to your job in the prawn factory. This is where having walrus thick skin is essential. Rejection is the cross writers have to bear. If you want to be a published writer, make friends with rejection; best friends for ever friends! Ooh yes, please. Sign me up. That sounds a blast.
I had my first rejection in April. I had the opportunity to show my first chapter to a literary agent. Unbeknown to me at the time, I had made the most fatal of writing errors. I had started my book by accurately and beautifully (so I thought) describing the weather ( I blame my primary school for this twatty mistake. We were told to ‘set the scene’ with our stories: ‘It was a sunny day/hot day/wet day/cloudy day/stormy night!’).
For a novelist, this is literary suicide. Which begs the question, why the hell did I start the first page of my first draft with:
‘Emily sat up in bed and watched the rain from her window. Millions of vindictive water droplets cascaded down from the slate sky; wet bullets firing disappointment and prompting last-minute cancellations of family barbeques, romantic picnics and village fetes. All ruined in less than five minutes.’
I thought this was a brilliant setting-of-the-scene and when I proudly presented it to an agent from Darley Anderson Associates, I was certain she’d agree. She didn’t. She thought: “It’s over-written, too descriptive and please, please, please don’t start with the weather!” Oh, we’re not supposed to describe the weather? But Mrs King from Southbroom Junior told me to.
Perhaps writing about the weather was a good idea, a hundred years ago, but as every aspiring writer described the environmental conditions to their readers, it became clichéd and tired. But what is wrong with painting a picture for the reader? We all love talking about the weather; how harmful can it be to accurately portary it on the first page?
A five-minute flick through the classics in my bookcase reveals how common it is/was:
“It was a bright cold day in April….” Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day……the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating…..” Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
“The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred……” The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Hmm, so the weather can be used in the first paragraph? Now I’m confused.
Sometimes, I want to give up all together. There is far too much inconsistent advice on how to write a book, how to find an agent, how to get a publisher, how to be a writer we’ve heard of etc etc etc etc. My head is spinning and the stress is most certainly stifling my creativity.
So, I have a plan:
1) I am going to ignore all advice.
2) I am going to ignore all feedback.
3) I’m going to paint my garden shed pink and set up my own private writing room, complete with radio, type-writer, kettle, toaster and pick ‘n’ mix shrimps.
And I advise my writing buddies to do the same!