I am not a writer of fiction.
(You may have noticed this if you’ve been paying very, very close attention.)
God knows I’ve tried to write fiction, but so far I’ve always got stuck on plot. And character development. And sub-plot. And descriptive passages. And pivotal moments. And non-pivotal moments. And all parts in-between.
So yes, it’s not going all that well in the fiction-writing department, truth be told. Still, I have a lot of excellent half-novels, if anyone wants to give those a shot one day…
Anyway, despite my crippling inability to tell more than half a story, badly, many of the people I communicate with are writers of fiction. Some are even very bloody good at it, and have sold more than three copies of their books.
Like, three million.
And in some cases many more.
But mostly the writers I chat with are people who have written a book or two, or maybe not even that but they’re trying to, or dreaming about it. Or at the very least considering buying a typewriter.
They, like me, like writing and want to write more, and get paid for it once in a while so they can buy nice cheese.
One of the things I observe most of all on Twitter, among my writery friends and followy-folk, is people talking about HOW to write for publication.
They talk about how to write. And worry about how to write. And read articles about how to write. And attend courses on how to write. And have crises about their writing. And decide never to write again because it’s all WRONG!
(I’m the last two. I have crises about my writing every twenty five minutes.)
Questions to freak the would-be writer out include:
Is it good enough? Is the pace right? Are the characters believable? Does the plot evolve in a satisfactory way? (In my case the answer is ‘NO’ for all of the above, which I think could be part of my problem…)
Is the style strong? Is the dialogue punchy?
(Or, in the case of non-fic, ‘does it give any information about a subject that anyone else might want to read, or is this just you rabbitting on about something that only you give a shit about?’)
To make matters worse for our hairlines and wrinkles we are constantly bombarded by conflicting advice and direction from editors, agents, copy-editors, sub-editors, friends and nervous spouses, rendering us so completely terrified to write a single bloody WORD that we lose all sight of what it is we are actually trying to DO… and consequently write nothing.
So what ARE we trying to do?
Well, other than write the book that sells several million copies, gets bought up by Harvey Weinstein and is made into a blockbuster starring Julia Roberts, OBVIOUSLY, I think what we should be doing is writing WHAT WE WANT.
What feels right to us.
What comes straight out of us, and damn what the editor or agent or sales people or reviewers or journalists or friends or nervous spouses think. (Apart from when they really do know what they’re talking about, of course. Half the skill in being a successful writer is working out who knows their shit and who doesn’t….This takes time, and the confidence that comes from success.
Bit of a Catch 22 there then…)
But really, if we only wrote what we thought we OUGHT to write, because other people said we should, we would kiss good bye to originality right NOW. There would be no new voices, no new structure and….no The Catcher in the Rye.
What we write is OUR work, and OUR words. It has OUR name on the top. It should be what WE want it to be – plus a few improvements from good editors, who iron out the utter bollocks that we can’t recognise as bollocks because we wrote it, and we therefore think all 250,000 words of it are magnificent.
There’s a fine line between magnificence and bollocks. A good editor keeps you on the right side of that line; a bad one hurls you onto the wrong side. You can quote me on that.
I won’t charge. I’m THAT nice, and anyway I already have some nice cheese.
But really…..being true to what you want to write is the Most Important Thing, in my humble and totally un-qualified opinion.
If I told you how many successful writers and journalists I know who have some kind of seizure when asked to talk about their work, such is the pain, shame, frustration and embarrassment they feel about the gaping chasm between what they wanted to write and what they were required to change it to in order to get it published and thus pay for the loft conversion, I’d be here all week listing them.
And I’d be top of that list.
And that’s before we even START on book cover designs.
There is more on all of this in my next book, which will be almost what I wanted it to be, but probably not quite. But it’ll be magnificent. And not bollocks. I promise.
Aaaanyway, because of all this angst about writing, that renders most of us paralysed in front to the keyboard, reaching for the gin bottle by lunchtime, and convinced that we are CRAP at writing, I want to share with you what I found in my son’s bag this afternoon, because it is one of the most tear-jerking, beautiful, honest pieces of work I’ve seen for months, and it kind of reminded me of what a SIMPLE thing we are trying to do when we sit down and try to write.
It’s a story he wrote at school. It won’t be a best-seller. It’s possibly not the most well-developed or researched story-line you’ve ever come across.
It also makes no sense at all and is chock full of mistakes.
But in terms of a person sitting down and telling a story, in his own words, in his own style, I think it’s absolutely perfect.
I’ve left the spelling and punctuation exactly as it appears in the original. The artwork is the author’s own. I think both could be improved upon, but there’s the next twenty-odd years for that….
By Charlie, aged seven.
Fin was seven years old and lived in the house by the dustbin. Fin’s life was a simple life. He had lots of toys and the park and the swimming pool to play in.
But one day Fin’s parents went outside and got shot intently by a invading army so Fin’s house was sold and he had to live with his mean cousons, Fat and Mat.
[WHAM! End of page ONE, and we’re right in there: main character, social background, hobbies, mass shooting, trauma and mean cousins. The bit about the shooting was my first *CALL CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST!* moment, but I’m consoling myself with the fact that ALL little boys write about war and death and living beside dustbins.]
[Witten in style of letter, and presented neatly folded in an envelope, stuck into notebook.]
It’s good to be able to write to you. at the moment I’m loked in a broom cupboard.
About my cousons: they are always beating me with a stick.
I’m never allowed to go outside. I only get one carot a day it’s horrible. The cousons cane me for fun.
As I was saying. My room is a broom cupboard. It dousent have any windows.
The only light is a candle.
By the way, I am alloud to go outside but only when I’ve done a job for exsample chopping wood etc. I’m so glad I got to write to you.
From Fin 🙂
[I particularly like the casual ‘as I was saying’ , thrown in straight after the account of brutal physical punishment and bullying, and also the correction where he realises he’s totally exaggerated his suffering because actually he IS allowed outside. Pah. No idea what he’s complaining about, really…AND he has carots.]
One morning Fin was up at 7.00 AM. He did this because he was told to.
He was told to because he had to buy a new axe.
He had to be chopping wood by 8.00 So he quickly rushed out of the door.
Just when he was nearly there the ground started to disappear so he quickly got out. Just in front of him there was a whip. The whip was brown with a dark handle and it felt verry hard.
It smelt old and abit like his painting of a man with a whip.
“What a coinserdents!”
He piked it up and went home.
Just then the whip started to wigle and bright lights were flashing rite into his eyes before he knew it he was in a black room.
[The fastest plot advancement in history. And with a word like ‘coinserdents’, I don’t feel there’s any room for improvement here at all. 10/10, my son.]
Just then Fin heard a voice.
“STOP!” the voice shouted. This most peculiar sound was coming from his poket. He put His hand in his poket and puld out one of his army Figures that he had when he lived with his mum and dad.
It seemed to be growing.
“Stop you’re being teliported to an enchanted Fortress. On this Jerny you’ll come across 1 danger!” said the voice (the voice’s name is Charlie)
But just When Charlie (who was as big as a Human) had finished speeking they were coming into the danger.
[Just to say, the ‘1 danger’ was originally ‘5 dangers’, but he’s crossed out the 5 and the ‘s’, and written a ‘1’ instead, presumably because he realised he couldn’t be arsed to write all THAT. We’ve all been there…]
“Go you. I’ve never seen someone kill a dragon like that before. You’re amazing.”
“Talk to the hand dude.”
[Slight change of style there, but for pure comedy value it HAS to stay.]
They had just arrived at the fortress. “wow,” said Fin stepping into it.
There were statues of people whitch were comeing to life. There were statues of slaves and swards (but they weren’t coming to life)
“Everybody, we’re being attacked!”
Bang! Biff! Klonk! Paf! Smak! Help!
[large blank space]
The battle was over (the gap was the silence of people picking up helmits for trophys)
“Where are we” said Fin.
“We’re in Geneva. over there is the lake. And what are those?” said Charlie.
“They’re people. We’re in a Kingdom!” Shouted Fin 🙂
[HOW gorgeous is that gap left for ‘silence of people picking up helmits for trophys’???? All books should have gaps for silence. Please, editors. Let us have gaps.]
[Oh and incidentally, my son has never been to Geneva. His dad goes there quite a lot, and has mentioned a lake. But not a Kingdom. I’ll have a word at some point…]
Chapter 6 (written as newspaper article)
STRANGE PEOPLE AT LAKE GENEVA
Thousands of people have been found in a fortress next to Lake Geneva at 10.00. We have Just interviewed a boy called Fin who came from the Fortress.
“Well it’s a bit of a long story but I’ll tell you moast of it. I found a whip which teleported me to a fortress and then we got attacked and here I am now.”
[This last bit is genius, because it pretty much summarises the entire book in one and half lines. If more authors could do this we’d not have to read so much guff.]
Charlie, I love your book. It is honest, and written from the heart. It’s a little bit disturbing in places, especially the ‘caning for fun’ bit, and the mean bastard cousin called Fat, but I think we can work on this.
May you keep writing, and inspire others to write so honestly and with such enthusiasm, for a long time to come.
And may we all try to remember Picasso’s words:
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Love ya, little man. XXXXXXX