Weep not for my writing, followers dear: I am not dead, but painting here. 🙂
So, yes. Pretty exciting. I get to use the hashtag #amwriting on Twitter for the first time and actually mean it.
I write all day, as it happens. It’s part of my job. I also spend a lot of time editing stuff other people have written. (And for “edit” in this context, please feel free to substitute “re-write” and possibly add a hint of “from scratch”. Actually, what the hell. Let’s say “raze to the ground” and have done with it because that phrase just doesn’t get enough use as a positive.)
But that’s just work, that’s not real writing. Right?
I’m going to get into an argument with myself here and say that it is, and just to back up what even I feel is a somewhat specious argument, I’m going to go back to where I think every writer should start, and that’s to reading.
Now another of the labels on my critically overburdened jacket is “English literature graduate”.
(Don’t ask me what this one looks like. I never see it and nor does anyone else. It’s probably a really good piece of cream cardstock pretending very hard to be cheap sugar paper in case it gets thought ostentatious.)
As a result of this, I’ve spent many glorious years reading about every form of literature known to man, just so long as it isn’t called:
- A classic
- A critical success
- A Booker prize winner
- A seminal work
Three years of studying worthy tomes will do that to a person. It’s a sort of reverse snobbery on my part, really: and partly a defense mechanism. Having been trained up as a slavering lit crit-hound, I’ve reacted by trying to read anything and everything that only ever claims to be a damn good story and doesn’t inspire hours of screaming “but what does it mean, given the sociopolitical context?!!” and trying to pad out 1100 words to 2000 by strategic use of the word “however”.
You name it, I’ll read it. Being a speedreader helps with this. (It certainly helped with James Joyce’s Ulysses, let me tell you. Now that book – there’s a classic, nay, a seminal work.) And it’s all real reading, to get back to my original point. It doesn’t matter what it is, a historical potboiler, a sci-fi romp, a classical drama or a chick-lit so pink it would cause Barbie to vomit. It’s all valid. It’s all real. It’s all learning, when you’re a writer yourself, even if the day’s lesson is “how NOT to do it.” (with a side class in “what not to spend your money on ever again.”)
And so’s every bit of writing you will ever do – every bit of writing I will ever do. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be your breakthrough novel, chapter X (in which the hero discovers he’s actually in a James Joyce story and considers suicide). Or it could be a witty text message. Or a dull but informative text message. Or a sixty-page guidance document on recycling polypropolene. Or a haiku on carpet tile. The only way anyone ever really got good at anything is by doing it, and by watching other people who do it well do what they do best.
Anything. It’s your next big thing, whatever it is. Treat it as such, and enjoy writing it, and don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t “real” writing. It honestly doesn’t get realler, especially when you’re unpublished.
(And, as a postscript: up to 700 words in my lunch hour, on a computer at my local library. Hah!)
I love words, not surprisingly for someone who’s given to waffling on as much as I am, and a little while ago I wrote a very brief no-account drabble that played on the fact that language, like any other living thing, has the capability to be percieved as “good” or “evil”.
Now words are neither good nor evil, as they are not subject to our human perception of right and wrong. The tiger is not evil because he kills deer. He’s just being a tiger. Being by definition purely what you are isn’t evil. (And if you doubt this, check in with Siegfried and Roy. Plus, I don’t want to hear from the vegetarians on this one. Meat is only “murder” if you belong to a race that can conceptualise murder and your meat comes from a race that can conceptualise murder. I’m getting off topic, and besides, I’m scared I may get lynched by vegetarians. Argue with me about it later. Right now I want to talk about words.)
Words, like tigers, can become bad, through popular perception. Have a think about words like “liar” “selfish” or, indeed, “deception”. You wouldn’t want to stand on a podium and tell people that you’re a liar. Or that you’re selfish. Or that you’re decieving them.
However, I want to get this of my chest, to you, right now: I am a liar. Of course I am. I make up things that aren’t true and that don’t exist every day, and then I try to make you believe that they’re real, if only for a little while. And these I call fiction and story and people seem to occasionally like them. Terry Pratchett (we are not worthy) brings this to our attention in his book Equal Rites. The river race called the Zoons are proud of their liars. Lying is a skill, a talent, a great asset.
Still with me? Even after being distracted by Terry Pratchett? (and who wouldn’t be). Okay. So let’s have a look at the word “secret”.
Secret is a fascinatingly ambiguous word. Say it this way:
- You’ve been keeping secrets from me!
And now this way:
- I’ve been planning something, but it’s a secret. You’ll have to wait.
One’s a terrible accusation, the other’s a pleasant promise. Being able to keep a secret for someone is a good thing, but keeping secrets from people is bad. It’s delicious, really, the paradox. Which brings me onto the other part of my ramble today.
Secrecy is a dying art. If you have Facebook, you’ll see what I mean. I can now know every inch of my friends’ lives, because they share everything. (Maybe this is just my friends. Maybe yours are all souls of discretion) It’s considered important in a loving relationship to share yourself with your significant other, to avoid the terrible accusation as above. (reference: “You’re my husband/wife/partner/sex slave, we should share everything”). And even if you’re not sharing, everyone else is: we’re become so proud of communication that we’ve forgotten where and how to stop. The internet actually often gives me social anxiety because there’s just so many people talking all the time and I can’t keep up. We share so much it’s starting to become a social requirement to be on broadcast constantly.
Try it. Keep a secret. I don’t mean lie. Just don’t tell. Do something that’s just for you and keep it to yourself for once. Make it something unimportant. Buy yourself a cake and eat it in a cupboard where no-one can see you. Have a day off work and go to the movies by yourself – and don’t mention it. Write a story or a poem or an essay just for yourself and don’t publish it anywhere. Don’t even show it anyone.
And remember to smile when you’re doing it. You’re doing something purely for yourself and it’s selfish and secret but those words aren’t bad, and you aren’t bad. Enjoy it.
Today I found myself looking forward to the weekend, something which so surprised me I had to stop and have a think about it.
The reaction in itself isn’t unusual, by the way. As an introvert and all-round self-confessed fraidy-cat, my first reaction to almost anything is to stop and give it some serious thought before actually doing something about it. I sometimes worry that I’ll one day get bitten by a snake and spend so much time analysing what I did to deserve it that I’ll neglect to get treatment. (The snake would be fine, by the way. It would have plenty of time to slither off while I was beating myself up mentally for being an idiot and wouldn’t suffer too badly from having to get a taste of me.)
Fact is, I find it hard to look forward to stuff. Especially if there are too many variables. It’s like electric scales. A perfectly simple purely mechanical system, relying on balance and pressure, is capable of accurately measuring weight. There’s usually a rotating set of marks in a little window and a big red needle pointing at what the number is (which you can put your big toe over if you’re really not all that keen on finding out how much you weigh).
Add to this simple device things like a battery, a digital display, a set of uniquely annoying sounds and different modes into the equation and you’re immediately throwing in a whole set of other variables that can go wrong. Result: far more fragile scales that will probably end up in landfill in under a year. (I can almost hear the words “built-in obsolescence” echoing through the manufacturers’ heads)
I tend to get so caught up in the variables of a group day out at the beach that I can’t look forward to it in case it doesn’t happen. I genuinely couldn’t live with the disappointment, and worse, other peoples’ sympathy about said disappointment.
Let’s have a look at some example variables, just for kicks:
- Weather. Could rain.
- Transport. All public transport could be called off due to zombie invasion. Or floods. See weather.
- Under-attendance: People could not come. Or say they could and at the last minute decide not to (because of the floods and the zombies) and I would be left at the beach alone with no handy baseball bat or protective umbrella, at the mercy of the elements and the undead. And sympathetic passers-by saying “Aaaaah. No-one came to the party? Nevermind. It’s not because they don’t like you, it’s because of the rampaging armies of darkness. Honest.”
- Over-attendance: The beach might be too crowded to enjoy properly. Probably with people trying to launch boats to get away from the zombies or with people boating in down the river from their flooded housing estate and heading for France.
But as I’ve got older I think it’s become easier to look forward to, say, little things. Simple stuff. Fewer variables. Less chance of weak points. I can see sunshine through my bedroom curtains in the morning and look forward to being out in it (then reprimand myself for being an aging hippy). I can pack a book for my daily commute and really look forward to reading it.
Little things please little minds, the saying goes, but I’d rather like to refute that, at the risk of being arrogant about the vitalstatistics of my own mind.
Little things please big minds because they’re little.
Little stuff. Big joy.