Or to be perfectly honest why do I think that I’m a writer.
What differentiates someone who writes stuff from a writer? Is it inherent or can it be learnt? (obviously a lot of people think that it’s the latter judging from the number of Creative Writing courses there are – and I’ve taken two of them so I’m not really in any position to comment) Today when literally anyone can blog or vlog their way into the human consciousness how can I sit here and say I am this thing and you’re not?
Well I suppose the simple answer is obviously I can’t. If you write and they come and read then you’re a writer; what I’m trying to get a grips with is what makes me feel within myself that there is something different about me?
Well if I go back a zillion years, give or take a few, then I’ve always written stories or been interested in them. More specifically what happened next? What did Cinderella do after the wedding? how did the world recover from all those Triffids? One of my more defining moments came when I watched an episode of the original Star Trek. Kirk and co had landed on a planet as they do and found an idyllic world. after a while they realise that its run by some benign dictatorship computer, blow up the thing and leave the newly freed peoples to rule themselves. Me and Neil (Caron – my best mate at the time) were livid. how dare they!? They come swooping in take away the one thing that organised everything and left them to their own devices – I bet a return visit would have shown a desolate wasteland with cannibalism and as much violence as could be shown on TV in the 60’s.
My reaction was to write my first novel about such an event but from the peoples POV. I learnt so much from the experience. Firstly; that I hated to write in long hand! This is V. important. Writing long hand sucks; not the least because even I cannot read my writing! (An English teacher once wrote on my report ‘please get a new spider – I cannot read this one!’) I hated writing in long hand so much that my next novel was not written until almost 40 years later!!!
Secondly: I learnt that I cannot spell. Thakn thr gods fpr spelchecl? I also learnt that I love to tinker with a sentence. I still have the reams of paper from my first effort and every page has at least two pieces of paper stapled to it where I’ve crossed out a sentence or added a bit more. Can you imagine if I typed it all? I would never finish. (Been honest for a second – well serious really – I have been told time and time again to rewrite, but somehow, from the very first I understood this – except that I actually rewrote it almost a nano-second after the first draft.) Again thank gods for Word. I can rearrange, delete, add, whatever I want. I am a man born for only this time!
Thirdly I learnt that actually having an idea where you are going does help. I started at the start and finished at the end. To be fair I still do that; I could not jump in somewhere else and carry on with a novel. I have improved, I know what the end is going to be, but I go by what Terry Pratchett once said (I may be paraphrasing here so apologies if I’ve got bits wrong) ‘when you write its like standing on a small hill. You can see other hills in the distance where you aim to go but the valley’s are full of mist and who knows what is going on there?’ You see I tend to have a lot of ‘up in the air’ type of thinking. I’ll give you an example. Just today I wrote a scene in a Mall where my two main characters confront a third. One character, Afua, is a police detective and I had written a brief description last week of her in a regulation suit and sensible shoes. Today as I’m writing I come up with the dialogue and this third person recognises Afua as a detective but shouldn’t (a bit of plot development there.) Now I had the detective say “So you recognised me as a detective like this?” meaning her clothes. ‘Whoops!‘ So I had to go back and change her into ‘mufti’ I do this ALLLLLLLLL the time; so if I actually jumped ahead of a story and then came back I may write in something that then means I need to change the later bit (I hope I haven’t lost you – I’m pretty borderline here but bear with me. So ends are as important as beginnings (and for the record I shifted the ending halfway through the novel.)
Lastly I realised the importance of character. This is the tricky bit for me. I read voraciously and most of it has some element of darkness running through it, even Terry’s Discworld, but I do struggle to write character. By this I mean a voice that is not merely my own. Now I’ve not had a cossetted life; long term bullying, distant parents, only child, interests that no one seemingly liked, disabled son, born again atheism, anger issues, loss of a job, depression – and that’s just this week! Seriously though I’ve not lived a charmed life but really find it hard to create truly unlikable characters. Not impossible mind, just hard. Part of the reason I reckon is that I am made up of about 99% sarcastic genes. It is called the lowest form of wit but why aim higher? I’ve been a children’s nurse and a nurse in an STI clinic (just as AIDS was sweeping the nation) I have always seen the ‘funny’ side of darkness and that then creeps into my writing. Life is shite and then we die is pretty much my motto so why not have a laugh? So I usually lace my stories with humour. Someone can be almost dead one minute and then cracking a joke about farts the next (actually – I haven’t ever written a scene like that but now that I think about it I’ll try and fit it in somewhere) Life is just like that; joking with a mate at night while cleaning someone who has just died (not at their expense – really I suppose just reminiscing about the times they had made us laugh over something silly).
Okaaaaay! Well I had lots more to write but if I do I’ll leave you brain dead – so I’ll pick up tomorrow with the rest of my ‘what makes me think I can write?’