Hello, come in and take a seat. I’m just taking a short break from work, it’s a great time to chat. What have I been working on today? Well, I’m writing a short story in which my protagonist has quite a distorted world view. He may or may not have killed a man and I’m not sure that I’m going to find out in 6000 words or so but he certainly believes that any action he took was inevitable. It’s quite nice to write in first person as a different character. It gives you a bit of a break from the self and lets you explore other people’s motivations and thought processes. I suppose it could be viewed as quite a dark story but the tone is deceptively light because the narrator isn’t particularly concerned by his actions. It works well because it’s a nice juxtaposition.
I’m enjoying writing in short story form at the moment. Every day is very different. It allows a lot of time for play. I like to play about with words and ideas and the whole format works supremely well for that.
Yes, I probably should get back to it too. Good luck with your current piece. Drop in soon.
I’m a writer currently living in Middle England. I am taking time this year to write a collection of twelve short stories.
I have a great and very patient Editor. I hold an Honours Degree in Applied Human Psychology and I tend not to talk about myself very much mostly because I put all the interesting things on the page, and when you have done that what is there left to say?
I read a great deal and widely. I’m currently listening to a lecture series on Plato’s Republic because, well, I haven’t before. I think it’s important to always be learning and growing.
I enjoy writing and I try to make each piece better than the last.
Writing can be a very lonely profession. I am not for one moment suggesting that writers are friendless or that we live a hermit-like existence on coffee and cheese sandwiches, but much of our working day is of necessity spent inside our own heads. The trouble with spending a great deal of time with ourselves is that we think. We are our nation’s thinkers after all.
What happens if you give a world class thinker nothing but themselves to think about? Self-reflection, insecurity, and boozy Monday mornings, that’s what!
So, how do we avoid the negativity trap? Well, it has a great deal to do with the difference between Egotism and Confidence. Egotism can be defined as the drive to maintain and enhance favourable views of oneself, and generally features an inflated sense of self importance. Confidence on the other hand is the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.
Egotism is emotional toddlerhood – Confidence is emotional adulthood
Egotism always seeks the I and the me. Confidence is always certain of the I and the me and is looking out for the you. We all walk this emotional tightrope. Some days the toddler wins but it helps if you are aware that it is there throwing the mother of all tantrums and you learn not to listen to the ‘I can’t’, ‘They didn’t’, ‘I don’t want to’.
Confidence comes with knowing what you can do for other people. Perhaps you excel at magazine articles, technical papers or short stories. Perhaps you write copy for a website or advertising. Every small success working for the pleasure of other people will bring you increased confidence.
No amount of success working solely for your own benefit will silence the toddler. You need to learn to grow up and walk away.
Isn’t that the basic premise of fiction? I spend all of my days writing about people who don’t do the things I say and certainly aren’t in the places I mention. Usually they aren’t even real people. In fact I am a great big “Liar liar pants on fire” most of the time.
The funny thing is that amongst all the fibs, of which there are many, the thing I am searching for is the truth. The truth of what it means to be human. The truth and mechanics of relationships. To engage a reader in a story you have to find the spark of recognition, the place where a reader realises yes I know this, I have lived this, this man is like me.
In order to get to that place your writing has to remain true to your character. Are you trying to make a person behave in a way they simply wouldn’t? Does it ring true? You see people really don’t step outside their normal range of behaviour unless they are placed in extreme circumstances and even then it is unusual.
So figure out what your character’s usual reactions would be and then you will know if you step outside them. If you are going there, do it with purpose and conviction. There are times when you can use this fact to advantage but it must be with a character your audience knows very well and I think possibly several books into a series just to shake up the pace. Part of the truth behind people is that we do things for certain reasons; sometimes we don’t know the reason, sometimes we have some insight. We are complicated and understanding and using complicated characters to get to the truth is just about the highest goal of literary fiction.
” In the real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.”
Everybody has dark days. We all have times when we question ourselves and our world. We strive for more and we feel that life is holding out on the good stuff, keeping it tantalisingly out of reach; the bunch of grapes that grace an Aesop’s fable.
It is a cruel trick of life that in finding the darkness we feel alone. We are never alone. If we could muster the strength to reach out a hand into the night we would find that we are standing shoulder to shoulder like a pottery army, facing the same questions and the same fears. The darkness is a universal experience. So is the light.
Writers have a trick for dealing with the darkness. We pick the bones. We pick them clean. You see, nothing of our experience is ever lost. Everything is learning. Everything is growing. We take experience and in the darkness we form words, restless over the surface of the waters until one day…
Let there be Light.
So, if you are standing in the darkness be assured that you are surrounded by companions and in the darkness we grow.
Being a writer is a strange and unusual compulsion.
On the other hand it makes life very interesting.
I don’t think there are many other occupations which begin the day with research into diving equipment, loiter around the methods of disposing of a body, and end with a copy piece about Madeira cake.
The hours are often long and the pay is poor. I recommend that for the first few years of throwing words at the world you forget all about working out your hourly rate. On the other hand there is something to be said for beginning the day in joy and completing it in satisfaction. You might not be rich as a writer but if writing is your compulsion then as long as you are allowed to wallow in the words you stand a good chance of being happy.
Consider the blank page before you. Does it make you anxious?
Are you feeling time pressure?
Do you realise that you are god?
In the universe of this page, you rule. Dive to the depths of the ocean. Visit other galaxies. Live the life of a soccer mom. Drive the despair of a serial killer. Paint the colours of the forest. Write the words you can never say. Invent a community. Change history. Delete time and re-arrange it.
I’m thinking about the writer and their subconscious.
The funny thing is that everyone has one and we pay it very little attention until it plays up. A little like the hazard warning light on the car.
Are you and your subconscious on speaking terms? If you aren’t then you will struggle to write and eventually grind to a page fearing halt.
Writer’s Block anyone?
So, how do I keep my subconscious happy?
(a) Read – Good stuff in, good stuff out.
(b) Resolve any emotional issues where possible. Forgive the guy next door for throwing the hedge clippings over the fence, forgive your mother for that awkward conversation with her best friend’s daughter, forgive yourself for Chocolate Tuesday.
I am not talking about the huge stuff that needs counselling and a 50 minute hour but life’s irritations. Just let them go. It’s not worth it.
The bird that pooped on your car is feeling better because it pooped and not worse because you are cross about it.
(c) Listen to yourself. If you are struggling to write then there may be an issue with what you are writing. Are you trying to make a character behave in a way that he/she wouldn’t.
(d) Sometimes the subconscious calls a time out because it has something else it wants to say. Leave the piece you are writing and work on a short story. Maybe write a poem or a song. When your subconscious has had its say it will let you work on your current piece.
(e) You are playing Deadline Chicken. Trust me, whichever of you blinks first it won’t be pretty.
Tell yourself that you are not writing the piece. This is not writing the piece, this is just making a list of things I would put into it if I was writing it…which I’m not.
Once you have a basic outline expand it until you have a framework. Then write a little piece for each element of the framework.
Look. Almost a piece of work but not a piece of work.
You should now be able to convince yourself that writing the copy is child’s play. It’s nearly done look.
(f) Problems pass. You won’t always struggle. Everyone struggles. Everyone has blank days and prolific days. People who succeed at writing work on the bad days and don’t sweat it.
Writing can be an isolating experience. We throw ourselves into the worlds of our imagination. We lock horns with the intangible. We love and lose, talk of guile and greed. We engage with our internal inquisitor. It can seem a very narcissistic occupation.
The truth is that the sheer effort of writing well tends to weed out the self important and the showboater. It leaves a honed core of truly dedicated observers. We watch the world. Does that make our opinions more important than those of anyone else? More important? No. Better informed? Perhaps.
Writers are no more important than anyone else in the world. Writers are also no less important than anyone else in the world. We are its voice. So keep ploughing through that draft. Keep papering the wall with your rejections. Keep learning to use the subjunctive. Keep editing. Keep growing.