I got this from Courtney – loved hers and couldn’t resist having a go. The idea is to write seven points about writing and to tag people on the eighth but I’d much rather leave it open to everybody.
1. I absolutely adore quotations by famous writers about writing. A half hour in their company and I feel the way I imagine drunks must after a fabulous AA session; all these wonderful people finding ways to be witty and wry about their incurable sickness! Here’s a few of my favourite quotes:
‘A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’ Thomas Mann
‘Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.’ Iris Murdoch
Writers aren’t exactly people. Or if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald.
‘Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.’ Cyril Connolly
‘A writer lives, at best, in a state of astonishment. Beyond any feeling he has of the good or the evil of the world lies a deeper one of wonder at it all.’ William Sansom
2. At the moment I’m writing at three levels: an academic book that I must complete, a non-fiction book that I want to complete and a blog that I’m under no obligation to continue but that I cannot leave alone. I notice with interest and frustration that it is a) far easier to write when it has no connection to making a living, and b) also far easier the more I can just put myself into the writing. The academic book, which causes me the most difficulties, does so because I must erase my presence from it.
3. What most attracts me to writing is the sense of quiet industry I associate with it, and yet this pretty image is ludicrous when compared to the reality. So much of my writing has happened at the kitchen table in a snatched, hasty way, pushing aside correspondence that requires my attention and maintaining a running commentary with my son. Even when my space is peaceful, the inside of my head when I’m writing is not. And the steady gentle pace of writing I fantasize, the pace of a solitary long-distance runner, is replaced always by the trajectory of an arthritic, wizened little 80-year-old lady, pushing her Zimmer frame uphill. Of course there is one beautiful moment, possibly only brought into being by the sight of the penultimate paragraph, when she throws aside her metal cage, hops onto a motorbike and zooms downhill. And that moment is the one I disingenuously cling to when I say ‘yes of course I can do that for you in the next three months.’
4. I hate rewriting but I love cutting. Rewriting, as one of my delightful quotes goes, is just ‘like scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush.’ Picking a passage apart transforms it from a poorly written passage to a complete lexical bomb site that has to be painfully reassembled. Cutting is a joy; whatever strikes me as dull or repetitive or redundant can just be chopped. Of course sometimes I have to say goodbye to the odd sentence that I really loved, but you know what, I never think of it again once I’ve pressed delete.
5. When I was twelve I won a writing competition at school and, along with ten or so runners-up, got to meet Jill Paton Walsh who gave us a sort of master class. For our exercise she was asking us all to write a short story, and as she went around the group she picked on each individual to praise them for some particular literary quality they possessed. Waiting for her to finally reach me (I was last in line) was probably the moment when I first displayed true writerly inclinations: I was longing for her to say something like ‘darling, your prose is just so incandescently wondrous that I can’t isolate any one feature; just keep doing what you do!’ In fact she said ‘and I’m sure you can use some of your nice description in the story, too.’ Well, I was bitterly disappointed and I’m not sure that I wrote anything in that master class. I knew whatever I wrote wouldn’t be any good. But it’s a valuable lesson you can’t learn early enough that not everyone is going to appreciate you, and as regularly as you receive fierce criticism, you are damned by faint praise. I don’t think the answer is to ignore it and do your own thing; the answer is to recognize they might have a point and do something about it.
6. Which also goes to show that I am a much better writer when I know I am writing for an audience, and, furthermore, when I know roughly what that audience expects. I have to think that somebody wants what I’m about to produce to even get started, and when I direct that writing towards someone in particular it will come off much better than what I attempt to write for a large, featureless public. I’ve only ever written books to contract as well. I’ve agreed to submit an article to a collected volume and the email has just come around telling us that the editors have yet to find a publisher but still want our articles by the end of October. I can feel my feet growing distinctly and irrevocably colder…
7. Partly this may be because I’m just not very impressed by my own writing. I think my style is rather bland and hopelessly repetitive. I’m dreading the day when someone figures out that my vocabulary is only about a hundred words but that I’m sneaky and use words designed to trigger emotions in the reader, thus obscuring this fact. I think my sentences are too long, and in general I write too much and there are often awkward, stumbly moments in each torturous paragraph. If I write, it’s because I have this strange, tenacious hope that tomorrow I might manage to do just a little bit better than today.