In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s less than a week before the new school term starts. For the second summer in a row, I haven’t left the UK, and aside from a brief stay down in the wonderfully named Ipplepen, I’ve not ventured too far from the ‘shire. Potential complications with going abroad notwithstanding, my decision to stay local was based on the fact that I really wanted to complete a couple of writing projects before the chaos of a new academic year recommences. Well, I am glad to report that I have achieved this goal—one of them, anyway. On top of that, I’ve managed to get back into a routine that’s allowed me to fill a full 120-page notebook in five and a half weeks. It looks like I’ve got my writing mojo back… just in time for the return to 5.30 alarm calls and late-night marking sessions.
But for once I’m not here to moan about that. Instead, I want to give people an insight into how this writing thing works for me. Not that anyone’s asked me, by the way; I’ve just got the urge to share right now and I thought this might be interesting. Maybe it’s not. Either way, here it is. First, I get up – early – get dressed, and head out to a coffee shop. I know the whole idea of writing in a coffee shop is a cringe-inducing trope, but personally I need to be out of the house to do mine, and coffee shops are great because they have, like, tables, and chairs, and they serve coffee, which – maybe you’ve heard – some writers like to drink. I don’t set out to write anything in particular, and for reasons I can’t be bothered to explain (aside from the fact that my handwriting is dope) I usually write everything by hand. Most of it is absolute garbage, but that’s okay because nobody has to read it—besides, you need to write garbage before you can write anything good. Or so I’ve been told, which is good, because I have written a lot of garbage…
Sometimes, in the process of writing garbage, I have a moment of inspiration. Either a line just appears on the page, or I get an idea for a piece, and I think: yes. This is worth pursuing. I seize that moment and get writing. I write a scene or two. Over the next few days, I try to maintain the momentum and complete something – a first draft – and if I do, I’m usually pretty pleased with myself. I might even convince myself what I’ve written is good. On occasion, I’m so pleased with it, I might even convince myself it’s very good. High as a kite at the prospect of my genius finally being discovered, I type it up and send it to an editor—someone whose work I admire, someone with more talent and more experience than me, but, most importantly, someone I trust. I pay them for their time. A week or so later, they get back to me. They usually tell me my story is fine but needs work. They point out all the things I’ve missed: the clichés, the anomalies in the plot, the over-reliance on certain conjunctions, the moments that could be cracked open into a full scene. This is good. This is positive. It reminds me that my story is not the work of some undiscovered genius, and I get to work on making the necessary changes.
This is where it gets difficult, but it’s also the most rewarding part—when I get it right. It’s a painstaking process that takes time and effort, as I deliberate, sometimes, over a single word, or how to turn that cliché into something unique and powerful. Once it’s done, however, that story – which, remember, I originally thought was pretty good – is almost always ten times better. It may not be perfect, but as someone said to me recently, quoting Voltaire, I believe, perfect is the enemy of good. After a couple more read-throughs, it’s ready… at which point the submission process begins, which is a whole different beast, and one that probably warrants a blog post all of its own—something I might get round to doing by, say, October half-term?
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this, which was written by someone I follow on Twitter, and, unlike most of the shit I read on Twitter, it made me chuckle. Enjoy your weekend.