Unread

So why do I write? I don’t really know. For pleasure? Yes, I suppose so. Because I have something to say? Well maybe. Good enough reasons for an amateur, perhaps, whose books will only ever be seen by me. Artists, painters, photographers… all of these seem content to hang their art on their own walls alone, to be seen only by them. Can the writer do the same? I wonder.

Why would the writer do that? Well, the world can be a cruel and heartless place. Some people have thick skins, or simply do not care, or thrive on controversy. But the rest of us? No, we have no desire to be famous, to be taunted by trolls and activists, to be sent hate mail and stinging critiques, to be shot down before we have even found the courage to stand up straight.

The more I think about it, the less enthusiastic I become. Perhaps the boring day job has its quaint appeal. Perhaps it is safer than striding out before the world to invite the derision of the braying crowds. Perhaps it is better to be the obscure character, nobody ever really knew, than to be shot down in flames for daring to tell a story or put pen to paper.

Perhaps this is why the writer might strive to be unread.

Writer’s doubt

You finish the book, and then a mountain of doubts smash you against the wall…

Why did you decide to tell that story…

Why did you write those characters…

Who were you to invest in those lives…

How dare you write those characters…

Are you even a good writer?

Who will even read that book?

Who will discover it?

Who will publish it?

What did you do it for?

Why don’t you just give up?

Why don’t you just desist.

Yes, desist.

Amatore

It is okay to be an amateur. It is acceptable to engage in amateur dramatics. Likewise, it is okay to be an amateur writer.

It is okay to devote your time to something you love, even if it is only a hobby. If you love writing, then devote yourself to that.

It is okay to do something for the love of it only, and to be content with that. No need to pursue wealth, fame or great acclaim.

I address this rejoinder to myself.

Reality check

Then there is the reality check, in which I recall what caused my withdrawal on my last (very brief) attempt to publish in 2013…

The egomania involved in promoting yourself to the world. It is vulgar, and I hated it.

Yes, and I have watched good folk kill their hearts in this selling business, creating needless controversies all over just to remain relevant and visible amongst the masses.

In these times, to sell your work (a book, your training courses, your lectures), you must recite the perpetual refrain: “Here I am, here I am, here I am.” Or: “Look at me.” Or: “Remember me.”

So then, it is a lost cause. Reboot. Reorientate. A question to myself: what am I doing it for?

Not for the money. To escape the glorified admin job in IT? Seriously? Not to be a superstar. To stave off the third mid-life crisis? Or just a wee hobby, more enjoyable than watching football or mowing the lawn. Hmm, I don’t know.

I kid myself to think I might ever be a published author. Let me stay in my lane, and remember who I am.

Scissors

I used to write with a pen. Now I write with scissors, no longer afraid to eliminate long passages or whole chapters I once invested days or months in. Gone is the sentiment which used to demand those words remain. No, we see what we wrote in earlier years for what it is.

My latest piece of writing drained me heavily. Emotionally and physically. I wrote the first draft in 1996, some twenty-five years ago. I no longer relate to those characters or their immature angst, but for the sake of reinvigorating my once-abandoned novel, I had to occupy their world again, filling my head with their blues and anxiety. That process carried me back there, depositing on my head a heavy depression.

The latest draft is now complete, for now. It must now hang for a while to season and mature, to be returned to in a few months to be reconsidered perhaps. Maybe it will never see the light of day. Who knows? I have exited its little world, to return to reality.

This evening, I sifted through a pile of other manuscripts started but never finished over the past twenty years. I thought I might find another project to sink my teeth into, but the scissors just danced about on the page, rejecting my files wholesale. Even words penned just three years ago grate with me now.

Perhaps the time has come to start anew. Or perhaps the time has come to admit: no, I am no writer at all.

Elegy

Revisiting an old manuscript, momentarily I dream of being a writer once more, his words in print. For a day or two, I imagine the draft to have potential, to be considered by an agent or publisher, if only I could just add the spit and polish it demands. Ah, but no, it returns a pipe dream. How could I compete with the brilliant authors whose works are celebrated far and wide? Cowed, I skulk away, back to the salaried role, a cog in the machine, bored and ignored.

H

Personally I don’t care who H is. The big mystery I want answered is how a celebrated screenwriter can screw up the final episode of every single drama they create for television. In the past, I have patiently watched every twist and turn, silently wishing the weeks away, desperate to discover whodunnit. Then comes the grand finale. Utter codswollop! Someone, please, get the great writer an editor.

“Don’t give up the day job.”

This was, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have ever received.

It was 1995. I was working a short contract for a software development company in Cambridge, when I learned that the colleague sitting beside me was a published author.

Just prior to moving down to Cambridge, I had completed the script for a screenplay that I thought was pretty good. After a few weeks building up a relationship with him, I decided to seek an honest review from the companion at my side.

His review was stinging. He thought my script was utter drivel. He was right. It was dreadful, infantile, an abomination. “Don’t give up the day job,” he laughed, and that was that. I deposited my script in my box of misadventures.

This tale was supposed to be the beginning of an inspiring exaltation to two children inclined to giving up before they have even started, but they just rolled their eyes at me and walked away. Oh well.

I was going to tell them that this scathing review was the starting point in my lifelong mission to become a better writer. I was going to tell them of the novel that followed, hammered out mostly at night once my contract in Cambridge ceased. That too was astoundingly bad.

I submitted it to publishers and earned my first round of rejection letters. I then went to university, where a number of fellow students reviewed it, reminding me that I really was no author at all. The following summer I tried again, editing yet another adaption.

What I was trying to tell my children was that you have to persevere in anything worth doing until you are actually good at it. Most people, the odd genius excepted, start off really, really bad, and gradually over time get better and better.

Certainly, over twenty-five years, I have become a better writer. I continue to write for pleasure, in my ever-decreasing spare time. I think of myself as an amateur writer, akin to the stars of the amateur dramatics scene.

I confess that I still yearn to be a published author, but as my burgeoning pile of unfinished manuscripts testify, that will probably have to wait until I am old and grey, or better still after I am dead and buried. I have self-published, briefly, a couple of times, but yet more stinging reviews have always forced me to withdraw. I am still a writing apprentice, still honing his art.

I have a ninety-percent complete novel sitting on my computer right now, but I have not touched it in eighteen months. It does not matter. It may ultimately end up in the bin. Still, it does not matter.

Anything worth doing takes dedication and a high degree of determination. For my part, I am glad of those rejection letters at eighteen and for the stinging reviews over the years that followed. I was not ready then, and perhaps I am not ready now.

But one day, I hope, I will write something that I can be really proud of. Something that will allow me to say that the decades trying were all worth it. And I hope my children too, when they have grown out of rolling their eyes at their parents, will come to that realisation too.

Whatever your dream… invest in it and patiently persevere.

To be nobody again

In the pre-internet age, there were very few ways the commoner could seek to influence the world beyond their immediate community. For those with talent or good looks, there was always the promise of stardom in music, sport or acting. For the lucky few there was a publishing contract. For the astute, perhaps a career in politics. But for most, influence extended no further than the local church, social club, union branch, factory floor, company board. People’s worlds were small back then. Continue reading “To be nobody again”

Clarion call

Deal with him, comes the command from the top, and soon the trolls and hackers will come marching, determined to silence the insignificant writer nobody reads who speaks his mind too freely. Yes, I have seen the inbound traffic, causing that sudden spike, the flatline zero to one daily visitors suddenly shooting skyward. To battle bound, they descend en masse, but have chosen the wrong opponent, only amplifying what would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Such is misguided activism, which defends the unjust and vanquishes the oppressed, all in the name of belonging. The complete opposite of the message they claim to be champions of.