Hang on a tick

Janys Hyde ScribblerIsn’t it strange how you can write all your life — and in my case that covers quite a few good years — and then suddenly, when you decide you want to make it all official and ‘come out’ — make it known publicly that you consider yourself a writer, you find that words fail you or no longer seem to make any sense. They seem to lose their worth and can no longer render your ideas in quite the same way as they have done for goodness knows how long. For years you have been perfectly capable of getting your meaning across to those you have had to address, be it friends, family or colleagues and even strangers — there has never been a breakdown in communication as a result of your incapacity. Instructions have been followed — copious exchanges have been made — words have been spent on the myriad subjects of quotidian exchanges — you have been given exactly the sort of response you had hoped your words would arouse. So what happened — what burst your writing balloon?

Well I suppose the problems really began when you took that decision to crawl out of the woodwork with the aim of writing meaningful stories. For some inexplicable reason you decided that the tools you had for writing were no longer sufficient. We’re not talking about those fundamental tools such as grammar, punctuation and spelling — they don’t count really because under normal circumstances, even a basic education will probably have ensured that they are an instinctive part of your writing process. And if they are not, perhaps it would have been wiser to concentrate on those to begin with rather than take on the burden of a fancy creative writing course.

We’ll take for granted your ability to write ‘correct’ English, so you started to look around to see what the market had to offer for so-called ‘creative’ writing — courses, books, workshops, master classes, private tuition, blogs, web sites — it’s all out there, not so much for the taking, but certainly for all tastes and pockets. And if you were not very careful, you could even have foolishly overlooked with what authority on the subject many of those who offer aforesaid facilities are doing so. Everyone seems to be hopping on the ‘Creative Writing Bandwagon’, though I do wonder how much ‘copying and pasting’ is going on to a greater or lesser degree!

Ok — so you chose something which seemed to fit the bill – you followed the introductory lessons, foundation module or opening pages, and suddenly you fell to pieces. And as if not knowing which end of your pen to use or how to type was not enough, you found yourself having to expose your puerile efforts to peer critique. And as we all know now, mainly in hindsight having suffered at the hands of at least one of these assholes, peer critique always involves at least one know-all who has ‘been there, done that’ and has all the answers. They are particularly vitriolic if there is a tutor to impress, gleefully lashing into you efforts and highlighting your ‘lacunae’ using highfalutin terms that even the tutor is hard-pressed to understand — (you can see that I picked up a few of them myself in that last sentence). What I have always found very curious however, is how these superior peers (the assholes I mean) rarely present any of their own work for ‘positive critique’ — how is that, I wonder?

So where does all this leave your confidence? Rock bottom is an understatement. And here is where your real problems begin, because not only do you have to deal with peer critique, you religiously wade through the whole course, or the whole book, or sign up to one or more of the online workshops, and ‘like’ all the blogs and social media pages — and in most cases, you will have done all of those things and a lot more. You start to take notice of all the suggestions for publishers and how to get your book out there — stuff normally found in the last chapter of the book, or final module in the course — only to discover that many publishers will be looking for letters after your name — for writers with fancy degrees — and/or they will be wanting a copy of your list of published works. You start to carefully read all the profiles existing ‘writers’ have created for themselves to see how they got away with it — what ‘qualifications’ they have to have been published — forgetting that in spite of them being written in third person (what’s that???) in most cases it will have been the writer him/herself who will have written all that personal blurb about how brilliant they are and how many awards they have won and stuff. They call it marketing — but your creative writing education hasn’t got to that part yet, and if things continue as they are, you will probably never have to worry your pretty little head about marketing anyway.

This is deflating, big time. And everywhere you turn you see writers publishing and talking books, and signing books, and having a knees-up at book fairs and literature festivals and you feel totally out of it all. So just to be sure that you have got it all right in your head, you buy more books — as if the official book list at uni hadn’t been long enough, you can’t help feeling that you have missed a vital point somewhere — that secret key to open the flow of words which is taking so long to surge from your head to the page. It’s in there somewhere, so just a few more angles on ‘how-to-do-it’ and you will be sure to get it right.

I don’t know though — sometimes it all seems so wrong. I can’t help asking myself if Shakespeare or Milton had these problems. How many writers of the Classics read books on ‘how-to-do-it’ I wonder. They will very likely have had their off-days, or even weeks, months or years — but I can’t somehow believe that there was the sense of one-upmanship or competition that seems to hover above the writers’ world of today like a heavy black cloud. A continual ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ attitude — who is fastest on the draw to get out a new publication. And I have read some of these publications, and frankly, even though many are blessed with an intriguing storyline, quite a few of them leave a lot to be desired when it comes to tying up the loose ends. I would like to say that typos are the worst of the proofreading hiccoughs that I’ve come across, but no, much to my dismay I have found that there are much greater sins that cannot simply be explained away as the slip of a finger on the keyboard. Do these people own a dictionary? Are they all so presumptuous as to believe that they know how every word is spelt just by hearing it? I mean, the English language is notorious for similar sounding words with completely different spellings isn’t it?

But I’m ranting. Let me set aside my basket of sour grapes. My vision is blurred — becoming a little distorted. Too many writing manuals and blog articles on how to get it right.I think it’s time to clear the shelves and open up a breach in the clutter, although in reality probably most of the clutter exists in my own head. And maybe it’s about time I just got down to writing without worrying too much about how it all comes out and what everyone else is up to. Others have been there before me with their doubts and uncertainties and deep down, even some of the published authors (yes – you can call yourself an author once you’re published!) still have their off-days. Nothing new about that. Should I face up to the fact that I am trying to camouflage a flaw in my ability to write? Maybe I should just give up and get back to learning how to crochet or play bridge?

Hang on a tick — let me just finish my latest purchase. So many people (writers??) have recommended Stephen King’s ‘On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft’ so I must give it a go. It could prove to be exactly the push I need.