I was in the car once with my dad. Approaching a corner at speed he changed down into the third, then coming out of the turn, back up into fourth. ‘Good driving that,’ he said. Not for me it wasn’t, clutching the inside of the door. Good driving is when you don’t notice it.
I recently met with the woman who did the editorial report for my second novel. She had suggested changing the male lead to make him more distinctive. I agreed with her, but was bemoaning the fact that it will mean taking out a lot of the writing I’m most proud of. She told me how often these sort of changes meant writers having to do this. That ‘good’ writing often takes you out of the story rather than allowing you to get absorbed.
There is a temptation, when I learn a new skill, to want to take it out on the road, exceed the speed limit and show off. Forgetting that beyond is a more genuine ability. One that gets the passenger from A to B without them ever being conscious of why they enjoyed the journey so much.
I’m away for yet another extended cup of tea. Back at the end of the month. In the meantime let me recommend the Twitter page and blog for a writer who calls himself Scribbles. The headline on his Twitter page says, ‘Aiming for a writing career. As we’re in recession, I need luck. Going to see if I can project plan some into my life. If not, will probably bitch about boss.’ On his blog he describes himself as, ‘Married with kids, mortgage, cats that puke and a crappy motor.’ His tweets are a constant stream of effort and avoidance: There are three consecutive tweets about skiving, he gets distracted by a feed on ants, keeps trying to set targets and meet them. The latest is a massive rant against his boss. To me, he is some sort of patron saint of writers.
His blog is at: http://scribblesluck.wordpress.com/
And his Twitter Feed at https://twitter.com/Luck_Writer
Alternatively, have a look at this article on Cormac McCarthy’s theory of punctuation, which I found via @WritingMatters1 (which is also very good). Very hard core: full stops, capital letters, and commas; that’s it. http://www.openculture.com/2013/08/cormac-mccarthys-punctuation-rules.html
Allow me to recommend a couple of great blogs. The first is Paul McVeigh’s, which has almost every writing competition, interview, event of interest for writers in the UK. I think of it as the IMDB of UK writing sites, and is a huge relief for those of us who used to look jealously over the shoulders of those reading the latest copy of Mslexia for the adverts. http://paulmcveigh.blogspot.co.uk/
The second seems to have started out at about the same time as mine did. It’s an attempt by the writer to read 100 classic novels and to record the results. Lovely graphics, humorous asides. The great thing is, she’s just started (Northanger Abbey) so you’re in at the start. http://classicbookreader.wordpress.com
Finally, my sister sent me a link to this, which is an explanation of literary terms with reference to Disney films. Great fun. http://www.buzzfeed.com/moerder/fancy-literary-techniques-explained-by-disney
John le Carre at the Hay Festival 2013 on his first research in the Middle East: ‘I set off… first to Israel, where Shlomo Gazit, who was Head of Military Intelligence took me over, showed me that world. And then I went, sometimes by way of Cyprus, sometimes directly over the Allenby Bridge up to Beirut, where the PLO were still hanging out and with some difficulty I got alongside Arafat. And Arafat took me on for probably altogether ten days and sent me down to South Lebanon to Sidon where I stayed with Salah Tamari who was the chief of fighters down there.’
Interesting. My first research interview was with a train spotter, and I was terrified. I was writing a ‘western’ about trainspotting and thought that it would probably be best if I found out what they actually did. Their local hangout is Platform Five at London Bridge. Men with rucksacks and notepads, all facing in different directions. I was certain they would tell me where to go, so I approached the nearest one cautiously and asked if he’d mind a few questions. Twenty minutes later, after he had told me about carriage numbers, and the York Railway Hotel, and ‘Units’ and ‘Wagons’, and the websites and magazines, and being on sick pay, and the notepads he had that went back to 1965, I said my thank-yous and started to walk away. ‘There’s also plane spotting!’ he shouted after me.
What I learnt was that most people don’t mind being asked about what they do. In fact, like most of us, they’re dying for someone to ask, and to listen. Doesn’t matter if they’re in the Jordan Valley or the wilds of Platform Five.
I was talking to a friend yesterday who had read the post ‘Persistence: Keep Walking’. She was clearly feeling guilty that she hadn’t been doing enough with her writing project. Firstly, it’s a reminder to me that though this blog is intended as an attempt to work out for myself how to write fiction, it might be read as a series of ‘shoulds’. Plus, there’s always the temptation on my part to get carried away and that start writing as if it is.
But it did get me thinking. When we talk about persistence in writing, do we necessarily mean writing? (Blimey, I sound like Carrie Bradshaw). Giuseppe di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard, regarded as one of the best novels of the 20c, is said to have spent many years thinking about it before he ever started writing.
And do I write every day? No. At the moment I’m working on the synopsis to my third novel, having got two-thirds of the way through. This means writing very little, but thinking a lot.
At the novel writing course that I attended at City University they talked about ‘staying in contact’ with your novel. And perhaps this is a better way to put it. In any way, have your mind on it. I think that writing is a concrete way to do this, but is not the only way.