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Posts Tagged ‘success’

man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885Well, that’s a bit arrogant, isn’t it? There’s a lot of fiction out there, good stuff too, by writers with big names, genius writers who’ve lived big lives and have something to say – had their work published by Penguin for heaven’s sake! So what advice do I think I can offer, me a denizen of this poor-man’s parallel medium, without embarrassing myself? Well, since it was a little voice inside me asking, I see no harm in having a go, and I suppose we start with the uniqueness of one’s own life and experience, one’s own nature, and one’s own view of the world as we encounter it. That’s got to be worth something right?

Sure, that’s worth the telling, because no matter who you meet along the way, and what you do or see, everyone and everything, every situation has something to teach you, if you’re prepared to listen, to observe. And I suppose that’s what writers do. They take the lived experience, and they distil it into its essence, something potent, something that says, yes, this means that and, though we aim at attaining sufficient impact to pull a reader up and make them think about their own lives, their own experience, the important thing for the writer is the “Aha” moment – that’s the landslide in the brain when, after hours pecking at the keyboard, the way opens and all becomes clear. Everything else – publishers, editors, readers – it’s all of piddling insignificance compared with that. And what that is is the development of writer’s own self.

Still sounds a bit arrogant? I suppose so, except arrogance is for youth, while old age has the excuse of its own experience.

The other important thing about writing fiction is the audience you’re aiming at. Here’s where I part company with those who want to know how to get published quick, how to get editors to like their stuff, because it beats me. You can spend a lifetime studying the market, reading every book ever written and trying to write just like that, and still not crack it – success, I mean. But though it can indeed be a long journey, the secret of your own success is when you finally tell yourself you don’t care. And you mean it.

I’ve written a lot of novels now and, except for a couple of the early ones I’ve not written them with an editor, a market, or indeed any kind of audience in mind. That said, they are written to an exacting standard, one essentially aimed only at pleasing my self, and by that I do literally mean my “self” in the Jungian sense of the word, and I’ve discovered he’s a pernickety old curmudgeon who won’t be sated by bluff and bluster. He wants to see the real deal, or as near as I can manage it, the unexpurgated vibe of life. It’s not that he doesn’t know what that is of course. What he wants is for me to recognize it, to reflect it back at me and so, through writing, I pick up a piece of myself from the mud of life’s lived disarray, shine it up a little and pop it back into place on the puzzle-board of my allotted time on earth.

No matter what your background – privileged or humble – life is big, complex, filled with paradox, love, hate, triumph and tragedy and then there’s the question: does it mean anything or not? And however you choose to answer, that question leads on to other questions, equally profound, paradoxical though I suppose, ultimately unknowable. Yet life, in all its wonder and absurdity, and possibly even its pointlessness, raises a tingle in the bones, and for a certain type of personality, it’s important to give creative expression to that tingle in some form, be it visual or written.

In writing fiction we get to be someone else, born into someone else’s shoes, and we get to ask: if this happened, then what would I do? In this situation, in this company of people, if so-and-so said this, what would I say? What would be the right thing? The wrong thing. What would be merely expedient, and what would that say about me, about life?

This kind of writing, internal, self-referential, is a high wire act, maintaining a balance between self-indulgence and a more sincere existential exploration. If we get the balance right, we achieve a mythic resonance in our work, and others are drawn by it, sufficient to follow us at least some distance. Get it wrong and, well,… we just make a fool of ourselves. But even there all art has to be allowed its freedom to fail. No sense staring at the blank page afraid to make a mark lest we do not achieve a masterpiece at the first go and everyone laughs at us. Indeed, I suppose that’s the most valuable of all the lessons about how to write fiction, or anything else for that matter,…

And I mean, to hell with it:

Just do it.

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