A blog for everything bookish

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Reflections on writing: the start of a long journey

I think it’s highly likely that most people who are prolific readers probably also desire to be writers of some description. For some people that desire will be satisfied by the daily quota: the posts to Twitter or Facebook, an e-mail to a friend. For others a blog might do the trick, or keeping a diary. There are those that dabble in journalism, the many that desire to be poets and write little rhymes or tankas or limericks, or if they’re lucky have the odd piece published in a literary journal or perhaps win a small, local competition. Then there are those who want to write creatively, who create little stories or perhaps have an idea or two for a novel and tinker away at it and dream.

I am one of those people.

For me, the bug hit early. I remember the moment, though I cannot place it precisely in time, when I discovered I wanted to be a writer. I must have been around six or seven years old, and I’d written something at school about a tiger and I brought it home to show to my parents. My Mum paid little attention to it, I suppose even by that age she was used to the swath of work I’d bring home from school and she gave it the usual acknowledgement then got on with whatever it was she was doing, making dinner probably. My Dad, however, took the time to read it and at the end he said that it was ‘really, really good’ and he said it with that tone of voice that meant that he really meant it was really, really good, that he wasn’t just humouring me. Right then and there I decided that I would be a writer. It was the first inkling I’d had that there could be something I might be really good at, and it was extra special coming from my Dad. My Dad wasn’t around a lot when I was a child. He worked away most weeks and we’d see him only at weekend and even then he didn’t spend a lot of his time with us kids. So his acknowledgement, his interest, had a special meaning for me.

I went on to tinker with writing. In my secondary school I wrote plays. Two of them were successful, both parodies of popular TV series. My third play was a flop. At the time I was hanging around with a group of girls who were quite popular and wanted to be ‘stars’ in my play. I, foolishly, allowed them to interfere with the creative process and the result was a dreadfully showy rip-off of St Trinians in which all the girls wore short skirts and were sexy and did dances and which hung together as well as a row of marbles. And that was the end of my playwriting career.

In college I wrote stories and articles for the college newspaper. I wrote terrible fairy tales along the lines of those by Angela Carter without an ounce of the talent or skill. But it was nice to see my name in print and to see people reading my stories, whether they liked them or not. And yet I found myself floundering in English Literature class. It was my worst subject (not that I did that badly, mind) falling behind my drier, more factual legal and history studies. I started to question my capability. My childhood dream, my grown up dream of perhaps becoming a journalist turned into lawyer which turned into historian / archaeologist.

Then I dropped out of university and got a job in insurance.

That was the end of everything. Since then I have been an inveterate tinkerer. After my son was born I started writing stories, I even wrote about three-quarters of a novel, which I eventually threw in the bin. After my daughter was born I started writing poetry, and I managed this much more successfully. I had a few poems published and I even won second prize in a competition. But this success killed my poetic interest. Suddenly I was in sight of actually achieving my dream, and the fear killed me. What if I made it? What if I was only moderately good? Rather than continue, I lost my appetite for writing. I gave up. I changed my job and absorbed myself in technical writing which, perhaps not surprisingly, I proved to be quite good at.

And yet I was not satisfied. Somehow the idea of writing, creative writing, not being a part of my life depressed me beyond measure. I started to unpick what I had been doing. I realised that I had been doing everything I could to put barriers between me and achieving my childhood dream. Perhaps because it is easier not to try than to try and fail. Perhaps because I was afraid. Perhaps because if I achieved my dreams, what else would I have to look forward to? Whatever the reason, I realised that if I didn’t want to end my years sunk in the mire of regret, it was time to bite the bullet and really try to be a writer.

So here I am, trying to become a writer. I know this will be a long journey. I know I need to do many things: I need to build my confidence; I need to get into the habit of writing; I need to practice, practice, practice; I need to learn to understand what it is that makes writing good as opposed to mediocre and I need to put that learning into practice; I need to read and research; I need to lead a life which is more conducive to writing, and not one in which it is easy to put it off until tomorrow. I intend to share this journey on my blog, but I will tell you now that it is not for you but for me. It is part of my strategy. I have discovered that making a commitment openly can be the distinction between success and failure, and this time I intend to succeed.