Is your writing frivolous?

I am basically an angry person.

To be clear when I say ‘angry’ I mean the buttoned-up version that’s woven into the tweed fabric of an Englishman of my age. I’d never actually show my anger, I couldn’t punch a face, complain in a restaurant or even wag an accusatory finger…no, I’m angry in the way that means I smile as my blood pressure rises and my chance of a heart attack increases year on year.

Anything can set me off. The national shame that is Brexit, the international injustice of Yemen, cats looking at me in a funny way….pretty much anything can be a trigger.

This week it was a twitter conversation (is that what you call a string of tweets) with the author Mary Carter last week (@mjcarterauthor).

She was saying that she resented having her writing branded as a frivolous hobby…. that she had been told to get a ‘proper job’ and stop messing about with her writing.

…it made me angry….

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Writing is never frivolous

Never…never ever….writing is never frivolous.

I feel Mary’s pain. ‘People’ look at me in a different way since I gave up the gravy-train in order to concentrate on my writing.

The faces say “shouldn’t you be doing something a bit more worthwhile with your time…something a little more valuable than messing about making up stories”.

But that’s not the whole picture. Their eyes say something different.

Their eyes say “I wish I had the nerve to do something I feel passionate about.”

So I guess the first penny to drop is that doing something you want to do is never frivolous. Be that write, paint, sing, have kids, whatever. If you can figure out what’s going to do it for you, and you can find a way to do it, it’s got to be worth a try right.

…but that’s not really my point…

I’ve been writing ‘seriously’ now for four years, and the writers I’ve met and got to know a little are without exception ….. exceptional. I have yet to come across the embittered cynic who resents the success of other writers when their own work is overlooked. My writers are thoughtful, emotionally intelligent people. They have opinions that they have thought about and are comfortable if those opinions are challenged. They are listeners and observers. They are compassionate. They respect the work of others and support one another. They do not exclude, they welcome. They cherish discussion and loath ignorance.

In my experience people are complicated; good and bad, all rolled-up together in the wrappers life has given them. I don’t think that all these wonderful people I’ve met through writing are any different. I don’t think they popped out like they are now, I think something had a hand in rounding them off so well. I think that thing was their writing.

Putting ink on paper makes you think. You can write literature or romance, YA fiction or sci-fi, whatever it is you use as your backdrop, writing forces you to think. It forces you to think about what makes people tick. The act of writing makes you a better person because, before you attempt to create a character you have to understand her. You have to understand people in order to write them convincingly.

Could anyone argue that what we need in our world is a little less understanding? Thought not.

To write about people is to understand them.

What could be less frivolous than that?

Until we meet again….all good things to you.

Adam

(you have the right to write)

 

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Criticism – how do you like it?

I was talking with my broadcasting-buddy-to-be Krystina Kellingley the other day.  This autumn, date to be confirmed, we’re going to be co-hosting a creative writing show on Beyond Radio (see ‘get your material on air if you’re interested). We’re both super-excited and had a coffee-fuelled hour sketching out running orders and such like.

Inevitably talk turned to writing and the various tribulations we are each negotiating at the moment. Krystina is an experienced and published author and works within the industry as an editor and copy editor, but even someone who has reached those heady heights has demons to fight it seems. But this is not Krystina’s blog….its all about me  (me me me me me me me) so let me tell you what I struggle with – criticism.

I get it

I get it – by which I mean I both ‘get it’ (receive criticism) and ‘get it’ (know that it’s important).  I’ve learned a huge amount of ‘stuff’ since I started to take myself (too) seriously as a writer….technical stuff about writing, how to approach an agent (still waiting), the meaning of life etc…..but the most difficult lesson has (and still is) how to deal with criticism.

I’ve always had an ego the size of a planet. I think that’s something that’s really helped me jump in at the deep end all my life; I have this ‘youngest son’ confidence that tells me I can do anything.  I definitely wouldn’t have got into writing novels without it. Something I’ve learned more recently though is that my massive ego has only an eggshell for protection; the slightest criticism leaves me standing in a puddle of congealing yolk.

How dare they…! I’ve worked like a dog on my material, blessed them with the opportunity to read and comment on it, and rather than say “really great Adam, really really great. Perfect in every way in fact” – like they were supposed to, I get a load of tosh about how a plot-point makes no sense and how a character doesn’t ‘feel’ right.

What! I’ve been up every morning at 05:30 working on this stuff, what do you mean “doesn’t feel right”!

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Works for me

Well….the penny dropped for me when I realised that every opinion coming my way had the potential to make my material stronger.

I’ve had to pretend to be a much better person than I am when I’m given criticism. I’ve had to reach for the mop and clean up the spilled yolk and egg goop as best I can.

I guess what’s worked for me is the thought that above all else, the thing that’s most important to me, is that my story is told, and that I tell it as well as I am able. My ego is not what’s important, it’s all about the story. All the subjective opinions of the folk who kindly agree to take the time to read and comment on my material, need to be weighed, considered and unpicked with this in the front of my mind.

So that’s how I deal with it now – I take the comments on the chin. I don’t argue with those generous souls who have given me their time and attention, or try to justify or defend my material, I listen, I nod, I make a note and I say thanks (and mean it). Then I sift, think, consider, sleep on it, do it all again and go back and make what I write better.

I don’t know how you deal with (constructive) criticism of your material, I’d love to hear – but that’s my take.

What have I learned…?

It’s tough to take criticism, but its a skill you need to master if you want to write to your potential.

(so go and find yourself a mop)

Until we meet again….all good things to you.

Adam

(you have the right to write)

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Feels like I’m finished…..

 

So….just finished work on ‘The Namesake’ – it has been a long trek – I think I started 3 or 4 years ago…..the first draft was complete during the summer of 2016 and I’ve been re-writing like a demon since then.

When I re-write I like to read out loud. It’s not that I like the sound of my own voice – just that the act of reading aloud seems to show up problems in the manuscript – makes them stand out.  I have a very understanding partner but a few weeks ago I did the decent thing and moved my ‘operation’ out to the shed. I go all ‘Roald Dahl’ and hide myself away at the bottom of the garden for 2 or 3 hours a day and confuse the neighbours with silly voices etc.

I use Word, and as I’m reading aloud I add in comments. I then go back and work on whatever it is that grates.  Adding in comments in my version of Word creates a column at the side of the text – so when I deleted the last comment yesterday (having ‘dealt’ with everything) the whole page jumped to the right and changed shape (no more comments = no more comments area to display).  So there was this kind of ‘oh’ feeling that hit me.  ‘My work here is done’.

Well – I say ‘done’.  Obviously I’m climbing the mountain now – starting the process of pitching the manuscript to Agents.  They say that part of being a successful author is knowing how to deal with rejection….I am braced.

I’ve made a promo for the book – take a look and let me know what you think…