I could make all sorts of summer excuses, like; ‘it’s too hot, man’, or; ‘there are too many other things I need to do’. But that wouldn’t be honest. I live in Durham. It’s never hot. It is wet, but I’m a writer – I like to think of it as ‘moist’.
Maybe I am experiencing ‘writers’ block’ for the first time ever. I wouldn’t know. What are the symptoms? In my case it’s a severe dose of Piecus Incompletus., which is in danger of metastasising into terminal Self-Doubt. There are slivers of word files spread all over my desktop, un-homed particles of articles I only just starticled. My current output, like world peace, is unresolved.
Three stories unfinished; comments on Islamic thuggery, Republican bombast and NRA fatalism, all made more than adequately by others and not needing my ‘help’. Bits and pieces, pieces and bits. ‘Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’?
So, I thought, let’s do a writing ‘bit’. After all, I haven’t done one of those for a while. The last was concerning description and oenamata – onomata – Ernamotor… word pictures. It was called Eyes Half Closed and if you missed it you were probably fortunate.
So today it’s the popular song – the way we work with words. We are writers, the blank page is our instrument, how we fill it testifies to our ability to play. Just as any reasonably astute child can bash out notes on a piano in recognisable fashion, most people can make a cogent sentence (other than myself, it seems) that will be readable. But something extra is needed to make the listener want to come closer, the reader to turn the page. Something raises Paganini above the crowd, something makes a Wordsworth stanza unforgettable.
Words are like notes. Creating those memorable, pleasurable reading moments begins with stringing them together, knowing the function of each dot and comma, having a reasonable vocabulary, understanding parsing and clauses and allegory and metaphor. There are bales of tutorials all over the internet that impart these essential rules, as there is plentiful resource instructing you ‘how to write’.
I’m not going to presume to tell anyone else how to write. I can only pass on models I follow that one day will hopefully make me a better writer, and may, perhaps be useful to you. Like musical notes, words have a value. There are demisemiquavers, semi-quavers, quavers, crochets, semibreves and so on. It isn’t hard to string them together, although it is a little more effort to make them a tune, while to create a song that will be on everyone’s lips demands familiarity and love of the instrument. It takes just one misplaced note to destroy a whole melody, and the English language is full of misplaced notes.
There are words I consider criminals in themselves. Some are born and pass with fashion, like ‘snog’ or ‘basically’; others were always there and you wish they weren’t: ‘interject’ and ‘nice’ for example. Use at your peril, or only in dialogue where they fit a character. Then again there are others, I think, that enhance the language with a poetry of their own: I personally like ‘schadenfreude’ and ‘blood’ (as a term for a close relative). The most shameful pirate of all, the robber of the deeper meaning in your work and the destroyer of the natural rhythm and the flow of the message is that b****y word ‘the’. Arguably each of the ‘the’s in that sentence could be redundant. Rhythm and flow are vital: they take the reader to the next sentence, and to the next page. Yes, we have to use them sparingly (I just did) but they lionise our rhythm and interrupt flow.
I admit it puzzles me why so many would-be writers advocate reading the works of others as a means to improvement. I rarely read. Why? Not because I don’t enjoy reading, I do when I have time, but because to me, all I am likely to learn is how to write like Thackeray, or O’Brien, or Pullman, and I want to write like Anderson! News for you, blood – the word dies as it leaves the page. It is reincarnated inside you, the reader, as a piece of a jigsaw you find easy to assemble. It isn’t a word anymore, it’s part of a song playing inside your mind.
Besides, what was successful for others won’t work for you. I am a great fan of Honore De’Balzac – his descriptive writing can drive me to a deplorable state of ecstasy, but the way he drives off for his conclusion in his last chapters is badly sliced, at best. He would not get published, or even un-slushed, today. I could name other victims of many a double bogey, others still who were defeated prematurely by the rough. Me, I’m in a pot bunker somewhere, hacking away and getting my eyes filled with sand.
So how do I like to write, and why do I do it? Too big a target. But, when I arrive at my keyboard, the character who entered my head maybe an hour, or a day, or a year ago will be there waiting for me, and he (or she) and I will have a conversation. And between us we will talk to the page that is our instrument, and we will hope we reach our audience. We hope they will believe. We don’t slavishly adhere to rules (you’ve probably noticed) but we hope we will have created a song they will love to sing, with surprises or revelations about themselves along the way.
That is what writing represents for me. That is why I turn up here every day. I do it for myself, and a few others who might wish to read. Hitherto I have been unconcerned with media and sales, although with the compulsion of age that may change. It would be nice (ugh!) to think someday someone somewhere will hear my tune, and pause to sing along.