Tuesday, May 1, 2012
The Act of Writing No. 27
Excelling at what you do, you would think to be a basic human aspiration. It is not. Having, in my previous life, been a management researcher/consultant working with dozens of organizations, I found that a large proportion of staff in these workplaces were content to ‘get by’. This lack of drive to achieve cannot be tolerated in writing. Even if you are writing to strict formulae laid down by genres such as bodice rippers, manga-inspired graphic novels, zombie horror or elfin fantasies and your publisher or agent is draconian in what might or might not be included, a writer can never be less than rigorous in delivering the goods.
There is a received wisdom that one in a hundred novels is completed, one in a thousand is published and one in ten thousand makes money. The odds against becoming another J K Rowling, therefore, are heavily weighted against success. Writing, as I have advanced in earlier blogs, requires the individual to be convinced that this is as arduous as anything s/he has done in life thus far.
They say that everyone has a novel in them. As a general rule, the first novel tends to rest heavily upon personal history. So, a useful adage is that you have to be able to exorcise the demons of your biography in order for you to free yourself up to write, unencumbered by the almost conscious desire for expiation. There will be some whose novels are perennially snatched from their lives, so rich have these been but most writers do not share and have not experienced the environment, plot and challenges through which they put their characters. Most rely on a vivid imagination and empathy. This is not to say that an in-depth knowledge of a field of interest does not provide you with rich pickings to play with, a realistic context for your plot. In The Strange Attractor I write about a crowd arriving at a football match. Having worked on a research project for the Home Office on crowd control and having been a supporter of Newcastle United since I was six or seven, did me no harm. I was able to take my central character, an amoral detective, and place him in that context. I knew what he was going to experience BUT I was freed up to let him react to it in his own way, not mine. You can pillage your biography all the time but, having written the first novel, this pillaging becomes less an obvious reflection of how you navigated the vicissitudes of your life story and more a multi-textured backdrop to what your characters have to face. These characters are no longer different facets of yourself but capable of sustaining a rounded, independent existence from you.
That’s it in a nutshell. Once you jettison the need for therapy from your writing you can face the greater challenges and personal fulfillment of creating new worlds, ones that you have not and are unlikely ever to occupy. A new kind of therapy takes over, not expiation for past deeds but a continuous flow of illumination about yourself that helps you feel capable of dealing with whatever the present throws at you. You establish yourself as a storyteller in your tribe. How energizing is that?
The Strange Attractor by Eric le Sange Kindle Amazon
Azimuth by Jack Sanger (www.azimuthtrilogy.com)