The hardest part for me isn’t the sentence structure, the dialogue, or the characterisation. The hardest part is writing like I want to write. That, and trying not to kick my computer every time it tells me that realise should be spelled realize. Up yours, wiggly red line marking your disapproval of my words. Up yours.
Anyway, back to the ‘writing like I want to write’ thing: this blog post from the marvellous Orbyn.blog put things in perspective: ‘You can write exactly how you think. Write exactly what you want to say, exactly as your brain thinks it.‘ Sounds easy enough, eh?
The fact is, following those simple instructions is actually anything but simple. I am happy to call myself a writer, albeit a pretty unpublished one, but I’m not happy to call myself a ‘good’ writer. If I think it’s good, does that count? The answer should, of course, be YES. You shouldn’t wait for validation from others before you decide you like your book – you should love it from the moment you lay down your pen (ahem, or the moment you stop tapping at your keyboard, but that didn’t sound quite as poetic), before anyone has a chance to tell you otherwise.
The problem, for me, is all these good writers out there. During my long years of studying, I’ve read some amazing books from the Medieval to the Modern (well, the Medieval stuff wasn’t that amazing, unless you like to read about saints and their vaginas and all that malarkey), and you start to think that nothing you can throw onto a word processor could ever measure up, so why bother? Surely, unless your writing is hailed as a classic of the twenty-first century, your work is measly and insignificant?
Er. Wrong. Although you should try telling that to the writer’s group I was part of for one of my modules at Uni: one day, when I wrote a short piece about a man who was stripping his house bare to remove all the memories because he couldn’t cope with his wife’s death, during the feedback one boy said to me – with a look of utter disdain – “Hm, it’s a bit bestsellerish.”
Oh, tragedy. I mean, yes – when I’ve recently read a couple of chick-lit ‘bestsellers’, some of the writing made me do a bit of sick in my mouth, but your best insult is that my piece sounded like it could sell millions of copies and be accessible to anyone? Bummer.
The fact is, we’re programmed to believe that writing is only of value when it is so obscure it can only be fully understood once it’s been dissected by academics. Alright, you probably won’t see students writing essays on P.S I Love You in 400 years time (of course, you’ll be dead by then so you won’t see anything, but… shush), but then I don’t think Cecilia Ahern is crying into her pillow about that one too much. And let’s face it, she could probably pay someone to do the crying for her if she really wanted.
Now, I’m not saying that writing is about making as much money as possible (it absolutely isn’t, or shouldn’t be), nor am I comparing my writing to Cecila Ahern as I’m not remotely like her, but I’m saying I need to stop trying to compartmentalise (YES bastard red wiggly line, I said compartmentalise) each paragraph I’ve written. “Oh, that’s a bit chick-lit.’ ‘No one will want to give that an Orange prize.’ ‘Oh no! It’s making sense. Now no lecturers will set up shrines for me.’ ‘Why can’t I just be witty and adorable like Stephen Fry?! WHYYY?!’
Basically: who cares? If I spend all my time worrying about who will like my book, then my writing will become so superficial and contrived that no one will like it. Not even me.
Back to that writing group at Uni, and the handful of students that looked at me with such superior disapproval that they may as well have painted themselves red, become wiggly and just laid themselves across all of my writing. Week after week, I fretted about what bitchy (and probably true) comment they’d level at me next. And week after week, my writing became more desperate in its attempt to wow people, and was obviously ripped to shreds (even I bloody hated it.) One day, I went totally blank during a ten minute assignment. I wrote nothing until we had 30 seconds to go, so what I wrote was hurried, but true to me (I didn’t have time to flounce it up a bit). As Orbyn advised, I wrote what I wanted to say, exactly as my brain thought it. And they loved it. The best part was that I loved it too, so actually I couldn’t care less what they thought. More of that feeling, please.
Image dutifully thieved from Marxchivist‘s photostream with a little dose of lolz.