HOW I WRITE

There’s no neat desk with a sexy high end computer waiting for me to caress the keys and magic inspiration into existence. I tend to write (if I’m motivated) with a good supply of Bic pens and cheap A4 notebooks. Often on my lap. There’s no structure or planned routine. I may have music playing in the background but since I live alone I’m fortunate not to be disturbed, if you discount the locals who stream under my window yelling and gesticulating for hours on end. The writing process can last for five to up to twelve hours a day. Often for months. Years sometimes. Sometimes I’ll wake early and start at 6 or 7 a.m., sometimes I won’t feel motivated until early evening. There are no set working hours. Once I’m in the zone I can work fast.

When I’m in the ‘zone’ I rarely eat or take walks.  Socialising and discussing my writing is a no-no if I can help it. It just doesn’t interest me because I would have already gone over ideas and problems of the work in my head. I’ll only discuss it with those I‘ve asked to look at the work when I’ve got it into some kind of decent shape and then it’s about the grammar and technical side of things. Sometimes I’ll be unsure about a scene or character and I’ll be curious to see if someone else can spot a mistake. Once I’m satisfied and I’ve organised the piece into some kind of order and structure I’ll type and transfer the work onto my old laptop. (It’s old bcause it still works. It’s not a fad) As I’m word processing I may revise or edit on the fly. The notebooks when transferred usually get thrown away. I have no sentimental attachment to early drafts. I’ve never understood why there’s a need to preserve the old typewriters of famous writers. After I’ve written the first draft then I’ll add, edit, rewrite and revise over the next few months with gaps in between so I can return back to the work with a fresh mind. I may offer the work to a friend for feedback. Then I’ll tweak the work again and work on the shape and style. I don’t plot the story sequence with post-it notes or a synopsis. I may write scenes and sections in different orders and reorder it later. A few of my stories don’t follow a linear sequence anyway.

There’s really no romance to the process. Nor is there a great deal of fun when it comes to re-writing. It’s always felt like a compulsion. The best bit about the process is the idea and committing those ideas and exploring them in the A4 notebooks. I get a lot of ideas but I’ve no real idea why or where they come from. I don’t suppose it’s something that requires analysis. I don’t collect articles; I don’t look or try to force an idea. If I have no ideas, I don’t write. I have two novels finished (more or less) and a draft for a third and hopefully final novel.

When the manuscript is completed or I’ve taken it as far as I can then that’s that. It may be submitted to a publisher or may not. I mainly write for myself anyway. Lately I’ve been wondering whether it would make a difference if my novels were published at all. The fact that I have approached very few publishers in the past displays a curiosity to connect. Years ago I once fantasised about being able to do it as a living but unless it’s a commercial work, and it’s suitably promoted it’s improbable for anyone to make any kind of living from writing. It’s enough to get the ideas down on paper.

Once edited there’s no desire to revisit or re-read my work if I can help it. I will have already gone through it dozens of times over months and years. If it hangs on the computer for long enough, without any improvement or interest or if I decide years later that I don’t like the work/don’t know where I can place it, or if I can’t re-use ideas, I have no qualms about deleting it. For example with my recent novel I rewrote 90% of it. That’s no exaggeration. I now have the original version (developed over years) which bears no resemblance to the re-write, which I highly doubt I’ll develop. It served its purpose. Apart from some self-contained bits which I can rework into vignettes or short stories, it’s largely useless.

I don’t feel a huge sense of achievement or pride on completion but relief. It’s a short-lived feeling. Writing is something I’m able to do reasonably well. Everyone is competent at something. I don’t believe that writing is a particularly impressive discipline although some authors have a flair for language and ideas. I don’t think it can change the world for the better, as much I’d like it to. It’s enough that it provides 0ne with some type of relief and may offer perspective to others.

WHY I WRITE
When I first began writing I lacked a ‘voice’ and most of my ideas were often banal and frivolous, mere parodies, mimicry and homages. It’s significantly developed since those early days. I don’t think I’ve cracked it nor I ever will but I’m creeping closer with every new work. I used to write for fun when I started. The only response that I yearned for then was to get a laugh. Because I was young, stupid, vain and naïve I hoped eventually that my writing would provide me with a living… or…at a huge leap…seduce people. I didn’t have a PC then. I wasn’t computer literate at all. Most from my generation taught themselves. Every available hour before and after lectures at college I’d head to the computer suite and type out the stuff I’d spent the previous night jotting down in the kitchen. The majority of it was utter entrails but it felt therapeutic. My material wasn’t very sophisticated, original or technically sound. But because I was gullible and over-zealous I’d produce a number of atrocious pieces for the student magazine, for theatre sketches and cringe-worthy pamphlets for friends. I’m sure now they’re gathering dust, littered with the most loathsome errors. I recognise now that it was only a process I needed to go through. It might be a cliché but personal experience is the best material. That and reading.

Later I went to various writing groups/collectives and there was even a course at Uni which offered creative writing modules. I kind of have mixed feelings about creative writing courses. I suppose some writers thrive on encouragement and constructive criticism but I’ve never been able to force an idea.

I write also because I believe that I’m emotionally immature. I live most of the time inside myself, a fantasy world where everything is possible, where I can experience every shameless pleasure and brutal realism. I rarely go out unless I have to. The reasons I need to go out bring me no pleasure. Work and food shopping are necessities. I write to stay in control. I write because most of the time I’m bored. I’m bored of work, of people, of food, of the temperature, of pretty faces, of ditherers, of stupidity, of culture, of health, of education, of the news, of routine, of furrowed brows, of conversation, of severe old ladies in fur coats, of yapping, rigid old men in pastel clothes, of noise, of learning a new language, of waiting, of shaving, of ironing, of teens in tracksuits, of waking up, of waiting to sleep, of the bodies I’d like to fuck, of pretending to make it comfortable for others, of getting through it day after day. Minute by minute.

I write now because I haven’t found a better alternative or past-time. I write because it stops me thinking of reality. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve accepted that I don’t have the intellectual capacity or the craft with the language to express myself in the way I would like. My strengths have always been ideas. The act of writing for me is like mindfulness. I escape while writing about entrapment.

I write in the hope that one day I will finish. It’s a compulsion, to descale the conscience of my fears, the torments and private tortures, to escape somewhere, smear people in the treacle of imagination, luxuriate in it for a while until we have clean it off, hoping most of it will stick. Other writers wish to pay tribute and capture beauty, compassion, and the things that make the human experience so magnificent and special. I write because ideas sneak up on me, abuse me, creep around in my brain. Maybe they curiously poke and prod a bit until I coax them out. Half the time I don’t know what I want to say. Notebooks and paper in my vicinity are filled with scenes, ideas, whole chapters, before they are used…before they get tossed away. My motivation is to get the crap out of my brain, the anxiety, the neurosis and the fantasies. I need somewhere to store all those useless beautiful and horrible memories and experiences, a place to manage all the things I wanted to say and do but was too nervous. I want to unpick, scrape and shovel my regrets away, send all those hopes and darkest secrets to the surface, like a bloody bewildered miner. Put them all into a box along with cards, cuttings, photos and letters never to be reopened but never discarded. I want to empty and declutter my mind, place the thoughts in some type of context in which I can understand them. I hate thinking. I loathe worrying. I would collapse under its weight if I didn’t empty my imagination of the swirling thunderstorms, the flying shrapnel and the vast sheets of rain. The hope is that I will be free.

Writing can enable us to experience life in different bodies, in different times, in other worlds and environments. If a book is suitably descriptive enough we can use our senses to feel sensations that we haven’t experienced. We can know, desire, hate and live with people we will never see. Feel new emotions. We’re never alone. For some writing is a purely aesthetic experience, a luxurious fabric to clothe the reader and to caress them, an art work with clean lines and composition, a sequential symphony, a catwalk to preen and display their flowery, fashionable linguistic skills. For some writers it’s a love letter to other writers and critics, to the future, a cry for help, an extensive suicide note, an endless flashback, a peacock tail, a terrifying acid trip, a government mouthpiece, an imagined hazy summer in the future, a cloudless sky, a poison pen letter.

Many authors write for posterity, for prosperity, to educate, to warn us of the horror that awaits us, to celebrate nature and pay homage to our achievements and look forward to more. They have many roles as we know, to sugar coat truths, to edit and repackage the human condition, to share the stories that our ancestors used to tell each other, to invent new experiences, to arouse and unlock our desires, to outrage us, to incite or bait us, to contradict other thinkers. In short no different to the things we already imagine and do to each other. If they have a responsibility then we are all responsible, we are all susceptible and enslaved by our emotions and our instincts. It’s always the same story.

CENSORSHIP
In my view the writer shouldn’t be censored, even from themselves. It would be no different from censoring the voices of those that they represent; the ones who supposedly don’t have a voice in their own societies. We should all remain true even if that truth makes us uncomfortable. Language is as much a loaded gun as a vast universe spread out in all directions but even language, experience and the ideas that they inspire have practical limitations. If we wrote truthfully, we would be ostracised, misunderstood and treated with deep suspicion. Sometimes the written word isn’t accurate enough to express our experience of the world. I believe that writers and artists should go where the imagination takes them even  if it means they must confront subversive truths. I wonder if the current novel I’m working on will find an audience. I don’t believe a writer has a wider responsibility to protect people, sugar-coat the world or promote values. We don’t have a moral duty as far as I’m concerned. We are answerable to our own conscience. A writer should seek to write what is true to the world they wish to represent. Imagination is currently under threat in the current climate where pressure groups get offended on behalf of others.

ANONYMOUS
I often wonder if all art should be anonymous. Would it not inspire absolute truth and unrestrained imagination? Isn’t expression synonymous with all of our experiences? Is the ego essential? For some, I suppose it drives their work. Would Oscar Wilde or Virginia Wolf’s words been valued any less if they remained anonymous? Or were they, themselves, like Andy Warhol, part of the work? That is not to say that art should be state controlled. Many of the workers who died to build the world, which allowed future generations to walk and live among the architecture, remain anonymous. Why worship any individual? There’s always the option of a pseudonym. I’ve always favoured the work over its creator. Creators in my view should be as anonymous as possible, which is becoming more and more impossible in the digital age. Writers in my view must write in order to tell and share a story not to gain praise or plaudits. Pride is so old fashioned.
The writer is motivated by many things. For most their desire will remain unfulfilled. Never to be read. Never to be published. Never to realise that what they thought was their ugly face was actually that of a swan. Others dream of being courted by fashionable cliques and beautiful people, to be hailed as a daring genius, an original voice, hoping that their lives will be furnished with the imprisonment of respect, praise, fandom, money and fame. For some their work is like a message in a bottle, reaching out, in the hope that at some point their desperate pleas will be received and understood by the right person, their work nothing but an abandoned lighthouse where ships no longer pass. Some writers write for money, some write what they’re told to write, others wish to draw our attention to something. For some it’s art, for others a bit of a laugh, for others a burden. Some consider that the writer should be a vessel or in fact a scribe, not to express what they’re told to or for any divine mission, but to release something, pour it onto the page like an ink pot and see how it settles. It’s already enough that they are fortunate to have flair or an opportunity to create, that many are paid on whatever they find in the net after it’s been retrieved, that the work has been shaped by an editor into something meaningful.

AFTER WRITING
‘What’s your book about?’
I hate this question. I never know what to say. It always leaves me hanging like a mortified idiot. I’m hopeless at writing blurb, much less marginalizing the words into a tagline or summary in order to mumble something to someone.
‘Where do you get your ideas from?’
I can’t remember.
I’ve been fortunate to give book signings, readings and attend small performances of my work. On the whole I found the experience strange and bemusing. I feel more exposed than any sense of pride. Trembling hands, trembling people. It’s only a collection of text, arranged and organised to take someone somewhere for a couple of hours!

WRITING AS A POLITICAL TOOL
A good book can inspire debate and the need to evaluate oneself and try to improve. I’m not sure if a work of fiction will ever be enough to bring down governments, no matter how many books they try to burn. We hear and tell ourselves every day how we should be concerned for the weak, how we should be protecting them. We read inactive hand-wringing articles about how we are failing those who are unfortunate. Solutions are rarely offered. Weak people should be defined as the poor, victims of various abuses, politically oppressed but it’s not always the case. Without appearing to be boringly contrarian the weak for me are the insecure, the abusers, the oppressors, obsessed by security, international borders, airspace and waters. The weak are actually the strong. They have their own columns in fashionable print media. The weak are also the stupid ones at the top. The voices are but an impression. Their language is not what we hear but what they don’t say. Writers don’t have a responsibility to be moral or otherwise. They will self-censor, even if they’ve been censored by publishers, by religious organisations, by governments, or from fear of offending somebody or other. They shouldn’t of course. But we live in a world where free speech/freedom of expression doesn’t really exist. You only believe it exists because the powers that be tell you that it does.

Follow POSTHUMAN for some extracts of works in progress. (Subject to tweaking and editing)

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