Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Writing is Daft

Well, the time has come. The MS is complete enough. Chapters chosen. Agents researched, letter drafted. It just needs that one last little thing: confidence. Because once the first rejection comes back it's the start of the chipping away. At expectation.

Here you are, an aspiring writer, tapping away morning, noon and night. Or maybe just grabbing the minutes where you can. There is no pay, no kudos, no reward. The result could be a self-obsessive outpouring or a modest novella. Whatever it is it is a little piece of yourself. Served up raw. Ready for dissection. Or ready to be spat out.

If you write something with a 'story', you want to be read. I keep that picture of A Little Blue Jacket for sale on the shelves of the WHSmiths and try to imagine this one. If it's not to be read then what is it for - therapy? Fair enough. Brilliant therapy, writing. But that sort of writing is about getting experiences or emotions down on paper. Out of ones head and into the light of day. Released. We most of us have done it at some time.

The sort of writing many of us do needs a lot of planning. First the genre. Then the idea. But how to make the embryo develop? Deciding how to narrate it is far from an easy decision - what tense, who will tell? And the viewpoint – a choice must be made before a word is written.

An idea, a plot, a story - call it what you will, but whatever you call it there is one fact – it needs to begin and has to end. Deciding just where these two points will be is not as obvious as it may seem. And between these two, what will the shape be. The structure.

Nobody is going buy a boring book, let alone publish it. It will have to be different, in content or style. No mean feat. Then the tone should reflect the character or the subject, period or genre. Easier said than done. Added to which there are additional factors - pace, texture, devices, humour – we don't want the reader to be bored.

And characters? Characterization? A subject far too difficult and diverse for any but an expert. You've either got it or you haven't. Not that most things can't be improved on. Dickens had it in spades. But then so did Jane Austen and the two could not be more different.

Decisions, decisions. And once made they are not so easy to change. So it takes an enormous amount of confidence to send your opus out with so many factors to be taken into account; so many decisions that may not have been the right ones. To be judged and found wanting is not a pleasurable experience.

I think it best (for me anyway) to think of rejection as a necessary fact. It will happen. If a tiny word of encouragement can be gleaned from it then that is a kindly sop to injured pride. If constructive criticism comes that is a real bonus. It might mean that the next recipient of my work is better pleased.

This all makes me sound very balanced and realistic. But the truth of the matter is, in spite of my reasoning, I shall be disappointed when I see that self-addressed envelope come through my door. A little down for the day, a little less chipper. But after a while I will gird my loins and send another letter, another few sample chapters out. I am a determined optimist. One has to be to do anything as daft as write.