Let’s face it …
writing is an interesting thing to do. Your family and friends (because they are nice and they love you) will want to chat about your writing. They will ask you questions. They’ll be keen to hear the answers.
So before we start, let’s just pause a minute to think about
how lucky you are.
These people are not being nosy. They are being supportive.
This is what families and friends do!
So what does that make you …?
if you …
if you don’t …
Look, here’s the thing.
Sometimes, when you’re in the process of writing something and it’s not completely finished …
You might not want to talk about it.
Is this you? Or just me? Tell us how you cope. How do you deal with people who want to know about your writing? What do you say?
Look, if you’re always ready to show people what you’re working on and listen to their opinions, if you are that brave and confident in what you are doing,
that is fantastic.
I know there are people like this and I extend just masses of awe and admiration. I really do. I wish I was like you. And all you people can skip the rest of this post.
But first, please leave some constructive advice for the rest of us.
Anyway, I’m not like that.
And I have a few things to say about this. So, just in case there’s anyone else like me, here are my thoughts.
I don’t always want to talk about what I’m writing. Sometimes I don’t feel ready. It feels as if the writing is too tender, too … ummmm.. … spoilable (is that a word?).
It feels as if the writing is going to be ruined by exposure, the way an apple is ruined when it hits the air.
And I know that sounds a bit looby-lou.
So let’s think this through.
A piece of writing is something you made up from nothing, out of thin air, out of your own particular array of experiences and your unique arrangement of neurons.
It’s something that didn’t exist before you came along, and it was manufactured, not out of the world, but out of your experience of the world.
It’s extremely personal.
a lot of ideas are ugly.
Well yours might not be, but a lot of mine are.
I don’t mean they’re full of evil intent or anything. I mean they are poorly formed.
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up …
(Richard III, Shakespeare)
Yep, when I try to put an idea down onto a page, my first attempts are pretty awful. And I know if I tried to tell my idea at that stage, before I’ve worked on it, then that would be a big failure. It would leave everyone embarrassed and me feeling like an idiot.
The first version of an idea is just an artist’s raw material, like a potter’s lump of grey slimy clay.
It isn’t ready to be passed on to other people. It isn’t communicable. At this stage, descriptions of the idea would be awkward and ugly.
this doesn’t mean the ideas themselves are worthless.
The ideas are wo-o-onderful.
And this early stage of writing, the stage where you are forming ideas, is precious and exhilarating. It’s probably the reason you bother with writing at all.
You have this vague … thing … in your mind and, even though it isn’t complete, the glimpse of it, the faint, elusive shadow that you’re reaching for, is intoxicatingly beautiful.
And you know that if you ever can communicate it properly it will be amazing.
You know, when it is finally turned into a good piece of writing, then all the effort will be worthwhile.
This is what writing is.
We have a perfect beautiful idea and then we try to reach it. We try to find clear, compelling ways of communicating our ideas to others. We put down words and work them over and over, until they (almost) represent the idea – or at least until they are close enough for us to send them into the world, for other people to see.
Or until we give up.
“A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.” W. H. Auden**
The point is, you don’t have to expose your work to the world until you are ready.
until you’re ready, you can’t communicate it anyway.
It just can’t be done.
The stage of forming ideas is precious. But it’s also fragile.
It is usually wrecked by the presence of other people, no matter how much we love them. Or maybe it’s especially bad if we love them. Because once we show our work to people we care about, we immediately start to worry about what these people might think.
And that puts us into into an editing frame of mind.
When what we need to be in is a free, dreaming frame of mind.
That brings me to another point.
And this is one of the most important ideas about writing. It needs to be said, again and again. The message is very simple.
You can’t write and edit at the same time.
There’ll be another post about this. There could be quite a few posts about it, and you’ll find it said in many other places, because … did I mention? …
to get back to where we started…
Your loved ones love you. They wish you well. Be kind to them. If they want to talk about your writing, help them. Sit your family down and explain why you can’t always tell them what it is you’re writing.
Or, have some words ready. Prepare a description of your work that you think your people will like. This doesn’t have to stay the same forever.
It doesn’t even have to be true.
Make it beautiful and satisfying and vague and entrancing. Make them excited.
And then work away. Work and work and work.
And when your work is finished ….
Then you can make them proud.
** W.H Auden: Collected Poems, ed Edward Mendelson. In Foreword by Auden p xxx. Auden was paraphrasing Paul Valery. See https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Paul_Val%C3%A9ry
Thanks to these people for the images
“Diverse gen-y” from The Holy Wild https://theholywild.wordpress.com/category/being/page/2/
“The Willis Clan” on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Willis_Family
“An extended family in Spain” on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_family#/media/File:FamiliaOjeda.JPG
“With our Indian host family at Nandikotkur” by Helen Cowper on Flickr www.flickr.com/photos/heatheronhertravels/8437656499
“Slow Loris” by Encyclographia – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37233423
“Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Trailer” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marilyn_Monroe_in_Gentlemen_Prefer_Blondes_trailer.jpg
“Brain-neurons” by Fotis Bobolas on Flickr under Creative Coomons Attribution Share-Alike licence https://www.flickr.com/photos/fbobolas/3822222947
“Mother Troll and her Sons” by John Bauer – Illustration of Walter Stenström’s The boy and the trolls or The Adventure in childrens’ anthology Among pixies and trolls, a collection of childrens’ stories, 1915., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92923
“Print of Charles Kean playing Richard III, from a mid 19th century performance of the play” by A. Park (publisher) – Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection
Stańczyk (painting) by Jan Matejko – http://cyfrowe.mnw.art.pl/dmuseion/docmetadata?id=4795, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43350542
“Block of mixed earthenware clay” by Wewunmaster – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38827718
Image for “Profound Beats, When Dreams Come True” on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt_huI5fFHY
“Beautiful vision” by Ian Burt on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/oddsock/24877850630
Japanese girl with laptop by MJ/TR http://www.flickr.com/photos/mujitra/3473642198/sizes/l/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23167739
Venetian Glass in Queensland Museum – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16048691
“Les robes de Paul Poiret” by Paul Iribe – Internet Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32641
“La Chasse-galerie” by Henri Julien 1906, Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec. Via Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chasse-galerie
moon-1275774_640 on Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/moon-fairy-tales-worlds-boy-books-1275774/
book-933280_640 on Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/book-open-pages-literature-933280/