Wednesday, 12 October 2011

One small stroke of a keyboard...

One giant leap for a writer with a cane. And let's not pretend this is the first time I have taken the plunge; I've written blogs before. Several times. I just never kept up with them, because posting about a pointless day at 11 at night seemed less important than sleep or beer, and then doing it the next morning seemed less important than catching up on blogs. Pretty soon it had been three weeks without an update and if anyone was even bothering to read it, they would have given up by now, right? So though I have made sporadic forays into fleshing out my story in the big wide blogosphere, it has never stuck. Will it do so this time?

Who knows? I plan for it to work out this time, but I plan for that every time. Still, perhaps this time there is a little more urgency. When I first began writing with a serious mind to being published and getting rich and famous and all that, I was still in high school, Apple computers were still uncool, and the World Trade Center was still standing. I still remember the night inspiration struck, my muse slapping me in the back of the head at around midnight with a wonderful idea for a novel - no, a series of novels - set in a fantasy world where magical fallout drove everyone underground and corporate controlled governments used the confined space and limited resources to keep the dependent population on a tight leash.

The centre-piece for the story (did I just give away that I write in British English?) was to be the setting of the only city where people could see the sun. Naturally it would be the home of the political ruling class, and would be all glass and steel, with a huge canopy stretched over it to keep out the irradiating fallout. That canopy was to be held up by three ancient towers from a long-gone civilisation, the implication being that they were the Empire State Building and World Trade Center towers. This was in August, 2001, and I wrote feverish notes in a little journal I kept under my pillow. Another habit I never actually kept up, but since inspiration strikes me most often in the shower, I'm not sure how I will be able to write notes without just destroying the paper.

I had always enjoyed writing. Creating stories is a joy that is difficult to describe. My favourite author describes it as the most fun you can have with your clothes on, though I have had the odd late-night session at the keyboard without bothering to get dressed. To those with a mind to do it, there is much satisfaction and sometimes bliss to be found in constructing characters and setting out scenes and slapping it all together. It is problem solving, self indulgence and ego-stroking all at once. These characters and their world are entirely in your hands. It is like being a god.

I began creating stories before I could even write. When I first started school, a traumatic experience that is always useful in shaping a writer's soul, we were given single words printed on card and a folder with slots cut in, the idea being we should slot the words together to form a sentence. To set the tone for my over-achieving, goody-two-shoes academic life, I was soon up at the teacher requesting more printed words, because I was trying to write a book and had run out. I probably sounded like Oliver Twist. Who dares ask for more, when all the rest were content with their sparing gruel?

Since then I took whatever opportunities came my way to write and create stories. Mostly these opportunities arose in school, in English lessons when we were set creative writing tasks that amounted to "make something up to prove you understand what the word creative means". I also joined a creative writing youth group for a time, held bi-weekly in the local library. I cannot recall how long I went for; much longer than I ever stuck to keeping a blog, that's for sure. It was invaluable as a space to foster more writing, giving me a specific outlet with specific prompts, and most important of all - an audience. Before my audience had been whichever teacher happened to assign the class a writing exercise, and while they were always pleased with my work, they were pleased if a student could remotely approach correct spelling. I lapped their praise up at the time, but how could I ever truly be sure if what I was writing was worth reading to someone who was not being paid to do it?

For similar reasons to my blogs never taking off, I eventually fell away from this writing group, which I somewhat regret. It had already dwindled to a fairly small core, but at least it was a dedicated one, with an enthusiastic teacher who made no effort to temper our dreams. I started high school (even more traumatic) and had Things To Do. I also had a new outlet for my writing: the Internet. Not blogs, at this time the Internet was still learning to walk and talk, but that wonderful concept known as Fan Fiction. That's another story for another time, but eventually I came to the realisation that I wanted to make my way in the world as a writer, and so began writing background notes for my story in August 2001. In fact there was a specific moment where I decided I wanted to be a writer, and I plan to describe it some day.

Naturally, the story had to change. And after a quick first draft, and as I read more and more fiction and developed and matured my voice, it had to change a heck of a lot more. Now we have sailed past the 10th anniversary and I still find myself tweaking the story from time to time. Perhaps torturing it.

Fortunately there have been other projects in the meantime - I have not spent ten years entirely agonising over this or that aspect of one story. Short stories popped out here and there, along with essays (I even won cash awards from the University of Glasgow for two of my Philosophy essays) and another couple of novels were brought to the boil then thrown on the back burner. I have to admit, while I dreamt once upon a time of my first novel making it big, becoming a film, and sparking a series that could sustain me and a large fandom for decades, that possibility is seeming less plausible as time goes on. Who doesn't dream of that, however daft their first book is? But from that book I learned a lot. What works, what doesn't, what good planning is and what good revision is. More sub plots, deeper characters, stronger twists, these were all things that I think I learned to deal with as I developed the first book from its skeleton form (I thought 30-40,000 words would do, so young I was!), putting meat on its bones. It helped make the rest of my stories go much more smoothly, as I developed good habits and broke some bad ones. Like my love for commas, which I developed in the midst of high school, leading to lots of run on sentences, all because we used to read those 19th Century books, you know the ones, by the likes of Thomas Hardy, and Jane Austen, who wrote lots of very, very long sentences, and are entirely unsuitable for a modern market, but who we were told in the strongest terms were very good writers and to be admired, and emulated, because I suppose schools were still struggling to get out of the 19th Century even in 1999, but at least their geography textbooks only had East and West Germany in them and not, for instance, Prussia.

So, enough rambling about myself. Next we'll be looking at a short story I actually had published, and got paid for. Though I suppose that will be a bit more rambling about myself as I talk about my process, my thoughts behind the story and how people reacted when I was rather daring and read it aloud. Until then, if you're reading this - thanks, and get back to writing!

No comments:

Post a Comment