Fear and writing in North London

I often feel like I am just beginning this writing journey. That is a complete fallacy, however, and it comes from a lack of courage. I have always been writing; not always stories, but prose (and some poetry) nonetheless.

When I was at uni, I remember trying to pinpoint the moments in my life when I felt most happy. In super nerd fashion, my happiest moments were the final stages of essay writing. I would be making certain the argument flowed, editing and ensuring I had the perfect words in place.

These days I feel like I have imposter syndrome (but I know we all feel this way at times). When I first went to a writing group in 2016, I was so non-committal: ‘Don’t have a genre, not sure what I want to write about, not trying seriously to get published…just dabbling.’

It’s fear, ultimately. I really want to write, I really want it to be read, but I’m scared of that happening. Still, the situation is improving.

I have taken a lot of steps in the plan over the last few years: very happily finding an inspirational writing buddy, writing groups, speaking with an agent, getting to know a publisher, joining a writers’ network online, sending my novel to agents and getting lots of rejections, and, of course: tons of writing.

There is a literary novel, half a dystopian novel, book reviews, two short stories, more poems than I can count, and then all the random scribblings in notebooks and other false starts on my netbook. I also have a job in publishing.

What I have to do is keep going. Just keep moving forward with the words.

Make the plot difficult for your characters

In 2006 I took a creative writing course in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. The main lesson I remember is that the author’s job is to make things as difficult as possible for the characters in the story. In my novel I struggled with this because of its diary-like, autobiographical nature. I didn’t want to make things hard for anyone! Hence the lack of conflict.

I am now learning that creative writing is not about solving lots of problems. I haven’t really worked out what it is about entirely. For me, so far, it is an artistic endeavour of personal expression that will hopefully resonate with the reader. In my PhD I asked the question: “why did people read?”. There were multitudinous answers that you can find in my thesis if you feel so compelled.

The reading lives of English men and women, 1695-1830 

I have received feedback on my short story now and it is so helpful. I am going to a writing group tomorrow to work on applying changes that will definitely improve the piece. I need to make things more difficult for the main character. This will make the story more universal.

While the process of writing is useful for me, ultimately the work needs to get out there. As a content designer I am constantly thinking about the user/reader. While it is not creative writing at my job, similar principles apply. Writing (and art) involves creator/expression and reader/reception. And that reception is not passive. Ultimately, the readers have licence to interpret as they will. Therefore, writing and art are acts of bravery and vulnerability.

The more challenging the plot line, the more rewarding the progression in the characters. The more rewarding the progression in the characters, the more human the story.

 

Rough draft stage

This evening I have finished the first draft of my short story and sent it to a good friend who is one of my readers. I’m feeling nervous as I always do when sharing my work, but I know feedback is essential. I have joined a few different writing groups over the last several years and they have all been useful in this respect. I’ve enjoyed the community feel and mutual support.

An interesting dilemma I’ve had while writing the short story is, “what am I trying to say?” When I was writing for my history degrees, I was supposed to convey an argument based on evidence. That seems very rational and easy (relatively) compared to creative writing.

The lack of parameters in story writing brings with it freedom, but also fears of emotional exposure. Even though to study history, one must study the historians (it is famously said), reading about the factual past leaves less room to consider the historian than I’ve found with creative writing. Then again, all reading involves an awareness of the author. A book is not composed by a no one in the aether and we know this. So perhaps the historian and the novelist are not so different after all.

It’s a question for postmodernism, I think. In the meantime, the rough draft of the short story is finished.