As someone who has always been told that I tell a good story, it is one of the few things that I am fairly confident about. I am wildly undisciplined, I rarely redraft before publishing, and as a result I have to go back and read things I have put out months and years later.
I have found, however, that the blog has been very helpful in building this confidence, and in forming a writing habit. Having said this, I took a look at Reality Check this evening, and was horrified that emotional topics put me in a frenzied panic which renders me almost unreadable. Mandatory Equality, on the other hand, is a fun read which took little time to make a complicated point.
I have not achieved very much over the last 4 years or so, apart from 11 books, 3 art collections and the beginnings of two computer games. I am very glad that I have not achieved very much.
Why? Having read Reality Check, a particularly personal story which is very patchy and a severely abbreviated history of the last twenty years of family life – I have stuck rather too closely to the ‘write what you know’ hypothesis and was too horrified to do the story justice. When I think about the ideas I have for the forthcoming Lucifer Ogilivie in comparison, I am having far more elegant and interesting ideas now BECAUSE I AM WILLING TO GIVE MYSELF THE TIME TO THINK IT THROUGH.
This is the problem for anyone embarking on a career of self expression. It takes time to take yourself seriously enough to determine a good direction to go in. Rushing it just ends up with a sub-standard product. Self expression requires self development, and that takes dedication and selfishness. Otherwise you might as well consign yourself to a lifetime of mediocrity.
So, if you want to write, first take yourself seriously enough to take your time over it. Edit at least once, and give yourself space to move on and then look back. Don’t market like mad too quickly, because chances are your next work will be a development on the last. As with artwork, your crap idea will develop with time into what you really should have done in the first place, so you need to be willing to make mistakes and admit to them.
This is harder than it sounds – and it takes failure to humble yourself to your craft. I read other self-published work all the time that will never get anywhere without an editor. Again, a matter of taking yourself seriously enough to put the time, work and possibly money into.
For example, I took a look at the art carpets available online – I am almost ready to go to market as a carpet maker after twenty years of making, and sometimes not making, but thinking about, carpets – this is because I know what direction my carpet paintings are to go in, because my idea was always to be the Tiffany, or the Faberge of carpet makers. Carpet making is my thing, but it is not so great that I want to be grafting away at putting hundreds out. Far better to perfect the art and put out ten good ones.
Several mainstream art sites that I looked at last night had people that should not have bothered marketing their carpets at all, in much the same way that many books being pumped out are not ready.
You do have to balance this, however with what you want to write – a writer that wants to market a product will have the capacity for increased volume of less intense work, such as David Wolfe. A writer trying to create a cult like following willing to pay for more expensive retreats, such as Gabriel Cousins will, however need to put more time and thought into creating an ethos. Likewise Jilly Cooper, who must write at a fearsome pace to put out work that badly constructed, needs less preparation than Chekhov.
So, to conclude – to write well, decide who you are and then write badly. As Aristotle says, if you wish to acquire a virtue, first pretend to have it, and eventually you will.