How we get to where we are (and start lying about it)
I’m an unwilling blogger. I see the point of it, and have found some excellent blogs, but this is the first one of my own and the experience is jarring.
Blogging seems too fresh, unconsidered. Where are the drafts? Where are the sleep-on-its and then tear-it-ups the next day?
Writers blog these days. They write about writing. But word-count has never been my friend, I’m far from prolific. I’ve had a look around the blogosphere and there are a lot of words. Are they all getting read? Does it matter?
If your blog is an extension of your personality, job, passion, then I guess mine will pick its fights carefully, it will not be a daily eruption. And there are advantages to that. When you feel obligated to express an expert opinion every day, any genuine insight gets spread too thin to count. You run the risk of believing that everything is up for discussion, that we are all open books. I won’t be playing that way, and whatever happens, my blog will not call you up at 3am, crying. It won’t crash your party and it won’t steal your cigarettes.
I am not the first person to blog about the problems with blogging. I’m appropriately embarrassed that I’ve fallen to this topic on Episode 2. And I realise, 100% clarity on this one, that no one is forced to blog, just like no one is forced to write a novel. We have enough books. We have a glut.
The key difference for me between books and blogging is that I don’t already know how to blog. I’m not so much scared of it as just irritated by my lack of blog-sense, my self-conscious fumbles. I thought that this would be like writing stories. When I started writing my first novel, I knew how to write, and how-to advice didn’t tell me anything new, just confirmed what I already instinctively knew.
That doesn’t mean the first novel was perfect; it has plenty of weak points, which I won’t list here, since I’d like you to read it. But it was good enough to pass the “let’s spend money publishing this” test, which is not that high a test for celebrities and politicians, but is plenty high for an unknown, debut novelist.
A big part of my own Threeplay folklore was that it was my first novel. And it was a good piece of trickery, to tell people (who am I kidding? other writers) I wrote a first novel and it’s getting published. And how long have I been writing? Well, as long as it took to write this book, so around 18 months. Bang, easy! And they looked green around the gills about this toddler novelist, which was a treat (because yes, like everything else, this is a competition).
But isn’t this a lie? Wasn’t I secretly working on crappy manuscripts before then, sweating bullets until I was good enough?
Well, no. And for the sake of full disclosure, here’s the sum total of my writing career before Threeplay (the writing that counts, the stuff you do because you want to, not because the teacher sets it out).
1. I wrote a 250-word story when I was eight years old. I won’t reproduce it here; it was surprisingly perky for the child I was, with the final line of dialogue, “Let’s go tracking!” I wasn’t sure, then or now, what “tracking” was. Which is probably why I ended the story there. That, and it was bed-time. But hey, it was sweet and made my mother smile, and I don’t remember having any ambitions higher than that.
2. During my 20th summer, I wrote 20,000 words of fiction. I remember this period fondly as when I got most of the really, really shitty writing out of my system. The story contained a decapitated cat, a talking car, an evil lawyer, and one decent observation. It was a disgrace, and I was a bad writer. I’m glad the manuscript only existed on an Amstrad floppy disk, I’m delighted I can’t lay my hands on the text now. The memory is enough, the knowledge that I did write something that bad, and it helps me, when people show me their first tries, to remember that they’re not doomed (as long as they’re not still writing like that a year later).
There’s an eleven year gap between my first and second efforts. Hey, I did write songs, and a comic, and all the other things boys like me did when avoiding doing the things other boys do. And I kept a diary for five whole weeks. But let’s not get desperate; let’s not include the shopping lists and Christmas thank-you letters.
This not-writing period was fine because I was reading instead, everything under the sun. And I was acting, initially dumped squalling by my working mother at school-holiday theatre classes, and then later eagerly seeking it out, learning how to say something and when to say it, until I found myself in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in a good play, getting good reviews, but realising I was never going to be a great, or even good-enough, actor.
So I tried writing, and after the terrible 20k, I went back to acting, where I still wasn’t good enough but at least didn’t stink, and it was enough to get me through the rest of my student days.
And that’s it, my writing experience before I wrote a novel. And I hope that explains why I feel unprepared for blogging, why I want to drive nails into my eyeballs on only the second post. I’m a writer unused to writing.
I hadn’t done much writing when me and two friends decided to each write a story, a challenge, which for me turned into Threeplay, and is a tale for another time. And writers do tend to write, otherwise they tend to be not-so-good. Although of course, we know plenty of writers who write and never seem to get better. Because they’re writing without listening and they’re writing without feeling. And when I get better at the blogging thing, I’ll say more about that. And I will get better, truly. That’s the thing about me; I always get better. Except for the acting. But who wants to be good at that anyway?