When I was about fourteen (which would make him about seventeen) my big brother set me a challenge. He didn’t mean it as such. He probably only said it to counter my whinging and has probably long forgotten:
‘If you think everything you write is so rubbish, why don’t you try and write a story you think is good?’
But I haven’t forgotten. It has been bothering me even since.
You see, it would be impossible – or at least would require an ego even bigger than mine – to think your work is perfect. But ‘Good?’ Well. ‘Good’ should be acheivable, shouldn’t it?
Which is basically the reason I am still trying to write a story.
* * *
Actually, I have written a story. Kind of. I am sensible that it doesn’t work and wouldn’t call it ‘good.’
I’m not sure that it begins in the right place or ends in the right place, or that it is told in the right order.
In fact, I am sure that it is not told in the right order, but I can’t decide which the right order is. Or even if I’ve told the right bits. In the right voice.
Or even, to be honest, if I like the story any more. You can suffer over-exposure to stories, you know. Even to good ones, like Frozen.
All I can say for sure is that the quality of the writing deteriorates from the place where I started to write to the place where I stopped. That was my spirit flagging as I wrote.
And having written it, I am full of confusion as to what to do next. So I save it as ‘First Draft’ and send it to one or two people who have never seen it, who I hope are going to give their different takes on why it doesn’t work.
Maybe, I think, I can put it right.
* * *
I am about to hit ‘send’ when a thought occurs: what if my friends think these characters are ME? Sure, there is a bit of me in every character. A different bit of me: people are so complex that you can take a bit of yourself and invent a whole new person around it. But what if people assume I am writing about myself? One of my characters actually commits suicide. Bu you don’t need to worry, folks: you don’t have to hammer my door down to check I’m still alright.
There’s conventional wording of course, that I could use: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is entirely coincidental.
But I hovver of the send button: is that entirely true?
Then I think: some of the situations in this story are based on a small part of my own experience, but not beyond the first extremely basic idea and usually not really that.
Bit wordy, though.
Even wordier: don’t worry I haven’t done a William Horwood. I was half-way through his first memoir when i was struck by how similar his life was to my favourite of his characters, Jim Stonor.
Or how about: I am an oversharer. If my sex life or job or feelings were like the more extreme of those of my characters, you can guarentee I would already have written all about it in my blog.
It still sounds too much like denial. I delete it.
These characters are not me or anyone I know.
I delete that, too. Write it back in again. Delete it. Rewrite. And eventually I get bored of this process and get round to pressing ‘send.’
* * *
Imagine you congratulate a runner on their time, then look at their face and realise that they are disappointed. Although, as a runner, I like to pretend that I am completely uncompetitive and think it’s better to run a race slowly than never having run at all.
I try to apply these scenarios to story feedback. If people say my story is wonderful, it will be a bit embarrassing because I know it’s nowhere nearly ready yet.
If they think it’s rubbish….. I can pretend I’m not competing with anyone except myself.
In 2005 or thereabouts I showed a bit of writing to a guy. At that time, I had never asked anyone except my school-teachers for feedback before (I don’t know what my long-suffering writer-friend Viv did with her spare time in those days) and neither had I been very critical of my work. Anyway, the bloke (I happened to know) fancied me, so I sat down and waited for a complement.
Unfortunately he was studying film at uni. He knew a bit more about storytelling than me. He scanned the first page and said ‘Meh. That character’s compeltely flat.’
My arrogant little head nearly rolled off my shoulders in shock, but it was the best thing he could have said. I went away and started practising writing characters. I’m still not sure they’re convincing yet.
* * *
Self-delusion is terrible. I’m trying to write something I think is good so that I can share it with you all. But honestly, this may take some time because I have to like it first: I won’t be self-delolved (real word, that). Meanwhile I tell people I write ‘stories’ or ‘am pretending to write a book.’
Gareth raises his eyebrows. ‘Has it ever occured you to stop pretending and just write one?’
I probably pull a face, and don’t mention that he sounds a bit like my big brother sometimes.