“I’d love to write a book, but….”
… but I’m soo busy at work.
… but the kids need me. I can’t do both. Can I?
… but the hamster’s acting oddly and I’m too worried about it to even think about anything else.
There are as many excuses for delaying writing as there are would-be writers making them. My own particular excuse was “but I’ve got nothing to say.” And then I’d have a think and modify it - “Well, nothing sensible, anyway.”
It wasn’t until I was approaching the age of 50 that my desire to write began to turn into desperation. I was getting on. What if I dropped dead tomorrow without having at least tried to do the thing that had always beckoned me? It was this thought that heralded my moment of epiphany: “If you’ve got nothing sensible to say, don’t try to say something sensible!”
Let me explain. If you were looking for advice about which savings account offered the best interest rate, or about how to change a car (or even a bike) wheel, it wouldn’t be me you turned to in the hope of enlightenment. In fact, you’d probably laugh at the thought. I’ve always been a little embarrassed by the fact that the sensible side of existence seems to have passed me by.
‘Hang on,” I hear you mutter, assuming you haven’t given up and gone off to do something more interesting, “what’s that got to do with writing?”
EXACTLY. It’s yet another excuse, and just as specious as the one about unorthodox rodent behaviour. It was only valid because I chose to make it so. Did I even want to write about the shenanigans of high finance, or nefarious goings-on among the car (or bike) tyres? NO. I wanted to draw upon my years of experience working in schools to write for children, where expertise with money and mechanics might actually be a distinct DISadvantage.
Now let me tell you what I am good at. If you’re fed up, if something is getting you down and you’d like someone to divert your mind towards happier matters – maybe offer you an irreverent view of your particular bug-bear - you might well turn to me. What I’ve got to say wouldn’t help you in a survival situation, but it may just make that survival situation seem a little less dire. It was this quality that I needed to bring into my writing. And it was when I realised this that I finally felt free to sit down and get on with it.
This is what I mean by shedding the sensible – I had to trust what’s in me and forget about what isn’t, and this is true of every writer. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that the fact that the World According to Kate doesn’t precisely correspond with the view of 90% of the population could actually prove to be an advantage. Who wants to read the same thing over and over again? What I have to say is unique and it will (I sincerely hope) make my book stand out.
Now I’m imagining your response: ‘That’s all very well for a children’s writer, but what about me? I want to write a love story set among basset hound breeders/a lunar murder mystery/a tale of unbridled horror in a small town bingo hall.’ Great! It may not be the sensible that you need to shed. Perhaps it’s the silly. Or the sadistic. Or something that doesn’t begin with ‘s’. It’s whatever you conjure up when you’re telling yourself that you shouldn’t try to write.
Shedding the sensible gave me the courage to write my story of two honest children from dedicated criminal families who find themselves at the world’s best establishment for the education of future felons. And before you ask, it isn’t autobiographical. Not particularly, anyway. An early incarnation of the story was shortlisted for last year’s Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing, and gained me the representation of my agent. We are now preparing the greatly revised MS of Blackguard’s (Future Notoriety Assured) for submission to publishers in the autumn.
If this rambling tale has a point it’s this: be aware, and if at all possible proud, of what you are and what you’re good at. And then get on with the exhilarating, dizzying, frustrating process of getting what’s in your unique brain down onto the page. And as you write, just make sure that it’s YOU who’s tapping the keys or wielding the pen. Not someone you think you ought to be.