I’m Not Here

“Ditch the ego. You should be so involved in the writing that you don’t know who you are. You are not there.”
– Joy Hendry, Chapman Publications, at The Business of Writing event 11.05.12, Edinburgh University

mug with 'Go Away, I'm Writing' written on it
Mug in Looking Glass Books

As well as warning to YOU (Yes, you. You know who you are), the stroppy writers mug is a good reminder for me to stay away from me; I always groan when I spot a character spouting some ridiculous out-of-character rhetoric. Obviously, I’m there intellectually – I’m crafting something and working out problems, but ditching the ego is such great advice.

“When I’m working I don’t want anybody else in the room, including myself.”
– Jonathan Franzen, Guardian 26.05.12

Don’t do research

But generally that’s not a problem that causes much grief. At our writers gathering I told everyone how I was immersed in the world of the novel, but not meeting the word count at all. Alison said, “Well, what’s the rush?” And she’s right, there is no rush, but I would still like to step it up. I want to get this first draft done, at least by July/August. I’m still surprised that this time last year I managed to come up with 20,000 polished words for final project in two months.
Part of the reason I’m finding it difficult is because I’m intimidated by my own plans. I’m writing about so many things I know very little about. I worry about research. I worry about getting it right. At the Business of Writing event at Edinburgh Uni, the Canongate editor Francis Bickmore said: “Don’t do research.” I stared at him wide-eyed. He qualified that with “Write what you don’t know. Do the research that matters, then use your imagination.” This was a good reminder that I’m writing fiction, and I felt a weight lift.
Another part of my problem is that I just find first drafts frustrating. They’re invariably a bit shit. And that makes me edgy. I need to learn to tolerate that, so I can get to the bit I enjoy the most: editing. And editing again and again and again. Possibly I’m a freak, but I love it. I love the fine-tuning.

Me, holding a circus book
On holiday we visited various charity shops. This grinning maniac resisted a trashy Angie Jolie bio, and picked up a book on the Bertram Mills Circus. It’s badly written (to the point of making me twitch) and smells a bit, so I’m starting to think Bickmore has a point with the whole no research thing. And yes, that poster really does say “Soak in the Son.”

Temptations: Booze, Drugs, and… Olive Oil

The freakish love for fine-tuning is probably why I spent most of this month editing a short story for a competition instead of writing the novel. Which brings me to olive oil. At the Business of Writing event Alan Warner talked about the temptations and diversions that a writer can be bombarded with, giving the example of The Scotsman asking him to do a piece on olive oil for £300. Warner knows nothing about olive oil, and has no interest in it, but it was payment for writing. So, is it oil or the novel? Warner told us that you become your own industry, and you need to be careful – these things can draw you away from what is important. I think it’s even more difficult for a writer starting out, especially if you’re freelance and that £300 can help pay the rent.
It’s a balancing trick. As Warner said: “Money buys time. Money buys isolation, and generally books have been born out of loneliness and isolation.” Hopefully this month I can find that time and isolation and use it well.

Books and Culture

“If we don’t spend money on books and culture, we can’t expect to get anything back. So spend money on books and culture.”
– Ewan Morrison, at the Business of Writing event 11.05.12, Edinburgh University

As well as writing (and struggling with writing), this has been a month of cultural delights.
There was the yearly visit to the wonderful Christian Aid Book Sale at St Andrew’s and St George’s West. It was a real joy to arrive and find a huge queue of people waiting to devour books. I came away with a freakish doll from the kids section, a WWII book, and some anatomy and ladybird books for collage.
This was followed by the monthly writers meeting at the wonderful Pulp Fiction bookstore/café, where they now have a flying shark and knitted Cthulhus.

The 39th Annual Christian Aid Book Sale at St Andrew’s and St George’s West, May 2012

Then came the Meadows Festival with its delicious bric a brac stalls, where I picked up more books on WWII. We then found ourselves in the seductive Looking Glass Books café/bookshop. It’s a lovely little place that has just opened on the Quartermile, and I could have stayed there for hours.

The newly opened Looking Glass Books

Despite being a bit skint, I’ve come away this month determined to buy more books from local bookstores like Pulp Fiction and Looking Glass Books, and not rely so much on amazon. And this month I bought a limited edition print from an artist friend, Megan Chapman.

Next up is the Munch exhibition at Dean Gallery (somehow I’m allergic to the name Modern II), and the play The Idiot At The Wall at the Pleasance.

Here’s to a summer of books and culture!
And writing. Lots of writing.

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4 thoughts on “I’m Not Here

  1. Wow, really well put together post. Your point about balancing paid writing that might not interest you with maintaining work on a more personal, artistic piece really resonated with me. It’s definitely a tricky balancing act!

    1. I’m really glad it struck a chord with you. It is a difficult one. The Scotsman haven’t asked for a piece on olive from me yet 😉 but I do try to be careful with what comps/anthologies I go for, as it can take up a lot of time editing a story or writing a new one when I should be doing my novel right now.

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