I’ve been so sick these past 10 days. I caught something awful whilst in Paris for the New Year, and it laid me low so badly I could neither eat nor drink. I must have lost more than 5 kilos, but far from feeling better for that, I have felt close to death. Certainly, on my journey back home on Saturday 4th January, I honestly believed I would not make it. I remember sitting in the airport, having gone through security, thinking ‘I can’t go on’. I don’t know where the strength came from, but I managed to get to my feet and reel, like a drunkard, towards the boarding gate.
At no time did I feel fear or panic, just a terrible sickly feeling which gripped my insides, cramped me up, and almost made me swoon. I have a capacity, from where I do not know, to ‘keep buggering on’, because I know I have no choice. This happened to me in the desert once, when I was stranded miles from anywhere with no water and temperatures hitting the high forties. I knew I was going to die, knew I could not walk, and yet somehow I managed to survive. I’m not exaggerating.
But, when I get home, and normality strikes, other things occurred which have led my life into another direction. The one thing remaining the same, however, is all the emails I receive. Constant, like a barrage aimed at wearing me down, destroying my defences and rendering me susceptible to attack. So much more than any illness ever could.
Every flaming day of my life they come flying in, radar guided Exocets. How to get published, 50 ways to write a great pitch (God, I HATE that word too – ‘pitch’. Jeez…), learn how to plot, the 12 pillars of great novel writing…you know what, I’m sick of it. I want to throw my computer through the window, get out the old Olivetti, go back to how it was. I’m certain when I began writing there was stuff like this. The difference was it wasn’t rammed into my face every second of every flaming day.
I remember going to my local library and scouring the shelves for some books which might help me with stuff like this. I found some, ‘How to write Children’s Books’ I remember was one title. I think I read about 3 pages before I sank into despair.
So, do you know what I did?
I wanted to be a thriller writer. I wanted to write stories which would grip and entertain, which had fantastic storylines and awesome twists. So I read. Everything. I must have spent a fortune (well, I was on the dole in those days, getting £4.75 a week. Yes, you can read that again if you don’t believe me). Most of that money I spent on books. Agatha Christie, Jon Creasy, Leslie Chateris, Jack Higgins. I loved those early Jack Higgins books, devouring them in a day or two. And as I read, I learned. I learned all about plot development, the building of tension, and I wrote as I read, developing my style, exploring, experimenting, feeling that buzz of excitement every time I sat down and fed the paper into the typewriter. I am blessed with a boundless imagination, which does help. I am forever creating stories in my head. And, like my ability to keep going, no matter what, I wrote whenever I got the chance. In my early days I simply wrote and wrote and wrote. I must have got down maybe eight full length novels, and I never submitted a single one. I knew they weren’t good enough, but I loved writing them.
It is that sense of love that still determines what I do today. If I do not achieve that buzz, then I don’t continue with a particular scene. I have to know, instinctively, that what I have done is worthy. The buzz is my guide. It’s intuitive, instinctive, but it is what drives me on. I believe when the buzz goes, so will my need to write. I doubt however if that day will ever come.
So, is my advice to turn away from all of these self-help books by the ‘experts’?
In a word…yes. Before you spend your money, you must WANT to write. You must have a BURNING desire to tell a good story. Writing is not easy, and neither is it a way to make money. My first book was published in 2009. I haven’t made a penny. Not a single penny. Do I care? If I did I wouldn’t still be doing it, would I.
First thing, write. Once you written a few novels, then perhaps you might want to dip into some of these tomes of wisdom, pick up a few pointers, smooth off a few of those rough corners, but I think it would be so much better to join a writing group first. There you’ll get honest feedback, not the holier-than-thou wisdom of people who probably haven’t written a 100,000 word novel in their life. I remember I was told, and still am, not to use the word ‘suddenly’, or to use adverbs. Then, the most heinous sin of all, the ‘head hop’. Then, I picked up a Henning Mankell book. Henning Mankell has sold in excess of 20 million books. Can you imagine? In one page I must have seen any number of adverbs, adjectives, the use of ‘suddenly’ and different POVs dotted here and there. George R R Martin does it too. All the time. It made me think. Who is it who actually makes up these rules? As long as your writing flows, makes sense and doesn’t cause the reader confusion, then why not do it? I’ll look at this again, because I think it’s worth a debate on its own, but rules…Mm… I’m not so sure about rules.
Yeh, I’m very anti-establishment. I’m a rebel. Always have been. And what annoys me, no, INFURIATES me more than anything else is when people you have never heard off get up and proclaim ‘this is the way you should do it’. Anybody who has the balls to stand up to tell other people how to do things…well, sorry, but I ain’t interested. When was the last time you heard Harlan Coben telling anyone how to write? And Harlan Coben is brilliant AND successful. Do you know why? Because he tells thumping good stories that engage the reader. Writing is a craft. You learn it, and you learn it by writing. So sit down, open up your notebook, and get that imagination working. Lesson one. Done and dusted. Good luck!