Hello dear friends and welcome to Death Of 1000 Cuts – making you an awesome writer, one cut at a time.
I now have a Facebook author page, which I will be using to give updates on my latest work, offer prizes and basically share cool stuff I think you’ll like. Click through and click ‘Like’, and be part of it. To be honest, whenever someone else has set up one of these, I’ve rolled my eyes and not followed it. It always seemed a bit pointless. But since then I’ve seen some good examples – it’s a pretty unobtrusive thing that just means the occasional post from me might show up in your Facebook feed, saying ‘hey, the new Death Of 1000 Cuts is out’ or ‘hey, this is how I researched shotguns for the book’ or ‘hey, do you want a free signed copy? Click here to enter!’ Probably only once or twice a week. And without the ‘hey’ part.
If you are working on a novel this year, you might be interested in the Word of Mouth prize. It’s run by my agency, Conville & Walsh (by which I mean, they represent my work – I don’t run the agency), and they are looking for unagented authors. You have to submit a manuscript with a minimum of 30,000 words written (they ask that the novel be ‘completed, or close to completion’) and a synopsis. It doesn’t cost anything to enter and the deadline is January 31st. The winner gets £1000 and the chance to be represented by Conville & Walsh, although there’s no obligation and, if you prefer, you can just trouser the grand and skedaddle. Click the link and have a look – if you think you fit the criteria, you have nothing to lose by entering. You don’t have to live in the UK.
If you’d like to submit your work to this blog, please read our Submission Guidelines.
I hope you are well.
Cut 17 – Fuck Inspiration
I don’t remember feeling inspired while writing The Honours. If that sounds mildly damning – if it makes you suspect whether that lack of inspiration might not be reflected in the content, then, friend, you are not alone.
We take it for granted that inspiration is essential to the creative writing process. I have heard so many people offer advice to the effect: if you’re finding it hard, take a break. Perhaps, when you come back to it, you’ll feel more inspired.
Inspiration, they imply – not unkindly – is a weather pattern that arrives and passes on its own schedule, and as artists we must surrender to its recondite, mysterious whims and move as it moves. The craft of writing professionally, then – or at least consistently – is about submission to these unpredictable seasons, about making hay while the sun shines and accepting poor harvests philosophically rather than furiously railing against imaginary sun gods and sacrificing virgin upon innocent, howling virgin to appease them.
I understand the attraction of this belief, and I think there is some truth in it. Certainly, some days it is easier to write than others. Some days, words flow smoothly and writing is a pleasure and the sense one gets is that the work produced is vibrant, exciting and rich with life. Other days – far more days, sadly – writing is a grind, or worse. Words come slowly, and those that do appear seem leaden and hackneyed and dead.
Writers talk about the latter state as if it is an amusing joke – oh tsk, eyeroll, what a bother writer’s block is! – but as anyone who has been through it knows – as anyone who goes through it weekly while attempting to perform the task upon which their ability to provide for themselves and their family knows – it can be a genuinely upsetting, demoralising, baffling experience. The doubts that come up can throw the story, your competence, even your career into doubt. It all seems so silly once it’s passed, but while it’s happening, it’s very real, and very unpleasant.
And it has fuck-all to do with inspiration.
‘Inspiration’ comes from ‘inspire’ which comes from the Latin inspirare meaning to breathe onto or in. Inspiration is a kind of feeding. Inspiration is reading books. Inspiration is the moment when you see something in the world and you really pay attention, you suck it in.
Writing is the out-breath. It’s expiration.
When it comes to writing, especially a novel, you can’t ‘be inspired’. You can only ‘inspire’. And I mean that in the intransitive sense of the verb. You breathe in until you have enough, then you breathe out, and that out-breath, that is the voice that forms your story.
The question isn’t ‘are you inspired today’? It’s ‘have you inspired’? Have you read, have you planned, have you taken long strolls and pondered? Have you experienced the world?
The answer to the question ‘have you inspired’ isn’t found in how you feel about the words you’re producing, either. Maybe today you feel like everything you’re producing is shit. I feel that way about most of my writing, most of the time. Yet I make a living out of it, and have done for years! Either humanity has got together behind my back and conspired to pretend to like what I do (and back that pretence up with enough money to clothe, house and feed me) or my opinion of my work, in the moment of writing it, doesn’t have much bearing on its value.
What I do, is – if I’m hating it – I keep writing, but when I come back to it later in the editing process, I make notes and highlight sections that feel thin. Maybe the description gets a bit hazy in one scene – that’s somewhere I need to inspire: to do research to find some concrete, specific objects and textures, to think about engaging the reader’s senses, to imagine the character’s actions and motivations. I go away, and I breathe in all the material I need, then I return, and I breathe out – i.e. I slog through another few days of trying to write it not shit.
I hate a lot of the writing process, I find ways to procrastinate, and I get disheartened a lot. That is just me, and I don’t recommend it as an attitudinal strategy.
But even though I am psychologically unfit for task, I still manage to do it. And, through a sort of bloodymindedness, I manage to do it reasonably well. If a maudlin lunkhead like me can bash out longform fiction that’s not completely awful, then you can to. All it requires is complete and unflagging commitment for the rest of your life. That’s the deal.
For me, it has been worth it.
So yeah. I don’t remember feeling inspired while writing The Honours, and I wasn’t often happy – but every morning I woke up super-passionate. Not in a sex way. Every single day, I cared passionately about the stupid little world I’d made up. Cringingly so. I really cared, which was why it hurt so much when the scenes I produced were cack.
Writers can seem like a precious bunch, and I’m not saying the label isn’t usually fair, but caring about an imaginary world – a world that won’t exist unless you manage to make it exist, a world that will be exactly as crap or as good as your ability to sculpt it – is a pathology that will drag you through a lot of low points. Don’t wait to feel inspired, just inspire, then write, whatever your mood. Passion doesn’t always feel good, it doesn’t hide your work’s failings from you, but it will see you through.
Great faith, great doubt, great perseverance. That’s the shit that will help you solve the case.