Hello and welcome to ominous Day 13 of the 100 Day Writing Challenge. Tim Clare’s 100 Day Writing Challenge TM Copyright anno domini 2020 no backsies.
What kind of writer do you want to be? What kinds of stories do you want to write? It’s funny to me that these are questions I almost never hear asked. Either in workshops or to professional authors.
And I can see why, on one level, someone might resist them. They seem to be talking about static traits, like you have to pick a type of writer or a genre of stories and then that’s you, forever. And for some of us, and I include myself in this, we feel a bit silly contemplating big top-down questions like this. Like it’s a bit pretentious.
But it seems to be, far from being an act of vanity or conceptual posturing, just an eminently sensible question to devote at least a few minutes considering. If you’re going to put all this time into writing you might as well swing for the fences. I don’t know who told you that there’s this category of the greats like Shakespeare, Dickens, Ursula Le Guin, Maya Angelou, Tolkien, J K Rowling, whoever it is for you that makes your literary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and they’re over there, this rare aristocracy of supersoldiers, then there’s you, this shitmuncher quite apart from all that, performing a degraded and degenerate version of what they did. Like over there is the Royal Philharmonic powering through the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th with tumultuous gusto and here’s you, a seagull that’s swallowed a kazoo.
I just want to say, and I truly believe this, there’s no difference really between you and anyone who has sat down to write or tell a story. Like, some people have definitely been richer. Some people have had wives and housekeepers and patrons to take away some of the mundane distractions that eat up our time. But also some people have written through chronic pain, severe disability, war, mental illness, plus all the self doubt, the false starts, the confusion, the groping, tentative daily acts of faith and radical impertinence that together form a novel.
They all did it the same way you have to – one word at a time. And they didn’t know it would work. They didn’t know it would find an audience. They weren’t fated or blessed or heirs to some special sainted writing bloodline.
Now I am not saying, I am not under the delusion that you, listening to me now, will definitely achieve the levels of recognition and financial recompense as some of history’s most celebrated writers. There are so many things to do with luck and market forces and, you know, what the payoff of a particular book at a particular time is. Whether it speaks to a certain cultural myth, whether people use it as a kind of bromide for whatever heartache they’re feeling, whether readers can wield it as an ideological weapon or it confirms their prejudices or articulates some aspect of an identity that they’re very invested in.
Like, there’s loads of reasons why a book can be popular, iconic even, that are unrelated to the effort put in and the talent of the author. But what I am saying is: I see no reason, no reason at all – and if someone has one, please tell me because in decades of doing this no fucker has managed to come up with an objection that doesn’t collapse under the merest of interrogations like an umbrella made of tissue paper in a monsoon – no reason whatsoever that you shouldn’t be capable of achieving the same quality of writing, the same power of storytelling, the same heights of meaning and artistry as your idols.
Will it require effort? Naturally. But as we’re discovering, there are ways you can position yourself in relation to that effort that make it feel increasingly worthwhile, satisfying and fun. Learning is the game. The novels we poo out at the end of the process are kind of like an incidental byproduct. When you finish a book, the world sets, like molten iron cooling in a mould, and the game’s over. You can’t play there anymore. Yeah cool, other people can read your end state but in some real sense the world is no longer alive. For you, at least. The characters have said everything they’re going to say. They’ve made their choices.
But your worlds, and the stories you want to tell in them, they are just as meaningful as anything any writer has ever written. And here’s the huge advantage you have over, say Charles Dickens. He’s dead. He will never write another story. He can’t add to his work, he can’t try something new, he can’t grow, can’t adapt. You can. You have unborn stories waiting inside of you. There are words in there right now.
Shall we see what they are?
Okay, so a ten minute freewrite on whatever you like. Just pulling whatever’s in your head and recording it on the page. No going back no crossing out. Let’s see what’s here today.
Are you ready? Sure? Ok. Go.
And there we are. You’re done.
Now if you’re of a somewhat analytical bent you may glance across the work you just produced and discern a difference in character between these words, and the most celebrated works of the western literary canon. If so, well done. What you’ve demonstrated there is that, as well as courage, the courage to try, the courage to experiment, the courage to make yourself vulnerable, you have discernment. You can evaluate your own work. You can imagine ways it could be better.
Discernment and critical judgement are essential skills for telling good stories. If you gaze upon your work and consistently find it without defect than I am afraid you have some growth ahead of you in terms of training your critical eye. If sometimes you find flaws, congratulations. You’re well on your way.
What we’re trying to do this week, and to an extent across this entire 100 Day quest, is not to crush the inner critic, but to train ourselves to adopt that mode selectively. And to recognise the utility in sometimes temporarily shutting it off. But only temporarily. You need your judgement. Be grateful for it.
Right. The 13th session has passed without catastrophe. I hope that was fruitful for you. See youse tomorrow.