How to be a Writer, (or Not). Does THIS Ring a Bell?
In fact, I have, since, read nearly every western classic there is to read! And many others from elsewhere too.
Dostoyevsky, Hesse, Goethe, Hemingway, Joyce, no problem!! I can quote their books backwards!! (Come to think of it, am I normal?)
I first discovered the trancending power of classical English poetry at age fourteen. Wow! Incredible! So flowery and imagy and romanticky and poetic and profound. I read everything I could get my grubby little hands on, even in bed, late at night. The past, and the future inspiration of England in a few classics. A new world opened itself up to me.
Then, one momentous schoolday, I decided that I too would be a fully-fledged member of the literary elite, just like them. Oh yes! I was going to join the narrow ranks of the privileged and hallowed few. You know, those who change the destiny of men and the world, and all at the mighty stroke of a pen. The power of words!
That schoolday lasted forever. I just couldn’t wait to get home an begin my first chef d’oeuvre. It was at my fingertips, I was inspired, and I knew that my destiny was being traced out at that fateful moment by some mysterious and benevolent hand.........
Home at last and into my bedroom pencil paper clear off desk milk and biscuits still in uniform I sat down gravely and solemly and with deliberation in order to consign the first pearl of wisdom that would represent the beginning of a lifetime spent inspiring others.
Here is that pearl of wisdom.
“Down dropt the sails, the sails dropt down”.
I knew instinctively, of course, that these words were incredibly mystical in their beauty, sublime in their passion, devastating in effect, it was all blindingly perfect imagery. I was in raptures. It was such beautiful writing, in fact, that I decided to stop there for the evening, just in case my divine luck ran out. But that did not stop me re-reading my golden egg at least fifty times before going to bed, wrapped in a blissful fog of fulfillment. My vocation was there, in front of my writer’s eyes, and I went to sleep thinking of the marvellous antique writing desk I would buy one day...
...............I woke up the next morning with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. This feeling followed me to the breakfast table, where I ate distractedly, silently, and sullenly. After an eternity, and finally resigned to the inevitable, I went back to my bedroom and, very reluctantly, opened my notebook in order to read my work.
So it was cruelly true after all. What I had written was nothing more than the kind of pretentious, pompous, vain and vacuous bullshit of which only I was capable. It was utter rubbish. I went red with shame, knowing that I would never write anything, ever, again.
Who was I, a jumped-up kid, to think he was the future of British poetry?
Writing was not for me......
(Oh, and I have never opened a book of old English poetry since.....)
Anyway, we grow older and wiser, as they say, so one day, in my late twenties, and as a result of having seen a BBC series (“Boys from the Blackstuff” – Excellent) about the social ravages of unemployment in Liverpool, I decided that I too wanted to express my disgust at this inhuman abuse of people.
So I took a momentous decision and decided to write my first piece of television drama. It was a logical artistic step, given that I was incensed by the plight those whose only crime it is to be unemployed in a big city, so I just had to tell the world the devastating truth. The facts. I wanted to defend the downtrodden masses. It was my life’s mission. I was posessed by the furious righteousness of my cause.
Thus it was that I did all the necessary research into how to write and present a TV scenario. You know, things like fade and mix, travelling and close-ups, pace and build up, targeting an audience. Dialogue construction. I went to the library to read all the “How to write a Filmscript” books, I drew up a list of the TV companies I would sell my blockbusting series to, and then I bought myself a beautiful leather-bound notebook and thence began my masterpiece.....
I worked like a demon on my noble project for two weeks.. It was fabulous; Punchy dialogues, super camera plans and sound effects – the whole bit!!!!!! In fact, I wrote enough for the first two episodes. This could-not-fail and I knew it.
Then I got the ‘flu.
Bed for three or four days. Horrible. Even had to stop smoking for a while!! Can you believe that???!!!
I was also, obviously, forced to put a temporary halt to my writing activities. I was obliged to put the brakes on my career projects, but I knew things would carry on as before when I got better.
One evening, the delirium and fever began to wane...I went to sleep knowing that tomorrow would see the continuation of my essential contribution to contemporary English social history.....
...............I woke up the next morning with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. This feeling followed me to the breakfast table, where I ate distractedly, silently, and sullenly. After an eternity, and finally resigned to the inevitable, I went back to my bedroom and, very reluctantly, opened my notebook in order to read my work. So it was cruelly true after all. What I had written was nothing more than the kind of pretentious, pompous, vain and vacuous bullshit of which only I was capable. It was utter rubbish. I went red with shame, knowing that I would never write anything, ever, again.
Who was I, a jumped-up young middle-class man, to think he was the future of British social contestation? I was from a well-off family for god’s sake!!!! What the hell did I know about it!!???
Writing was not for me......
(But at least while I had the ‘flu I was obliged to watch the only sport on TV during the day, an England-Pakistan test match. From start to finish. I have loved cricket ever since. Pakistan won).
Years later I was drinking Jack Daniels on the couch with my girlfriend. It was after dinner, around ten pm. I told her a story about something that had happened to me once. Something VERY strange.
She said “You should write that story!!!”
“Oh, no!” said I. “I am NOT a writer!!”
My girlfriend spent the next half hour telling me I had nothing to lose by trying. She was right.
And so I decided to write.
I rushed up to the computer and it was all written and corrected and done-and-dusted in forty five minutes.
Then I printed it and gave it to her, and she said she’d read it in the morning and maybe we should go to bed because we had things to do the next day.
So we did.
I read it the next morning, after she had left the house. I liked it very much. I had no idea why, but I actually thought it was a pretty cool piece of writing!!
She read it in the evening and said it was wonderful.
“Why” I asked. “I’ve never liked ANYTHING I wrote before.....”
She smiled at me and said, very gently,
“Fripouille, It’s good because, for once, probably the first time, you are writing about YOU, and what YOU know”.
I’ve never stopped writing since......Because at least I know WHY I’m writing.....