Lovely Leon Steelgrave has already been a guest on my blog – he loved it so much that he’s back to tell us more about his writing and life as an aspiring author.
Having previously contributed a “Getting To Know You” piece to this blog, I decided to use this post as an opportunity to share my experience as an aspiring author. Much of what follows will probably be familiar to many of you. Some of it may even be useful (although if I’ve learned nothing else, it’s never to make rash promises).
The act of writing has often been described as re-writing – a process of revision that continues until the work reaches a level of quality acceptable to the writer/editor/publisher or until the writer can endure no more. In the case of the latter I am reminded of Leonardo da Vinci’s claim that “art is never finished, only abandoned”, which seems to neatly summarise my constant struggle to reconcile ambition, ability and, the most implacable of foes: time.
Like many writers, I have a certain image in mind when I start a piece of writing as to its theme, style and the message I want to convey to the reader. The fact that in almost twenty years of on/off writing I have never succeeded in producing a piece of prose that conforms entirely to my initial concept is of little concern to me. Indeed, if this were the case I would be more concerned by the apparent lack of any subconscious process. Throughout the course of a novel, I often find characters and plot taking me in unexpected directions. Sometimes, frustratingly, that particularly direction proves to be a dead-end, other times it opens up an exciting new avenue that merges almost seamlessly with what has gone before. Proof, in my opinion, that my mind is working below the surface, that I’m often writing even when I’m not actually writing.
Over the years, I’ve read a vast amount of advice on how to write. While much of it has been valid in terms of structure, characterisation and plot, there is no correct way to write. Every writer I know invariably approaches their work in their own peculiar fashion. What works for one is unworkable for another. Having plotted out a novel I will usually write the first twenty-five to thirty percent, skip to the ending and then attempt to unite the two. Perhaps not the most orthodox method, but it has allowed me to complete more work than I’ve abandoned.
I admit to breaking Neil Gaiman’s advice that you should always finish what you start. Technically, as I’m not dead, the pieces in question are actually works in progress. If outward progress appears to be negligible, please rest assured that on some level I am undoubtedly thinking about it.
I often wonder, particularly when I hear how many drafts another writer has gone through, if I revise my work more. My revisions, more often than not, take the form of tightening the prose, deleting certain sections and adding others. What I don’t have a tendency towards is constantly rewriting the same sentence. Partly, I think, this is due to my having long since moved from a typewriter to a word processing package, which allows me to revise as I go, plus I always start a day’s writing by reviewing the previous day’s work. And if I suffer the occasional guilt complex about not applying enough craft and effort to my work then I recall, the possibly apocryphal claim, that Noel Coward never spent longer than a fortnight working on any piece of work on the grounds that nothing was worth more of his time.
Having mentioned time as one of the writer’s enemies, we now come to that other beast every writer, professional or otherwise, inevitably encounters – writer’s block. Whether it’s staring at a blank screen or page, having written yourself into a narrative dead-end, or repetitively writing the same passage over and over, it all adds to the growing, and usually irrational, belief that you will never write anything worthwhile again. There are as many cures as there are variants of the above, but for what it’s worth, here are my preferred methods for dealing with it.
- Take a break. Sounds simple enough but when you’re struggling to write stopping outright can feel like giving up. However, if the muse truly has deserted you, putting on a record, watching TV or delving into another writer’s work can all help to get the creative juices flowing again.
- Move on to a section of the book or story you are more comfortable with. If necessary, put the writing equivalent of a placeholder down for when you come back, much in the same way that an artist blocks out an area before starting to paint.
- The nuclear option – abandon the current piece of writing and work on something else, fiction or otherwise. This can be useful when what you need most of all is a shot of confidence. Those working to a deadline and/or a contract be warned – I once did this and ended up completing an entirely different novel before returning to the original!
- The other nuclear option – the liberal application of alcohol. When employing this method care should be taken to ensure that a balance is struck between expanding your consciousness and not being able to focus on the screen/keys. In the case of the latter, you can probably console yourself with the knowledge that writer’s block will be the least of your concerns at this point.
I’ve spent a lot years trying to make it in the writing game with little success. Some might say this should serve as proof that you can’t polish a turd (I’m afraid I can’t credit this quote to anyone in particular but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t da Vinci). But if every aspiring author curled up at the sight of a rejection slip or a bad review there would be considerably fewer books in the world, and even fewer good ones.
I write because I enjoy it – even the hours of painful introspection and crippling self-doubt. I write because I believe I have worthwhile stories to tell. I write in the vague hope of getting paid one day.
Turning pro is obviously the ultimate ambition, on the subject of which I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from the late Hunter S. Thompson: “Writing is like sex; only fun for amateurs.”
Always be careful what you wish for…
Leon Steelgrave is the author of ‘White Vampyre’:
& ‘A Pauper’s Shroud’
Both of which are self-published via Kindle Direct Publishing.
‘Though Your Sins Be Scarlet’, the sequel to ‘White Vampyre’, will be available for the Kindle late July/early August.
For the latest news concerning Leon visit his web site: www.leon-steelgrave.com