Writing: work, rest, and fun.

One of the (many) benefits of operating in an online world is that you leave a record of your opinions, attitudes, beliefs and all the other stuff that you’ve felt over the years. For someone who’s as bad at keeping records as I am, that’s invaluable. (There are plenty of disadvantages to being online, too, of course, but that’s for another blog.)

For example, it was reassuring, when I came across an interview I did 10 years ago, to find that my thoughts about writing haven’t changed a bit since then. I’m not claiming they’re profound or unique, just that they’re consistent, and I do seem to believe in them.

I noted, for instance, that writing was (is) a compulsion. I love spending time with my family, watching sport or good films on TV, wood carving, sailing, growing stuff, and doing all sorts of other social things, but writing is also part of work and rest and fun for me. As well as creating fictions, it helps to articulate things I might sense without really understanding. Putting feelings, beliefs (or lack of beliefs) into words gives them clarity, substance. That’s never felt like a chore.

And my approach to it hasn’t varied since the earliest days. When I start a project – big or small – I know overall where I want to be heading. There’s an issue I want to address, a character I want to explore, an anger I want to externalize, a remark I want someone to make – all sorts of things provide a starting point. So I have a notion of what the tone of the writing will be and maybe of some major turning point I intend to reach.

But then, as the fiction begins to build, it’s the characters who take over to a fairly large extent. They lead the narrative in directions which often surprise me. They add details I hadn’t suspected were there and, in the process, they force me to adapt my original intention.

It’s still the same basic drive and the purpose remains relatively unchanged, but the way in which I convey it is coloured by what my characters allow me to do. When it comes to rewriting, I correct some of the wilder fancies they’ve had and bring them back within the scope of the book but the process from conception to delivery (sorry to use a gynaecological image but, as a man, it’s the closest I ever get to having a baby) is organic, unstable.

However long the novel, until the final version is delivered to the publisher or uploaded to Kindle or IngramSpark, all it has is potential.  If I started with a rigid notion of its shape, I’d be inhibiting that.

In fact, the only time I did that was with a radio play. I was very keen to maintain a specific set of images, so I made the characters do exactly what was necessary to achieve that. After the broadcast, a well-known critic reviewed the play in a respectable journal. His review began ‘This is a tiresome play about tiresome people.’ He was right.

Earning thousands of pounds for my scribbling would be nice, appreciative reviews and comments from readers are very satisfying, but the truly constant pleasure is the absorption I get in the process itself. I get lost in it, and yet all I seem to be is a witness to things said and done by a bunch of people who don’t really exist until a reader lets them.

Beats ‘reality’ any day.