I have a friend who is a good writer, but who hardly ever write a word. He is very particular about the kind of novels he likes, and is afraid that what he writes would never come close.
This is probably true, but it is a great shame. I think his novels would be marvellous, but in a completely different way from the books he admires. He is who is, and can only write ‘as himself’.
This belief is a comfort to me when I start to think ‘will people like this?’ Will people like my novel when it comes out? Should it have been more like this or less like that?
The truth is, I wrote the novel that was inside me. I worked on polishing it up as artfully as I could, of course. I read it out loud and listened for glitches with my critical ear, and tried to fix them. I asked for feedback and made changes when the suggestions resonated.
I might think Raymond Carver’s words are distilled genuis, or that Lorrie Moore is the funniest wisest writer ever to live, but I can’t write their books – I’m not them.
Some people will like this blog, and some people won’t. That’s not my business. My business is to keep on trying to say what I want to say, with as much clarity as I can muster. That is what I wanted to say today.
I was truly honoured to be asked to be a bridesmaid for my friend Jo this weekend – she was the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen, and the whole day was glorious. The ceremony was simple and meaningful, and there were two poems – Sonnet XVII by Neruda, and a poem about Dragonflies by my friend Joanna Quinn. I read the Dragonflies poem and managed not to cry until the last word
Here’s to Jo and Jay and a very long and happy marriage. And here’s to poetry, for helping us to speak when it’s difficult to find the words.
I forgot to give you any notice about this but if you do live in London/in driving distance of Teddington then I’ll be there tonight at The Red Lion for an evening of poetry and music. I’m reading with my good friend Esther – our first joint reading – so I’m really looking forward to that. And having a good natter before we start. Would be lovely to see you there. I’m in Portsmouth and Reading next year so far and will post details nearer the time.
Update on the last post – I DID do a little bit of work on the manuscript, and I felt SO much better afterwards and got on with the rest of my day… when will I learn?!
I wanted WHITE toast for breakfast.
But actually the brown toast was quite yummy.
This week I am trying to decide whether not-getting-on-with-my-current-novel is:
a) because I want a break and I deserve a break and I CAN have a break because my 3rd novel doesn’t come out until Feb 2010 and if there’s ever been a good time to take a break then now is it
b) because I am incredibly clever at thinking up excuses not to write
Every day that I don’t look at the novel becomes tinged with guilt. Faint guilt, but you can’t miss it.
My friend Alex suggested I turn off my lap-top for the afternoons and do some writing then. She also suggested that even if I get lots of other things done, the guilt is telling me what the MOST IMPORTANT THING is. I told her I’d think about what she’d said and get back to her.
OK, OK, I’ll have a quick look at it now. I’ll just have another bit of toast first…
PS that isn’t my toast. Where do people get photos for their blogposts? Would be glad to hear of any good free sites…
I love it how when you’re reading a clutch of different books at the same time (which I always am) they start talking to each other.
This week I found this quote in Robert MacFarlane’s rather beautiful ‘The Wild Places‘ (he’s talking about long-ago wandering peregrini – monks and suchlike):
“For these writers, attention was a form of devotion and noticing continuous with worship.”
I was also taken by this quote from Theophilus in John Lane’s ‘Timeless Beauty‘, who states that artistic activity of every kind should be dedicated to God rather than to man:
“…neither for the love of men’s praise, nor for the desire for a temporal reward … but for the greater honour and glory of the name of God.”
I’ve been a proud atheist for most of my life, and a little anti-God – apart from not seeming very logical, God seemed to cause a lot of trouble in the world. But I seem to have softened over recent years – maybe it’s all the Zen reading, maybe it’s just getting to know Anne Lamott’s writing. Now when I read the word ‘God’ I think it’s OK to substitute ‘the wonder of nature’ or ‘oneness’ or ‘some sense of spirituality’. I’m even happy to capitalise her
Writing not for men’s praise, or for a temporal reward. Writing as worship. Yes.
I hate being a writer.
I hate being rejected.
I hate working alone.
I hate marketing my writing.
I hate it when the words won’t get into the right order, however hard I try.
I hate sitting down to write when I’d rather be doing anything else.
I hate how it makes me so vulnerable all the time.
I love being a writer.
I love playing with sentences.
I love being alone.
I love what it teaches me.
I love the way it helps me to pay attention.
I love meeting new people through my writing.
I love producing beautiful books.
I love the taste of words.
I could make similiar lists about being a driver, a person-in-a-relationship, a therapist, an occasional meditator, a gardener… you get the idea.
Maybe the only important thing is that we choose what we are, and try and stick with it.
What a gift to be able to spend the afternoon outside in the sun, reading. A gift that my work patterns are flexible enough to allow me to do this. A gift that the sun shone, after so many weeks of rain. And a gift that John Irving writes books, and that he wrote this particular book – A Widow For One Year.
I am an extremely fussy reader. I’m even more fussy when it comes to fiction – I could count the number of fiction authors I choose to read (once I’ve read one of their books) on both hands. I just don’t seem to LOVE many books of fiction. I’ve read a lot of books that are well written, and a lot of clever books with interesting plots, but that’s just not enough for me to want to spend time with them.
The writers I love – Raymond Carver, Anne Lamott, Lorrie Moore, Richard Ford – all have their flaws. Doesn’t all writing? But I love them, I love everything they’ve written, whether or not I ENJOY it. I don’t think I enjoyed Richard Ford’s last novel as much as I wanted to, but I don’t care – I still love him.
This is the way I feel about people too. There are people I love, and I might not see them any more, I might hate many things about them, but I will always love them. They’ve crossed some kind of line.
Maybe this is what turns readers into fans. I don’t know. But the writing I love has the ability to AFFECT me, just like a real person might. What a gift. Thank you Mr. Irving.
I have lots to do this week, and started I spiralling this morning. Do this first. Then that. Don’t forget that. Do that while you’re doing this. Can you feel my neck muscles tensing?
Then I caught sight of something on the lawn that looked like a crop of strange mushrooms. I put on a jumper (brr nearly Autumn) and went out to investigate. It was a fallen branch, the leaves all brown and crispy as if they’d been in the oven.
On my way back in, I looked at the dark faces of the sunflowers, fringed with gold. I filled up the bird feeder. Then I made a cup of tea and watched for goldfinches. And then I went back to work.
We’re home! Almost my favourite part of holidays… our house has grown mouldy in our absence, but our cats were very happy to see us and it’s good to be back online.
My small stones is the only writing that got done while we were away, but a week of blue space is bound to be good for my muse, and I devoured several novels which were very tasty (including Scarlett Thomas’ The End of Mr. Y and another Irving – good old Irving).
Right – back to work!
Oh – Dubrovnik was utterly stunning – if you haven’t been, then go! Go!
Last week, a new warning light lit up on my car dashboard. It was of a little man being thrown back in his seat as the airbag exploded into his face and body.
I felt a little alarmed. I remembered stories of people being bruised when their airbags deployed. I imagined the noise it might make as it exploded, and the shock of losing the space inside the car as I struggled to veer the car onto the curb.
Even after my boyfriend assured me it was only flagging up a fault with the airbag WERE IT TO DEPLOY IN AN ACCIDENT, whenever the light comes on I drive as if it might happen at any minute. Everything tensed, like a scared cat.
This is a bit like waiting to get a publishing deal. For 5 years, I waited for news – from prospective agents, from my lovely agent-for-a-while, from publishers… Sometimes the anticipation was concentrated, when someone had sent me a ‘maybe’ and was making their mind up. Sometimes I mostly forgot about it and got on with my life.
When the news of a publishing deal came, it slipped in quietly, when I was least expecting it. It didn’t go BANG!!! I wasn’t prepared for it, as it didn’t happen the way I imagined it might.
Does it do me any good to tense myself for the airbag? I don’t think so. I think I’ll be better prepared if I just drive normally, calmly, with attention. Easier said than done. What will my book sales be like? Will I get bad reviews? What next?
I’ll try to drive normally, calmly, with attention. When I tense up, I’ll try to let go. This is my practice.