25 Mar 2014

On the Nature of Writing

Writing is a funny thing. First off, it’s time-consuming: it took me six months and two weeks to finish the first draft of my 108,000 word novel (which has now been shortened to 104,000) and that was with me writing for about six to seven hours a week. If, like some people, you’re not very good with maths, then that translates to about 150 hours.

Now you wonder, ‘What made you do that?’

Well, I’m not entirely sure myself, to tell you the truth. But read on.

Writing is also difficult. Very difficult. It takes even experienced authors a fair amount of effort to get a full-size novel down to a T. For inexperienced authors, you can multiply that by a factor of at least three; and unsurprisingly, many would-be authors give up before finishing a novel, sometimes very early on.

Speaking personally, I can say that writing is perhaps the most intellectually challenging activity I can perform—in fact, I find physics and maths easier!

Finally, writing is not all that profitable. Writing poetry is unlikely to ever win you a penny, and even a very successful and well-known poet usually needs to supplement their income somehow; writing novels is more profitable, but still only yields about twenty thousand pounds for a reasonably good book. (And many get far less.)

So why do I—and indeed, many others—do it?

Well, the first reason is that I feel a compulsion to do so.

‘A compulsion?’ I hear you cry. ‘That doesn’t sound nice!’

Perhaps compulsion is too strong a word. I can use itch if you prefer. I feel an itch: something strange and incurable (though of course I would never want to ‘cure’ it) at the back of my hand, in my fingers, and in my head. I have to write. It does not matter if I write poetry, or novels, or this blog post—I have to write.

Some of it is down to practice. Practice makes perfect; and without it, I will never become the author that I can be. I may even forget some of what I know, and be forced to spend more time relearning skills.

But another part of it is inherent to me, and other writers, I would imagine; perchance it is even inherent to all artists, that nagging feeling that you have to create something.

I also compose music. Mainly, it is on the piano. I am not a particularly good musician. That’s okay: there is more to life than being successful.

So What Else Makes You Write?

I love it!

That’s an obvious reason why a person would do such a thing. But it’s not wholly true: I love to write—most of the time. Maybe even some of the time. Writing is hard work. And sometimes, it’s not fun—sometimes you have a plot that refuses to mould itself into something workable, at other times you have a character that you think shouldn’t be there, or even entire scenes that seem extraneous; basically, there is a significant amount of uncertainty involved in creating art.

And yes, writing is an art. It is partially a science—the techniques of creative writing, such as alliteration, onomatopoeia (yes, I included that because it’s hard to spell), anaphoria and so forth are well known and studied—but it is, at the end of the day, an art.

There are some people in books that reach out to us. This is partly because of who we are: humans are an empathetic species by nature. Some of it is because of our individual circumstances—a gay character may appeal more to people who are actually gay, for example, and likewise women, ethnic minorities and other less, shall we say, powerful groups can emphasise more with specific characters.

Coming-of-age stories are popular among some; yet most of us young kids hate them. Why? Well, some of them are corny, and nostalgic about a time we never experienced, but mostly it is because we cannot emphasise with the characters as much. Hindsight is a powerful tool.

But behind all of the science and psycho-analysis, there is something indefinable about books. Why does the story of Bella Swan, for example, (for those of you who don’t know, that’s the Twilight girl) grab the imagination of some people, but leaves others shaking their heads in confusion? Why does the Da Vinci Code grab the attention of many of us; but at the same time, others don’t see what the fuss is about?

There is undoubtedly something very personal involved in the creation of a book. You pour yourself into the page, and since you are, probably, human, then you end up making something which others will, ineluctably, find intriguing (at least if done right).

I would even say there is something subconscious about a book.

‘Subconscious?’ you ask. Yes. In fact, I would say we writers don’t have that much control over what we write...

The Nature of A Text

Poems are short pieces of text that can have a significant impact. Novels are much longer, bigger beasts, but although less information-dense than a poem, they can still achieve things a poem struggles to do.

In either case, though, they represent a little part of the writer’s subconscious. Writers will, invariably, write about the things that have affected them most. And sometimes, a writer can discover things they never knew about themselves. Writing something is, in a way, a journey: and depending on its length, it is a journey that can change you as a person.

I became a different person after I finished my first draft of the Necromancer. Obviously, some of that was simply due to the fact that I had managed to complete such a vast piece of writing (for a fifteen year old). But also, I had discovered something in my completion of the plot.

To write them on this blog would be too personal, and futile, anyway, since I am still uncertain about what precisely has changed. But something has changed, make no doubt: and what exactly that is, well, that will be ascertained in the future.

A Final Note on Literary Interpretations

You have heard that some authors do not know the exact meaning of their novels.

You may also have derided this as hogwash, and impugned it as politics. And it’s true: the author does have a ‘political’ (for lack of a better word) incentive to keep his or her fans happy (along with the pretentious critics).

And yet, there is a certain degree of truth to it. When I wrote the Water Tower (see the Poems page) I didn’t fully realise what I had written. I still don’t. There are feelings inside of us that we do not consciously register until much later—and even then, we may not want to accept them. Ultimately, a book is an expression of emotion more than anything else. It is a story that needs to be told. Everything else is secondary.

Anyway, I’ve bored you enough with my ramblings. If you thought they were interesting, please leave a comment. Otherwise, have a good day. I hope you visit this blog in the future.

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