Sunday, November 13, 2005

A primer

Well, that’s the end of a very interesting two weeks. Back to the day job tomorrow, and I have not done half so much as I hoped to, though, to be sure, it was twice as much as I expected. No-one could be more surprised than I that, having announced my intention to attempt something, I did not regard the announcement as fulfillment and promptly drop it, but struggled, and worked.

I’ve learnt much in the process, and hereby impart my newly gained wisdom:

        • First of all, when taking up, however belatedly, the mantle of destiny, waste no time in berating yourself for all the years spent on unnatural pursuits. Make up for them; move on.

        • Keep to a routine. Those of us with other daily duties might resolve to spend two hours a day on our writing. Where that time is lost, either through social engagements or sheer laxity, do not delude yourself you will make it up with four hours tomorrow. The thought will be altogether too intimidating, and four hours will become six, becomes eight - the work stops altogether. Should your stride be broken, take care not to exert yourself too greatly attempting to make up lost ground. There is no one in this race but you, so concentrate only on re-establishing whatever rhythm you already had.

        • Staring at the wall for two hours counts as work. You cannot produce excellence every day. As long as you are in your chair with paper within reach, you have discharged your obligations. Keep at it and you will find that you can not sit there day after day and fail to produce something.

        • Everything takes longer than you think. You may imagine yourself progenitor of such seemingly brilliant ideas - why, they’ll practically write themselves - but whatever you think you have is only the tip of the iceberg.

        • You will write drafts, many of them, and all will be unsatisfactory nonsense. Expect to write badly. A writer is not one who bangs out a story and considers it done, but an infinitely patient craftsman who first creates gibberish from nothing and then begins to transform it into something marvelous. Nonsense and gibberish are essential tools of the trade - you will do well if you can wield them unselfconsciously.

        • Read. It cannot be said often enough. Get hold of as many scripts as you can and read them, several times. At first you will take in only their narrative aspects, but persevere and they will reveal their secrets - how to tell a story in two beats, how to build a scene and when to consider one finished, how to foreshadow a reversal so as to flatter your audience, and more.

        • Finally, all of you who continue to find excuses for not getting started, take comfort in knowing the first hurdle is always the highest. As soon as you fully resolve to run the race, it is easily cleared, and its fellows will never be as intimidating.

I am not looking forward to going back to work, to getting up at 7.30 am, to sitting behind the same desk for eight hours at a stretch. However, because I have finally confirmed to myself that I have the will to write and at least some small measure of competency in the art, I am no longer scared that, should I take a peek down Time’s long tunnel into the future, I’ll see myself behind that self-same desk ten years from now.

Thank you to everyone who has lent me their support over the last fortnight. I may call on you again, and rest assured, you have mine.

Category: Writing


  1. Excellent post. My favorite: "Nonsense and gibberish are essential tools of the trade." Nothing like a positive reframe to turn a negative into a positive.

    Hopefully this two week period (fortnight?) has at the very least made you feel more like a writer with a day job and less like a guy with a career who tinkers with a script in his spare time.

  2. You know, I never realised fortnight was a parochial term. It's a contraction of fourteen nights = two weeks.

    I do indeed feel far less like a tinkerer and more like the real thing.

  3. Well, if I gain nothing else from the blogosphere, at least I've finally learned the proper meaning and use of "fortnight." Maybe someday we can discuss collective nouns.