Not Writing: How Does That Make You Feel?

I read John Scalzi’s blog on a daily basis. Well, as often as he publishes a new post and it appears in my reader (Feedly). I’ve cut down the number of writers’ blogs I follow to those whose (non-blog) writing I enjoy and who have something interesting to say about writing and/or politics on their blog. Scalzi slots into this category with ease.

But I don’t want to talk about anything Scalzi said about writing or politics. What I want to talk about is the title of a post he published on January 23rd. This is what he published:

I Was Busy All Day Having Meetings and Recording Things and Not Writing, So, Here, Have Another Tinkly Moody Pretty Piano Song

Now, I can take or leave the ‘tinkly moody pretty piano song’ and, while it’s good of him to tell me about his meetings and recording, my life went on much as before. The simple phrase – two words, in fact – that got me thinking was ‘not writing’.

Here was a successful author saying that he was ‘not writing’! A writer who is prepared to declare – openly, almost brazenly – that for one day (at least) he was not writing.

This is akin to a Salem puritan admitting that he was late for the witch trials because he had a hangover and his feet were sore from too much dancing.

Writers, surely, write every day. Isn’t this what the books tell us? Isn’t this the commandment that, when broken, plunges us into guilt, self-recrimination, and shame? Didn’t Dorothea Brand call me a failure because I, er, failed to do this when I was younger? (Answer: yes, she did. But not personally.)

And here is Scalzi fucking with our heads, showing us that some writers just, well, don’t.

The moral of this, of course, is that every writer has their own routine and it is dangerous to get hung up on absolutes. Writing every day is a great habit to get into but if you miss a day, then you miss a day. That’s it. It’s all to easy to get into that fuck-it mode and feel that missing one day invalidates all your sense of being a writer. Maybe you’re the type of writer that writes once a week. Every week-end. Write 1,000 words every Saturday morning and it will take you longer to write your novel but that may be the speed that best suits you. Find your own pace.

Some writers write 10,000 words a day; Graham Greene wrote 500 words every day. Simenon used to write nothing for months and then lock himself away and write a novel in a week.

Try a number of routines and see which works. Just don’t call yourself names if you can’t match some writer you admire or aspire to be like. You may be a sprinter when they want to run marathons.

What routine have you settled into?

Quietly Grateful For Christopher Hitchins, Reading, And Writing

The Waterstones in Piccadilly had a pile of “Hitch-22” on a table. It’s not as if I don’t have enough books to read at the moment but this memoir is one I’ve been meaning to pick up for a couple of years. So I picked it up. Score one for clever display tactics.

As is the way with those almost serendipitous purchases, I’ve now been reading it instead of doing a lot of the other things I should be doing. Like writing. Which may be ironic, given what I’m about to write below.

The paperback version has a foreword that was not in the original edition because things for Christopher Hitchens changed rather dramatically between the publication of the hardback and the publication of the paperback. He was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer (which killed his father) during the tour for the book and, by the time the paperback appeared, he had less than a year to live. He died in December 2011.

In the foreword, he talks about how his illness has, inevitably, introduced constraints into his life: he could no longer travel, for instance. But, he says,

I have found that I still possess the will to write, as well as the indispensable thing for any writer, the avid need to read. Even when attenuated by the sorter amount of time that I am conscious during each day, and circumscribed by the thought of an eventual loss of consciousness altogether, this is only a little less than I used to be quietly grateful for: the ability to earn a living by doing the two things that mean most to me.

I like that ‘quietly grateful’. To make a living from reading and writing still seems to me to be a goal to aspire to and reading these words of Hitchins – written as he faced the time when there would be no more reading, no more writing – is a reminder to me to make the most of them time I have left and to use it to read well and to write as well and as often as I can.

I’ve decided that finishing “Hitch-22” fall under the category of reading well.

Have you read it?

Resolutions? What Resolutions?

If there is a statute of limitations on making resolutions, I’m sure the last week of January must be safe for announcing plans that don’t qualify as resolutions. Then again, I suppose I can make my own rules, so here’s the new WKW rule about resolutions:

Plans made after January 10th don’t qualify as resolutions.


Good. With that out of the way – and no danger of talking about failed resolutions – welcome back to the WKW blog.

Yes, yes, it’s been a while. I know.

I have been busy, though. Honestly.

I’ll talk more about what I’m up to with ‘creative’ stuff in upcoming posts but this is a little range-finder of a post – to get my eye in again. I’ve not been able to write about writing for a while and I find I miss it. Perhaps because I always use writing about writing as an excuse for writing about me. Self-centred? Moi?

I’m back to doing business writing – and landed a big agency client, which is reassuring. (That’s media agency rather than literary agency, by the way.)

I’ve worked with a film maker to put together a pilot script and trailers for a new TV series.

I’m launching a new political magazine.

So that’s why I’ve been a little quiet on the blog front.

But that’s all going to change now: I promise. I miss fiction. Prose. You know; stories.

So, not “I’ll be back” but “I am back”.

Quotation Thursday – August 15th 2013

Inspirational quotations can be just the little giver of buzz you need when your spirits are low. Or when your mojo is most definitely out of sync.

But sometimes you need something that illustrates what makes a writer great rather than possessing an ability for the pithy apothegm. Something that makes you work that little bit harder.

So, it’s a long quotation today; from Lawrence’s The Rainbow.

His voice was harsh and cat-like, he was blind to the child. She shrank away in childish anguish and dread. What was it, what awful thing was it?
The mother turned with her calm, almost superb manner.
‘What has she done, then?’
‘Done? She shall go in the church no more, pulling and littering and destroying.’
The wife slowly rolled her eyes and lowered her eyelids.
‘What has she destroyed, then?’
He did not know.
‘I’ve just had Mrs Wilkinson at me,’ he cried, ‘with a list of things she’s done’.
Ursula withered under the contempt and anger of the ‘she’, as he spoke of her.
‘Send Mrs Wilkinson here to me with a list of things she’s done,’ said Anna. ‘I am the one to hear that.’
‘It’s not the things the child has done,’ continued the mother, ‘that have put you out so much, it’s because you can’t bear being spoken to by that old woman. But you haven’t the courage to turn on her when she attacks you, you bring your rage here.’

This is a quite wonderful passage in a quite wonderful long section about the relationship between the father and his eldest daughter, Ursula. In these few lines of dialogue and actions, Lawrence perfectly outlines the family dynamics of the Brangwens – and, I think, of many families.

Look at the way Anna – the mother and wife – holds the still centre and moves little more than her eyes. Her husband’s rage is to one side of her and her daughter’s fear and hurt to the other. And there is perfection in that almost identical phrase she repeats when asking what Ursula is supposed to have done. The grandiloquence of ‘destroyed’ after ‘done’ punctures the whole bloated seriousness of the situation. And ‘He did not know’ shows us a man puffing out his cheeks and waving a hand dismissively.

Anna has turned his anger away towards Mrs Wilkinson and rightly seen her husband’s sense of frustration and resentment towards this woman as the cause of his rage. His only response when Anna delivers her verdict in the final line above is to go silent and drift away from them.

As I said, quite wonderful.

This is the writing of a master. It moves the story forward while showing the depths of the characters and their relationship to one another. I also like the fact that the sentences of dialogue are not polished or particularly grammatically correct. It’s not so much about showing how the characters speak as letting the words run free. Proper punctuation might sit uncomfortably where clauses separated by commas only can carry us forward with no hindrance.

This moment in the book is important in Ursula’s relationship with her father because it starts the process of accepting that he is part of a malignant world that can cause her pain. She loves him dearly and she remains his favourite but there is a loss of innocence – early because she is only about 4 years old at this point – that gives her a strength she will need later.

And that gesture by Anna with her eyes. You can just see it, can’t you? I know I’ve seen it often enough aimed my way by wife and daughters. Chastening, it is. Always.

State Of The World Wednesday – August 14th 2013

There are two ways of looking at the world. The first is to view every human need as a potential source of financial gain. The second is to consider that the provision of some needs makes society run more smoothly and for the benefit of all.

I’m thinking about this today on the back of the latest train fare rises in the UK.

An efficient transport network is necessary to keep the country’s economy running. That’s pretty simple. If you’re running a business, you want your staff to be able to come to work. It means people don’t actually need to sleep at their place of work. When the Tories privatised the railways when last in power, they remove the connection between society and its transportation. They handed control of moving people around the country to those who wanted to make profit from it.

And the result? The UK taxpayer pays more in rails subsidies now than it did when the railways were nationalised. Fares rise above the rate of inflation – annually. The trains are old, for the most part, and stations are grim and purely functional, and staff few and far between. Our fare increases augment the taxpayer subsidy to provide dividends for shareholders and excessive salaries and bonuses for rail company mangers.

Exactly what the Tories wanted, of course.

They’re starting to do the same thing with the NHS. They’re planning on selling off the Royal Mail. Under Thatcher, they handed our utility networks to private businesses.

This is all done under the fraudulent claim of saving money, when actually what it is doing is transferring the wealth of the country to the already rich.

When Blair swept to power with a huge majority, New Labour had the chance – and the mandate – to reverse many of these corporate gains. Instead, New Labour betrayed the citizens of the UK in much the same way this Tory government is betraying the UK under the guise of ‘austerity’. They sold their souls – and ours – to big business and the financial sector.

Labour under its new, pathetically uninspiring leader, appears to have no sense of what to do, other than talk of lessening the pain of Tory policies. There is no radical plan for taking the country back to the democratic socialism that served the country so well until Thatcher. There is no plan at all, it would seem.

This is a dangerous time, therefore. When more and more people are disillusioned with the main political parties and the main political parties are hard to differentiate, when corporate power counts for more than electoral power, when the threat of a business moving elsewhere is rewarded by failing to tax that business, we have relinquished sovereignty. And the rise of authoritarian leadership under the guise of populism is almost inevitable.

Have we really forgotten our history so easily? The answer must be yes. Education, after all, is another victim of the handing of our rights to business. As with all these examples – from transport to education to health – the wealthy have no need of the services upon which the majority of us rely. They have no need of them because they pay for their private equivalent and simply pay themselves from the profits extracted when our taxes subsidise their companies.

Write about this. Write about this or we’ll all be reading The Fucking Daily Mail for the rest of our lives.