Voice

Livingstone

We’re supposed to stick at it, we wee writers. That’s what they say. Agreed.

I just needed a break from counting the death toll and watching it rise like the stocks and shares – only it’ll never fall like them. 

Here’s a random picture that I took in Africa in the summer when the world was a different place, though at the time it was very much the same. Down there in the heart of darnkesses the roads go on for a long time.

And below is what I wrote in my journal last night as I worked my way through a few things are stopping me from really getting down with the page. It’s procrastination, the journal, but it’s as pure as I can get my time-wasting. I like to see the journal as the gateway drug to ‘real writing’…  

After I read some brilliant pieces on here about planning I had a think about my own process and realised that it’s something that I very seldom scrutinise. It’s the grindstone and when we turn up we work and that’s that, right? Thankfully there’s a little worm (or a big serpent) in all of us that’ll question everything if given enough time: 

When I reread my work I know that if a phrase or arrangement of words impresses me then I’m on to something. We’re all our harshest critic. When I read it and want to melt my face off then I know that I was trying too hard. Critic, yes but not a complete destroyer of dreams; just wanting always to do better. 

I really don’t know, though, if rewrite, rewrite, rewrite is the answer. I’m sure that if you hammer away even at a piece of iron for too long it will eventually lose its integrity and be no good for shaping. Hammering and hammering away is also the best way to fall out of love with a story that once burned embryonically in you like the greatest thing ever conceived, by anyone. Ever. 

I am convinced that the best writing comes in the initial burst and is born of the flames of the passion in which it was first imagined. This is where the ideas still broils and the human spark still burns bright. It is the heat of this fire that powers the ideas onto the page and the emotion that keeps it alight and to hell with all else. It is why writers give their lives to what they do. Ask them and they’ll tell you that it’s why they are. 

The heat of this fire is what it’s all about. If a writer can writ in this heat then there’s magic will come of it. Forget readers for now – the writer is the reader; he’s just got the job of turning it into the right words. Worry about that later. 

But come to the page without that fire and that passion and it’s a battle. A tiring one that will only ever go one way. The writer needs to write for the writer and that’s it. For now. 

Finding that voice is all about knowing the boundaries that it can be pushed to. The flow of writing can be halted when doubt creeps in about these limits and we start to wonder whether we’re pushing too hard or whether we’re not doing anything other than telling the story: it has to be more than that. It has to be the telling of the character and the creating of the world in which he or she will move. 

So the latest novel that I haven’t written yet could be a rambling sentimental narrative that recalls situations and moves the characters about in them in ways that might be expected, might maybe sometimes surprise and even shock, but still fit into those safe boundaries. Sometimes it’ll be loved and other times it’ll be hated but most of the time the worst will happen: it’ll be put down. It’ll be left on the writer’s hard-drive waiting for the sprinkling of magic that he’ll one day figure out… 

Or 

The writer could listen to the story as it happened and tell it as honestly as he can as he ignores the restraints and expectations; as he pokes underneath the scabs of human suffering and, (what I like to call) ‘rattles the fences’.  

For me it’s always a chain-link fence and it needs to be rattled in the early hours of the morning. The scab needs to be half-lifted so that it’s still pulling at the tiny hairs and the finger nail needs to really get underneath and stab at what was already hurting. It needs to be writing that is done in anger and exaltation; in chilly downpours and violent bursts of sunshine. How can a writer ever expect to unsettle the eventual reader if they don’t unsettle themselves? When I can’t sit still in my chair as I write I know I’m into it. If I get too comfortable I know it’s shit and hen it’s good – I never get tired. 

People need to be heroes one minute and bastards the next; the speaker needs to be in despair and ecstasy on the same page; he needs to be fucking his girlfriend one minute then masturbating about her in the shower an hour later knowing that she’s in the village fucking someone else as his juices dry on her thighs. Believe me: this shit happens. 

And also, while the bastards are bastards in one line of narrative, they’re also dreamers with regrets in another and losers in love in another and that’s just like life and the countless threads of narrative that tangle and swamp us and that we, as writers, do our bust to pick up and weave into something that sings to us. 

What I’m saying is that a writer needs to do more than tell a story. That’s all. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: