If at first... When I first decided— Yes! I'm going to be a writer! Forsooth!1 —I felt that I should start with a Bang. I felt there ought to be some kind of Rite of Passage I could go through in order to give me the cosmic, karmic confidence to begin. You might, mistakenly, believe that this ceremonial act would involve investing in some decent equipment: a new PC, or lots of notebooks and shiny new biros. But while I would eventually get around to this, this was not the first thing I did. Nor was it to bone up on my library and research skills, absolute necessities for one’s future as a writer. Neither was that first thing a trip to my preferred bookstore, to immediately immerse myself in the nourishing words of others, learning and exploring at the same time. It wasn’t even the purchasing of a book on ‘How to Write Books.’2 No. The first thing I did as a new writer was to buy a copy of the Writer’s Handbook and begin choosing publishers. And then agents: though it would never come to that, I told myself, as undoubtedly when my chosen publisher snapped up my first book, they would recommend a decent agent at the same time. Undoubtedly. Surely. Surely? A little later, I found myself looking at Literary Consultancies, just to appease my curiosity you understand, and opening that first tin of beer. By the time I was down to trying to decide which magazine had a sufficiently low subscription rate that they’d be less choosey about the quality of submissions—while simultaneously hunting the cupboards for carbohydrates, sweet carbohydrates—I was just about ready to slide my copy of the Writer’s Handbook onto the bookshelf and not write a word for at least a month. Laying so much store by the quality of one’s first step is the death of all too many writers’ careers. It held me back for years. And it was an anxiety with range: I had to make my first book timely for the market I would aim for. I needed to know what a publisher wanted so I could be sure I was meeting some mythical brief. I had to know what I was going to write before I began: every plot twist, every character, every skewed bit of physics or alternative cosmology. Eventually, it got down to the level where I convinced myself that nothing could begin with anything short of that killer first line. The hardest lesson you will ever learn is that that killer first line doesn’t exist. It's a third line, if you’re lucky. More likely it’s a fifth. Or a fiftieth. Author Paul Cornell wrote a great post over Christmas that you would be well advised to go and read in full, but which has as its third point: whatever problem you’re having with what you’re writing, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to have to rewrite it anyway. It’s a philosophy that I’ve come to see as applicable to almost every aspect of the writer’s life. Nothing takes in the first try: your killer opening; your original plot line; your first attempt at getting that first manuscript into publication. Whatever your first plans were, I wouldn’t get too attached. Creating is an inductive experience, but the actual task of writing is deductive. It’s about taking things away, and the things in question are those precious ‘firsts’ you sweated over for so long. Beyond that, learning that being a writer is something that actually happens after the writing’s been done, not before, has been instrumental in helping me understand what it is that separates art from the kind of everyday creativity that everyone engages in naturally. Writers inhabit that second reading of any piece of communication; that looking back and appreciating or critiquing or responding or building upon as necessary. All the words come first, the writing second. Or third, if you're lucky. More likely fifth. Or fiftieth.
1 The statement alone didn’t seem enough to signify my qualification for such a lofty role, so I felt a little poetic decoration would emphasise the point nicely. I, like nearly every other writer that has ever lived, started out really, really bad. 2 I soon owned a fine clutch of these, mind you, though you wouldn't have known to look at my bookshelves at the time. I hid them: to my thinking, being seen reading such a text was akin to seeing a panic stricken nuclear power plant technician, seated at his console with his hand wavering above the blinking bulbs, leafing through a copy of “How Not To Make Your Workplace Go Boom For Dummies.” -----------------
Damien Kelly, author of The Christmas Gifts and the rather dishevelled figure behind christmasmacabre.com is husband to the beautiful Katrina, father to Daniel and Taylor, an associate lecturer in psychology with the Open University, and an aspiring writer of genre fiction. You can find full details of his anthology of seasonal macabre at his website, along with bonus stories, mp3s and links to the YouTube channel and videos. Or you can get The Christmas Gifts now from Amazon.
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