A Newcomer to Writing

The ‘C’ Word

As I’ve said a few times, writing is a new thing for me. Although that is true, it’s also a bit of a lie. Maybe ‘lie’ is a touch strong… ‘inaccurate’ is probably a better reflection of the reality of the situation. I have written a lot in my life, but I am new to writing for fun. I’m also very new to writing fiction. It isn’t something I had tried before I started the blog, but in recent months I have started to dabble in it as more of a pastime. I need to go back to my school days to discuss my history with writing properly.

In school, I always seemed to do well in English, despite putting in little to no effort at all. My immature philosophy throughout school and into my first year of university was that you are either good at something or you aren’t. The idea that you could practice, commit time and get better at something, didn’t register with me. I thought that was just talk to motivate people who were bad at things, in an attempt to make them feel less bad. When I saw professional athletes, I assumed that they had put in very little effort to get to that level of skill. “They’re just good at it,” I thought to myself, whilst acknowledging that it wasn’t the thing I was good at. It doesn’t mean I thought they were lazy and didn’t have to work for it, but that they always knew they were good at it and were always bound to be if they backed it up with some effort. It was easy to put effort into something you were good at; I knew that from playing the guitar, something I considered myself naturally good at.

This ‘master of none’ mentality did very little for me, and likely robbed me of a lot of valuable experience early on in life. Looking back, I wish I’d played football more, for example. The few times I tried and wasn’t very good at it told me that it wasn’t for me and I was bad at it. I hadn’t seen the time and commitment everyone else had put into getting to their proficiency, so I just saw it as a natural talent that I didn’t possess. That stopped me from trying at it, and I never really put any time into it. Nowadays, I wish I played it more because it seems like a good hobby to have, but I’m not overly fussed. Not enough to actually get out and learn it, anyway.

I bumbled through school and sixth form, never realising how lucky I was to be an A*-C student without really trying at all. There was something more in English, though, and I knew I liked writing the essays for some reason. When it came to selecting university courses, it was a no brainer for me. English was where my skill lay, English was what I’d do. My predefined personality, characteristics and attributes assigned my fate to English, so I walked that path with very little critical thought or second-guessing. The same philosophy applied to the idea of going to university – that was just what everyone had to do if they wanted to get a job, I thought. Everything is predetermined; what is the point in fighting it. It’s a very anti-entrepreneurial approach to life, but it’s easy.

I went to university and studied English. My love for writing essays continued, really. Throughout school and university, writing essays was my favourite part. When I did my MSc in Management at Bath University, the story was similar; my favourite part was writing essays. When I had to write a 15,000-word dissertation, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I finished it with months to spare and got a mark of 76% in it, which is a really good grade for such a large, convoluted piece of work. Despite these signs that maybe writing was something I should try and indulge in more in my spare time, I didn’t. I never really thought that I was naturally good at English because I enjoyed writing, and that was also what helped me in all of the other subjects where exams were largely essay-style questions.

Eventually, I realised that I had actually spent a lot of time writing essays and that it must be at least partially responsible for my level of proficiency. My time at Bath studying for my master’s also showed me that by committing some time to a new subject, I could do well at it too. It was a bit of a breakthrough for me personally.

The mentality didn’t change overnight, and I can’t put my finger on the main catalysts responsible for it changing, but it really has changed. I don’t ascribe it all to the fact that I studied business for a year instead of English; there were lots of things going on in this period. I was maturing and learning more about the world – it was harder to view things through such a simple lens. I remember reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and now think that was a bit of a turning point. He essentially breaks down a list of extremely successful people and discusses how they benefited from not only dedication and skill but also a level of luck and circumstance. It was the first time I’d seen someone paint a bigger picture of success, properly analysing some of the external factors which can play into someone becoming more proficient and successful in a key area.

It is incredibly empowering to believe that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I don’t mean that in the cliche way that teachers or parents would use it. I simply mean that you can ‘do’ something, persevere through the tough stages, and build upon the foundation to a level of proficiency that is better than you would have started at. Early on is usually where you see the biggest improvement in a skill if you stick with it, in fact, so this stage is where you usually see the biggest and most noticeable changes. That was how I felt with guitar anyway. The first few years you improve a lot, but then you hit a bit of a ceiling where it takes a lot more time and effort, to achieve much smaller improvements in the margin of skill. It’s a fulfilling thing, but it takes a while to ingrain in your mind and behaviours. There are days when it feels like a chore, where you question whether you should be bothering and where the overwhelming emotion towards it is that you want to give up.

I’ve quipped to friends that I find the writing I do for the blog to be quite ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. I think this is true, but it may sound more negative than I mean it to be. It isn’t that I’m not proud of the writing on the blog or that I think it is bad per se. It doesn’t really include any ‘characters’ or plotlines, though, making it easy to write. All I have to do is sit down for an hour or two and throw together some thoughts. Sometimes it takes a little longer to write, but generally, it is low-stress, easy writing. It makes it very enjoyable most of the time. It’s sort of like a therapy session; it feels like you have a captive audience simply wanting to hear your thoughts and how things are going for you, or this is how I approach it anyway. It is maybe arrogant to claim to have any audience at all, let alone a ‘captive’ one, but you know what I mean.

Having said this, I had a down period with the blog recently. I had quite a few drafts on the go but didn’t feel I was getting any of them in a place where I was happy to post them. This made me avoid writing because I didn’t know how to progress the pieces I was working on, and I struggled to feel inspired to write anything else with so many drafts in progress. They also contained a lot of ideas that I was really happy with. It seemed a shame to just delete them, but I couldn’t find a way to make them work in a way that I was happy with them. Overall, though, the blog posts are really enjoyable to write, and it is a welcome distraction from everything going on (not mentioning the ‘C’ word).

I’m still learning to enjoy fiction writing. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy any of the time I spend writing it or don’t want to spend time doing it. The difficulty comes in piecing together the narrative, figuring out the best way to portray things, writing the scenes, developing the characters etc. They’re all things that I haven’t tried to do before, and it comes with many frustrations. The whole process really plays into the hands of the critical part of my brain. I’ve always been quite self-critical, and I think I try and hold myself to a high standard. Sometimes you need to just press on for the sake of progress, though, and this is the part I am slowly learning. Instead of fretting over every word, sentence, or paragraph, sometimes you need to just write a thousand words and not care about it until later. That way, you establish a framework to operate in.

My new approach is to write out a plan on pen and paper about who my characters are, the main scenes I want to write and how they fall in the plot’s timeline. It has helped me fight through some of the more frustrating parts of writing, but I have not had a significant breakthrough with the technique. It hasn’t transformed my writing process yet, that’s for sure. I still haven’t finished a single short story that I have started, and the novel has not been progressed for a while. It is all a process that I am learning more about. I already had a lot of respect for authors, but it does give me a newfound respect. When you read a novel and everything perfectly fits together, you don’t think about how that person has built this world from nothing. They’ve agonisingly formed these characters that appear as natural as if they walk and talk in front of you when done well. You seldom see a sentence produced by a character in a book that looks out of place. That is a difficult thing to do.

I sense that my current situation in life (not mentioning the ‘C’ word) provides me with an ‘outlier’ moment. Writing is becoming an important part of my life, and I wonder if there is any way I can make some sort of career out of it. I’m not sure what that would look like, whether it would mean writing novels or doing some form of writing for more corporate purposes, such as copywriting, but I’m hoping I can do something with it. If nothing else, I hope it sticks as a hobby. Yesterday, I found out that my Dear Cancer letter had been accepted by the magazine. It will be in the June edition of the magazine. That will be the second thing I have had published in a magazine, the first being my 206-word story Hunter-Gatherer. These small successes give me hope that I may be able to turn it into something more significant than a hobby, but we’ll see.