I’m convinced that when I started out on this looong journey of novel writing I was a better writer than I am now. Okay, not better, better but more spontaneous, witty, interesting, full of verve and good ideas. But all of this wonderfulness didn’t add up to a good story which needed to be pared down, edited and put in to some kind of structure.
I guess that’s what ‘honing your craft’ is all about and it’s taken me years to understand why some things work and others don’t. Why a writing friend would cross out great chunks of my words and even long paragraphs ( it only made me cry a little!) and ultimately realise the importance of learning to edit your own writing. Use one word instead of three, don’t repeat yourself by saying the same thing in a different way ( oops have I just done that?) keep up the pace ( wake up- this bit is interesting!) Make it so riveting that your reader can’t stop reading, even though she has to be up at six the next morning, she’ll just have to turn one more page…
So I was learning all of this brilliant stuff, but somewhere along the way I got scared to be myself because all of this ‘how to’ knowledge was dragging me down in my writing. I would start a chapter and then ponder for ages on which parts of it might offend someone or need to be re-written, which is not a bad thing I suppose- didn’t Oscar Wilde once say; “I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out. …” so I was in good company. But worse was to come (I know, I haven’t learned not to start a sentence with “but” yet!) I think I took on board too much from too many writers, read too many conflicting guidelines and ultimately lost my own way because I was ALWAYS considering my potential readership -but didn’t really know who that was. I tempered my writing so much that I think it lost any sparkle it ever had. I didn’t dare to keep the opening chapter of one novel where the heroine was self- harming in case it gave someone in a vulnerable state ideas, thought that I would never get one novel published as a romance because it had someone taking cocaine,although I loved that particular piece of writing and he was a “baddie” so should have been allowed to be bad. I wrote a humorous piece that had me chuckling, but then read it so many times that I wondered why I ever thought it was funny. I put in a comment about Princess Diana and then decided people might not get it, especially if they were young- so I took it out again.
I was doing myself in being politically correct and trying too hard to be “right”- and it was wearying and damaging and made me lose the small amount of confidence in my writing I had.
I love it when writers say “I just wrote the story I wanted to write.” That’s all I ever wanted to do. Which is fine of course, if you and Aunty Joyce are the only people who are ever going to read it, or you are a fantastically brilliant writer, and the story you wrote is the one the whole world wants to read. Rather evidently, I am not a fantastically brilliant writer yet and my sister is the only person I now let read my writing (apart from fellow writers) but I am learning to be true to myself, and hope that I am almost there in learning my trade and freeing up my spirit so that I dare to put in a bleeping swear word if I want to (okay, so I’m not quite ready for that yet!)