Writing about Writing

You’d be forgiven for assuming Darrow would launch it’s new ‘Fiction Corner’ with a piece of fiction. That, after all, is what it is all about. On a website that is predominantly focussed on non-fiction writing this section really is a small corner for the fiction writing aficionado, one that we hope grows to be of the same size and quality as our other work.

Nevertheless, we have a slight problem. I need to summon up the courage to publish the first effort. I’ve dabbled before, but not to the same extent or ever as publicly as my non-fiction portfolio. I’m reminded of Mel Gibson’s speech in We Were Soldiers: “I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off.” So it has to be me.

Now, I’ll be honest with you: sometimes I get a little ahead of myself. Sometimes I put ideas in practice before they’re fully formed. I made the ‘Arts Corner’ without having anything substantive prepared for immediate publication. It’s annoying me that it’s laying vacant, but it’s become too intimating after all this time.

Yet as with all things, something positive does eventually come from something menacing. Musing about the skill and art of writing is just as important as writing itself. The former needs to be tempered, it cannot be the beginning and end all of the process otherwise it becomes such a straitjacketed way of seeing writing that your ideas will never appear. The two must go hand in hand, and by quite some accident we now have our new ‘Writing about Writing’ blog.

I’m not obfuscating. Not deliberately, anyway. Even if I do feel just a bit like the student who writes a procrastinating polemic on the travails of university while a dissertation deadline hangs over them like the sword of Damocles (I was that student, but it was a bar and there was no writing but drinking counts, right?).

For years I struggled with writing. And that was non-fiction writing. I had a suspicion I could write, or certainly had a thousand ideas racing in my mind, but I always had trouble bringing them out or became so obsessed with each line and every thought that very little actually ever got done. I remember when I was writing on politics as a means to accrue experience for political/public affairs jobs that I would jump from café to café and pub to pub getting more hyper and more drunk in my bid to get something down. I thought it would lubricate the mind, but as a former subscriber to the Hemingway-Hitchens technique, I am sorry to report that the practice offered limited results.

Looking back, it’s laughable that it took coming to Spain to find out how to do it. Because my time is so limited I discovered in some Newton/Fleming/Doc Brown moment of accidental euphoria that not having time, and not sitting town to plan what to write, is the best method to write at my best. Squeezing moments in, having the thought and hanging onto it and desperately scribbling or typing on phones or work laptops in my spare moments is the most conducive method to squeezing out your thoughts.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry,” said Burns. He was right. I felt like I’d confessed my sins the day that I admitted to myself that having a free weekend to sit down and write was utterly meaningless. I could never do it; the motivation was off the mark because there was no immediate time pressure that honed the thoughts by necessity. Sitting, blank page on Word on a Saturday morning (once the coveted end all of a week) or sitting in a pub, was like staring into an empty field. Grabbing ideas and throwing them down, on the other hand, was like those contestants that went into the money booth on Noel’s House Party and had to grab as many 20s as they could in mere minutes.

Some of the happiest memories I have are typing away on my Granny’s typewriter. She collected me from school and looked after me when I was knee-high and continues to do so this day (anyone that tells you that Grandmothers and grandchildren change is lying, even though my journey back from school is on a plane now). I still bang on a keyboard at hers, but this time, it’s my own and for years it was with university, then with CVs and then with articles and now when I go back to visit. Then as now each keystroke is a fleeting idea, produced with haste and with love and then with a keener, more considered editing eye. Ironically when I was younger it was fiction that I loved to write and if I really stomach the courage then one day I’ll publish an early piece on here.

I have an appalling memory, each word and sentence, each argument and opinion, really is fleeting. Some, usually the special ones linger and go round and round like a frustrating earworm until they are put to paper and laid to rest. When ideas float around and you hear them they sound like a grand peroration, the words to end them all and be the full stop to the English language. The last word. It’s a tad hyperbolic, even a bit egocentric, but if you don’t believe in yourself to write your own idea then no one is going to do it for you.

I remember a primary teacher telling my Mum that ‘Alastair has all these ideas in his head but cannot get them down his arm in time’. It’s still true, but I’ve learnt to compensate. To the amusement of my pupils I can type without looking at the screen, but perhaps that’s as much to do with growing up with years of speaking to friends on MSN Messenger as well as writing and Darrow now. There’s always a way.

Fiction, as with non-fiction, endures the same beginning and hopefully the same end. I think it no coincidence that I’ve seemingly been ‘too busy to write’ (but have the time to write non-fiction). I’m putting it off, but I have the ideas. Nerves are perhaps the reason, but most likely it’s because it’s such a new territory whereas non-fiction has become the beloved hobbyhorse that brings me great joy.

Until then, fiction seems like a stalking behemoth, circling in the dark and it won’t stop until it pounces with a good idea when I least suspect it. I suppose I should just get on with it.

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