Monday 12 December 2011

What I Told The Students

I was recently asked to give a seminar to some creative writing students on the subject of being an author. Fortunately this is one of the few subjects that falls within the limited area of my expertise(1) so I wandered across the river to Twickenham and faced up to a terrifying collection of ridiculously fit and healthy young people.

This is what I told them. None of it's particularly original but hey it's not like you're paying for this stuff.

1. You Must Make Time To Write
The world is full of people who say they have a book inside them but fortunately for us professionals only 0.001% ever bother to write the fucker down. If you don't write you're not a writer and if you can't find time to write then you obviously don't want to be a writer.(2)

2. You Must Complete What You Start
If you find that you've written the first ten thousand words of more than three novels then you should seriously consider switching to short stories. The first bit of a novel is like the first bit of a bridge - you have to start somewhere but without the rest it's a waste of time(3).

3. You Must Become The Arbiter Of Your Own Work
You cannot rely on other people to validate your work. You must learn to judge the quality of your own writing for yourself. The best way to do this is to read some writing that you find substandard and ask whether your work is better than that? High art is all very well as an aspiration but clarity and readability(4) make a good solid floor.

4. Your Must Experience The Wider World
You need to constantly expand your experience of the world. You can do this through travelling, reading, talking to people, visiting places or just using your imagination to create new places, people and situations. This is one of the most important aspects of being a writer without which you will never transcend the narrow confines of your own life(5). Make a point of learning the names of everyday objects, readers can get away with a vague sense of a lintel but you need to know for certain so you can use it properly.

I could probably bang on about all these subjects for many more pages but there's paid work I'm supposed to be doing so that's your lot.

(1) The other subjects are; shelving, watching TV and... nope that's pretty much it.
(2) Obviously this applies mainly to people living a 1st world lifestyle.
(3) Or a diving board.
(4) Unless you want to win the Man Booker of course.
(5) I don't know about you guys but if I found my life interesting I wouldn't be writing about other people.


pbristow said...

...And now, to what brought me to to the keyboard:


Dear Ben,

I feel it is important to point out to you that you have violated the sacred trust between Author(TM) and Reader(TM). Or at least, between authors in general and this particular reader.

Y'see, the primary reason why, at 2am on a chilly night, having failed to get to sleep by any other means (and believe me I've tried a few), I pick up a book, is this: To be lulled (at long last) into *sleep*.



What I'm looking for is something that will sufficiently engage my higher mental faculties to just such a degree that (barring emergencies or weirdnesses such as a lorry in the adjacent builders' yard suddenly deciding that its most fervent desire is to toot its horn... intermittently... without human intervention... ALL - DAMN - NIGHT!!!), they will not be distracted by, say, the itch of my eczema, or the slight twinge of the patch where someone drew my blood yesterday for testing, or the thump of my upstairs neighbour's feet as he goes to the loo for the 7th time tonight NO I DON'T KEEP A LOG WHY DO YOU ASK; but which will also *not stimulate* them to any degree that might, shall we say, encourage the continuation of actual *consciousness* beyond the minimal necessary timeframe. Thus may be achieved, with the minimum of fuss or medication (prescribed or otherwise), a state of somnolence conducive to the actual, eventual waking-up-at-a-sensible-time-tomorrow of the reader.

With that in mind, it should be obvious that guffaws of laughter - especially those of such intensity that they trigger the cough reflex to a surprisingly productive degree; even though they may in fact be conducive to the eventual eviction of the Overly Lingering Dreaded Lurghi(TM) and the consequent return to full scale productivity of the reader as a valuable economic unit within society - are not the required response, and should therefore not be triggered if at all possible.

And with that in mind: "Moon Over Soho"? You are now *GROUNDED*, until daylight!


Ben Aaronovitch said...

I find audio books are perfect for this. My favourite's are Stephen Briggs reading Pratchett (very soothing) or whoever it is reads the Bujold books.

pbristow said...

P.S. What I mean is, it's a jolly funny book. =;o}

pbristow said...

I've just finished reading page 291.




I'm terribly worried about Molly.

She lives in world that is "ruled" (for want of a better world) by two males. Two males of the classic type, i.e. who's response to any "odd" display of emotion/behaviour on the part of a female is to shrug in bafflement and conclude "not my problem".

Of course, what this normally means is "Not my problem... Because she'll do far better discussing it with her female friends." And thus the human race manages to survive such callousness on the part of its males.




But as far as I can make out, Molly *has* no female friends. Or friends of any stripe that intersect her existential situation on any of the levels of (a) gender, (b) (genetic) species, (c) "thaumaturgical envelope".... Dammit, I want to go for the jugular and say "ethnicity", except that I suspect "ethnicity" is merely the "noughties/tensies" equivalent of what gender was in the 60s/70s, and genetic disorder/abnormality was in the 80s/90s... =:o\

She's going through something that can only be understood by her own kin. And her own kin don't exist.

Her closest friend is a *male dog*, fer chrissake! And even he abandons her for the mere mention of a possibilty of sausages.

Being the comic background character really sucks! =:o{