writers

‘One Does What One Is’: On Being a Writer

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A writer. I’ve always wanted to be one – and I’ve always berated and belittled myself for not being one. Well, enough is enough: I’ve decided to stop punishing myself. Not because I’ve suddenly had some success (I haven’t) but because I’ve had an epiphany: I’ve been doing the being all along.

Three decades have passed since I penned my first stories and poems. In that time I’ve spent countless hours scratching away at paper and screen, chiselling out words, some long, none lasting. Instructions for a long-lost game. A script for a sit-com. Stories and essays, experimental and conventional. Blank verse and worse. More unfinished novels than you can poke a pen at. Truly, my slush pile runneth over…

And what do I have to show for thirty years of scribbling? Not much, it seems. A thousand dollars (spent long ago) and the pleasure of seeing four stories in print. A poem pinned to a tree. A piece highly commended in a competition. A book I published myself. Blogs seen only by other bloggers fishing for followers. Not a lot to boast about, really, and yet part of me is proud – especially as I’ve rarely sought publication.

Success is overvalued anyway. Praise, I’d argue, is a prison in which we are condemned to repeat our performances until we come to despise them. As Malcolm Lowry wrote after his novel, Under the Volcano, was published: ‘Success is like some horrible disaster/Worse than your house burning’.

Failure brings freedom – a consoling thought.

Even so, I’ve given up writing dozens of times without ever kicking the habit. I still scribble almost every day, in my journal, on a blog or this year’s novel. I simply enjoy the act too much, despite (and perhaps because of) its difficulties. To me, writing is like a game of solitaire; I deal out characters and their quandaries from a deck of possibilities and see if I can put them in order. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. The result hardly matters; the play’s the thing, as Hamlet says.

Of course, it’s not all fun of a fleeting variety. Writing leaves me with something more lasting: a body of work that adds shape and substance to my physical self, that fleshes out my store of meagre memories. My writing is a record of my doings and beings; it’s my history. I am truly a man of my words.

‘One does what one is; one becomes what one does.’ So said Robert Musil, a writer remembered for his influential and yet unfinished novel, The Man Without Qualities.

Unfinished? That’s good enough for me.

[Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay]

Signature Moves (Authors and Their Autographs)

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I’ve been writing – my signature not my novel.

Too many writers, I’m told, suffer from autograph-induced RSI, all because they didn’t simplify their signatures before stardom arrived.

Not I.

At the start of the session my head spun and my arm ached; signing my name was like clinging to a roller-coaster. By its end, though – well, more of that in a minute.

Some novelists made the move early on. Hemingway’s autograph morphed into cross-hairs, while Jonathan Franzen flattened his out so he now signs with a stroke.

Here’s food for thought: we’re told to sign on the dotted line but what if one’s signature is a dotted line?

I’ve always wanted to write about a character who forges his own signature. Some kind of murder mystery?

My new autograph looks like an arrow. The only way is up now that I’ve streamlined my signature.


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Erring Authors (Writers Not Readers?)

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What’s in a word? A lot, maybe, if it’s the wrong one.

Yesterday a friend found a typo on an author’s website. Not just any author but one whose works are ‘critically acclaimed’. (That’s good, right?)

And not just any typo but one that would make a ten-year-old wince. (‘An writer’?)

Our reactions were different. Concerned, my friend sent an email to the publicist. I was merely amused – ‘schadenfreude’ is too hard to spell – so I made a joke about authors being writers not readers.

Several literary lions, though, struggled with spelling. Jane Orsten, Agatha Kristie and E. Scott Fitzgerald – none of them could spell to save themselves.

As for Earliest Hemingway, possibly the worst orthographer of all, he would remind his editors that it was their job to get his spelling right.

Which is why, I suppose, writers are ‘authors’ and not ‘orthors’.