Creatively Speaking

My happiest and most satisfying moments as an author are when I find out readers enjoy(ed) my book(s); and I suppose that’s no shocker. Still, being “liked” is not everything; I began writing for publication six years ago perhaps wanting to please somewhat too much. You learn: you are never going to please every reader.

[A bookshelf in our lounge. Photo by me, this morning, 2019.]

And then there are other writers. Recently one apparently from Los Angeles followed me here on WordPress – for about five minutes, and then… disappeared. I had had no idea who he was, but, ah… I got an email that he had followed me, so I had a quick look at his pages and his social media.

Whatever his reasons were to follow and then unfollow me within literally minutes, which doesn’t usually happen on here (it’s not Instagram), I noticed he too writes historical fiction. Was he just having a “nosey” around on my site here and accidentally clicked follow and then scampered off? Quite possibly.

If you are new to writing, this may be useful to know. In the last year of his life, my uncle had warned me that not every writer out here is going to “support” what I do or be a friend. Indeed, he said, I would run into some real duds (he used another four-letter word, starting with “f” and ending with the plural “s”); that there is a lot of petty jealousy in the writing game. Recalling that here led me to remember this I wrote last year, and I think it is worth revisiting:

The term “passive-aggressive” may well have been coined by someone observing a jealous author reviewing another’s work. Having years ago encountered some of my uncle’s “fellow” writers, I never forgot what pompous and self-important individuals some were. I recall overhearing more than a few chats that went a lot like this:

Mike: “I read Lynn’s new story after she asked for input. I don’t know where to start. I’ll be nice, though. But God…”

Uncle: “She’s alright. She’s better than me in lots of ways. I can’t spell for s-it. Sylvia always tells me that.”

[Later, after Mike had gone home.]

Uncle [to me]: “Known him years. He’s an okay guy, but can be such an a-shole. She writes fine, better than him. I think he’s always just pissed off she’d never sleep with him.”

Thus why I am wary of creative writing “buddies’” support groups. Writing fiction is an art form: everyone will do it differently and some will just do it more artistically than others; it is not an algebra equation with only one answer (after you show your work). I don’t think writing fiction well can be “taught”; there are just too many variables involved beyond grammar. (And the seeking “self-assurance” from every direction is especially damaging. I won’t now go off again on a blog diatribe about the dopey expression “beta readers” and getting “opinions” from all and sundry on a rough draft. If you are interested in why I feel that way and disagree with that, I explained more in an earlier post, here.)

If you are a reader (regardless of what you like to read), and you have completed merely a basic secondary education (in the U.S., that is high school), and in doing so sat through a couple of English grammar and literature classes, I believe you are fundamentally capable of writing a novel. What is required beyond that is a subject, the passion to attack it, and those life “intangibles” that feed and drive what you write and make it your own. For instance, we spent much of Sunday out walking and wandering around nearby Biggleswade. Yes, really: Biggleswade

[Photo by me, 2019.]

…and a writer never knows when such knowledge and experiences will prove useful. So you file it away in your head.

My uncle went to university only a year or two and dropped out, so some twenty years later as I recall he took a couple of creative writing courses – at some local college – early in his writing days. He ended up eventually teaching creative writing and literature two decades after that BECAUSE in the intervening years through hard experience he had become a reasonably successful published author. In my twenties, I was wowed at whom he knew and what he did (although I hated to show that to him): he was, gosh, a real author. He even met Sir Sean Connery!

However, in turn he once shocked me when he claimed he was envious of my formal university studies; had he stayed in university he felt he would not have needed those writing courses. He believed university taught me a discipline in writing papers and theses for critical review. It also exposed me generally to a far wider “knowledge base” than he had had (outside of his law enforcement knowledge which of course was another world to me). And while he traveled some, I was a foreign traveler in a way he was unable to be. So to make up for a lack of a “formal” higher education and (foreign) travel, he was a voracious reader; his houses were always STUFFED with books.

And the bastard he loved to try to impress my (girl)friends:

[Excerpt from Passports, paperback. Photo by me, 2019.]

I have an advanced degree in history. That qualifies me to teach history; it doesn’t mean I know history “officially,” or inherently more than you about everything deemed “historical.” Similarly a writing degree is probably best if you want to TEACH writing; but (in my opinion) don’t let anyone get you believing you must have a creative writing master’s degree just to write a book, or that your book is intrinsically better, or you are “officially” now an author, ONLY if you have one.

Remember Jane Austen, for one, certainly did not possess any degree; she barely even set a foot in what we consider a school. Her “writing training” was mostly having been an avid reader and in writing stories, and reading them to the family in the evenings as entertainment. Her father eventually was so impressed he sought out a publisher to try to sell her tales.

Becoming an author is not to be confused with training for a profession. It is not to be equated with becoming a doctor or a lawyer. What makes an author is having the courage to write for an audience that includes people beyond your mum and your best friend you have never met and seeking payment for it.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are reading and writing. 🙂


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