Don’t wait for God to put his hand on your shoulder—unless you’re the Virgin Mary—that’s not going to happen any time soon. Start writing now. All you need is you.
Yes, I procrastinate, which sounds like masturbate, or maybe only to my sick mind.
Do something you enjoy with yourself without the need for paper hankies. Having a sick mind is an advantage, because you’re going to have to tell lots of lies. That’s what fiction is, without having to be elected American President. But the nearer the truth your lies are, the greater virtue you create for your characters. Believable characters must roam the land like prehistoric dinosaurs, leaving behind a trail of disruption.
Conflict is where your characters live. If someone else mentions that you must kill your darlings I’m going to hunt them down and treat them to one of my readings. Sincerity is what you find in yourself when you’ve nothing else left. Buried treasure unearthed and you’ve been forced to share again and again until it becomes boring.
Worthless treasure isn’t treasure. Fool’s gold is easy to find. It’s on the page in that first draft. Your eyes glitter. You open the swag bag, ready to pile in the awards.
Forgive and forget yourself. Write like a dog running after sticks. Slabber if you like. Nobody cares. Don’t let your smooth baby brain slowly harden into a border guard. You just need to get that stick to mix metaphors with it and beat back your inner critic. You need to get words on a page pronto.
Don’t interrupt yourself with somebody else. When you’re having an affair of the heart, the worst thing you can do is pick up your phone. Listening to the siren calls. That’s like saying ‘I do’ at your wedding, then sloping off to fuck the entire front row, and some of the back row too. We don’t want to seem too picky. We want to be nice. Yeh, we’ve all done it. Social media owns us, but not completely—yet.
You only live once, but in writing you can live as many lives as you like. You can do what you want, you can be what you want. Being believable is Sir Gawain setting out to find the Holy Grail. It will always be over that next hill. You’ll make mistakes. Go the wrong way. Other knights will challenge you to duels. Chancers will spring up and tell you they know the way, the true path, all you have to do is follow them.
Imagine being like Ted McMinn (the Tin Man), the Rangers’ winger, who wrong-footed himself and wrong-footed defenders by not knowing himself what he was going to do with the ball next. It doesn’t matter. I played football for over forty years and was rotten. But write as if every game matters, because it does at the time—I’ve not got the medals to prove it—and it might be your last. You need to turn up, with your three quid dues in your hand.
My characters aren’t rich or famous. I’m not going to be rich and famous either. And I wouldn’t know what to do with it, but I might feel less guilty about leaving the bathroom light on overnight and wasting electricity. I’d still be guilty of causing global warming and deforestation in the Amazon, before Amazon owned the world.
Take responsibility. You know your work is finished when you can’t bear to look at it one more time. You’d rather spit it in someone’s face and apologise for how terrible it is. Given half a chance you’d be quite willing to sell out to a huckster with a shivering monkey on his shoulder turning the handle for an organ grinder offering peanuts, and then by sleight of hand taking them away.
Humility and humanity don’t rhyme except in the heart. There’s nothing wrong with you when you listen and see. When you don’t listen, you don’t see. Buddha is just a jade statue of a fat guy sitting about doing no work, while you’re banging away on the keyboards ready to produce The International New York Times bestseller that everyone really needs to appreciate now.
Pour yourself into who you are and your writing, not what others think you should be. Writing is meant to be fun, but I played football mainly in the rain and freezing conditions and on gravel parks that took away the skin of my legs and scarred me. I’m not going to say I loved it, but when I think about it now, it makes me smile. I am going to say I loved it, because I can change my mind. I can therefore claim maturity, even wisdom.
Writing gives you a sense of achievement. For a somebody that’s nothing much. We’ve all heard it before, the media figure that lists their achievement then at the end adds, blithely, I just thought I’d write a book.
We all know about Alexander the Great visiting Diogenes with inked parchments of his International New York Times bestseller tucked under his arms. And Diogenes asking him to stand out of his sun.
Yes, us writers own the sun, moon and are but fragments of stars. Get your parchment, pens or keyboard out and make great use of them. Do it now.
The world doesn’t need another post-script—but here it is.
You’ll be a lot better prepared for existential questions like when a neighbour, Frances, was complaining that her grandkids got too much, and that children in Africa haven’t got any toys, or even enough to eat:
Alfie (aged seven) said, ‘Doesn’t Santa go to Africa gran? You said he goes everywhere’.
It’s your job, as a writer, to make sure Santa gets to Africa. Write on.