Writers must take risks. My current risk is about looking at my work and seeing where an echo of myself can be found in all those words. I have just read an article about the British writer Will Self. I admire his work and although some see him as a maverick, I think he is one of our best writers today. You can read the article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/05/will-self-umbrella-booker-interview
In the article, written by Alan Hollinghurst, Will says: “I don’t really write for readers… I think that’s the defining characteristic of being serious as a writer. I mean, I’ve said in the past I write for myself. That’s probably some kind of insane egotism but I actually think that’s the only way to proceed – to write what you think you have to write. I write desperately trying to keep myself amused or engaged in what I’m doing and in the world. And if people like it, great, and if they don’t like it, well, that’s that – what can you do? You can’t go round and hold a gun to their head.”
In my world, I am at that stage as a writer of novels, where I would quite like to hold a gun to the heads of my readers and force them to read and review my work. Because without their opinions, their reviews, their discourse about my book, I cannot know if I am really a writer, as opposed to a purveyor of useless words, strung together with inappropriate punctuation. But, I must concede, that as writing novels is a new process for me, I have thought about my readers and what might amuse them, for a novel is entertainment, however high or low brow it may be, isn’t it?
A diary is written for oneself, isn’t it? But, many diaries become published and many writers use the genre to write books – Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend or The Diary of Samuel Peyps. There is one thing they have in common, however. A diary is someone’s inner world. It’s the closest you get to opening a door in someone’s forehead and stepping inside. This applies to a diary that is a work of fiction. The writer enters the mind of the character. But I guess, all writers do that? My characters become so real to me, I could name them in my will. They are part of an extended family that I will never abandon. In fact, I am probably closer to some of them than I am to my real family, at times.
At the moment, I am having second novel-itus. That means, I have started the book and have got stuck at page 42. Didn’t that wonderful writer Douglas Adams say in his book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that 42 was the secret of life? I always get stuck at page 42. Is that saying something to me? Will I find the secret of life if I just get past that page?
Could it all come down to rampant self-criticism? I either berate myself too much or too little. I’m either furious because the last 42 pages look like utter crap or they read like the Bible or I am convinced that the book, when I get past 42, will make me a million. A hearty walk in a stiff breeze is the only answer. Writing is a painful process. Now, I sound like a martyr. I say again, it’s painful. Why? Because you are alone. You are easing the story out of yourself in a a process that can leave you empty, (any allusion to private functions is purely anecdotal) You have no one but yourself to turn to for approbation or contempt. Of course, you can read every page to a friend, lover, spouse or the postman, but it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will say it’s wonderful. After all, we like to please.
To get a real and unbiased view of your book, you must treat it like a wound and allow it to be poked, prodded, picked at and have the skin removed, layer by layer, till the offending wound is down to the bone. Then there will be suggestions that will include operations, dissection, amputation, possibly a complete turn-off of the life support system. You may have to go back to a very obscure synapses at the centre of your brain and start again.
That’s the risk writers must take. If you put your mind on a page, someone will spread jam on it, you mark my words.