You know, when you think about it, writing is probably one of the few things in the world that we all assume we’ll be stark bloody geniuses at until we sit down, put our mitts on the keyboard and look at a blank Word document. After all, doesn’t the saying go that everyone has a book in them? Personally, I agree with this one, although I think there needs to be some clarification:
Everyone has a book in them... sometimes it’s easily obtainable somewhere around the brain or chest region. Sometimes, sadly, it’s lost somewhere in a mire of toe jam and extraction would more than likely perpetuate lasting psychological damage.
It’s the extraction (or excavation) of that book that I want to talk about today.
You know that conversation writers have with each other about not having the time to write, not having the readers that appreciate them, not having enough reviews, not having a high enough Amazon ranking?
You haven’t had this conversation, playing the part of either party? (I know I have).
You’ve obviously not been trying hard enough. Off you go. Put a bunch of writers together and this one’s going to pop out of the wood work at some stage and I think it’s natural that it happens. Kind of like puberty.
After having the “it’s haaaaaaaaard” conversation a bunch of times in recent years, I’ve come up with a few theories about this writing gig. Bear with me. I’m about to unleash a simile. It won’t hurt too much. I promise.
Writing is like riding a bike in that everyone thinks it’s easy but it’s really not.
Pert-bottomed cyclists don’t hop on a bicycle for the first time and expect to win the Tour de France. Nope, they toddle up to a bike with training wheels that prevent them from splatting spectacularly and work up to the whole two-wheeled shebang. Even then, it’s still going to be a while until they’re zooming along wearing bollox-baring Lycra pants and pretty colored jerseys.
It looks easy to anyone who’s not doing it, but when you haul yourself onto the contraption to learn, you’ll inevitably end up injuring yourself. You’ll fall off, get bumped, bruised, endure sniggers and abuse or frustration from other bike riders in the neighborhood until, one day you finally work it all out. And even then, once you’re pedaling away, victorious, knowing you’ve mastered something that looks so bloody simple for others, you’ll still get a sore arse from sitting in the seat for so long. (Sound familiar, writing people?)
There aren’t any shortcuts, but there’s a whole lot of asphalt to graze knees and elbows and bars to create embarrassing social or child production problems. Oh, I’m sure you could bring up steroids and try to unseat me but my mighty simile still stands and here’s why: Biking dudes still have to get good enough to compete. They’ve got to learn to ride the damn bike, learn how to work out so all that hormone juice can work on their mighty muscles.
What professional cyclists don’t do is sit on a bike in their driveway for the very first time, howling to the universe that they don’t have a yellow jersey. Or they might… and if their mum is nice, she might knit them one… good ol’ mum.
Anyway, enough with the cycling, let’s bring things full circle.
Let’s say that our conversation partner’s book is their first. They’ll still be learning how to write and if they’re smart, they’ll still have their training wheels on, which in this instance would be an ability to accept critique, a willingness to learn and an acceptance that they’ll be bumped and bruised. It’s natural that they’ll be kersplatting a little, that they’ll be getting agent rejections, negative reviews and shitty Amazon rankings.
Training wheels come in many shapes and sizes for a writer. They might be professional editors, kind friends, straight talking critique partners, a whole lot of self-introspection, even harsh sounding reviews and, the funnest part, a huge amount of reading in one’s genre. Who wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to buy a whole lot of books to read for fun (ahem, learning) and then what about the joy of trying to convince the tax department that they’re a legitimate tax deduction. Exciting!
Oh, and I’m sure that you’re thinking of some mythical writer out there somewhere that managed to hit it big with their first book. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got a couple stored away in your mind that you bring out whenever you want to give yourself a sound thrashing.
Well, bollocks! That’s just what their publishers and marketing people want you to think. Nope. It might be their first book, but how many redrafts, how much help, how much writing did they do beforehand on other things? Just because you never saw them learn to write doesn’t mean they didn’t have to do it like the rest of us. All they’ve done is hidden their training wheels.
So in short, respect the training wheels.
Enjoy the learning process more. There should be a celebration of the whole learning thing. We need the writing equivalent of those little coloured clacky things that used to go on bike wheels and handlebar streamers (some kind of learner stationery). Because, the good news is, once you learn how to write, like riding a bike, you’ll never forget. (Although you might still have the odd hiccup like this poor Irish gentleman.)