edited: Sunday, August 20, 2006
By Frances Lynn
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Saturday, August 05, 2006
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The Highs And Lows Of Writing
‘Writing Chose Me’ sounds corny, but in my case it’s true . Who in their right mind would want to be a writer? It's a dangerous profession. I certainly feel jittery if my writing isn't going well. Is that why most writers I know are cursed with manic-depressive characteristics? Writing is so up and down. Writers, myself included, tend to feel depressed when their writing isn’t flowing, and euphoric when it is.
In my case, I tend to feel totally elated the moment I finish a writing deadline, whether it be a commission or a self-imposed one. I simply don’t enjoy the actual process of writing, and people who profess to love writing make me suspect they can't write.
Writing is a lonely vice, because unless you are collaborating with someone, and I know this sounds trite, you alone are responsible for getting the ideas in your head down in coherent form on the page/screen. William Burroughs should be admired for constructing his non-linear narration in the classic 'Naked Lunch', which incidentally still seems avant-garde today.
Like most writers, I need strict discipline to actually sit down at my computer in order to write from nine to five. Working during the day suits me, even though I have to stuff my ears with 'Heroes' earplugs in order to block out the noise surrounding me. Unless I'm totally immersed in my work, I'm very sensitive to noise, which is a nuisance as I live in central London. I always have to work with the windows shut in order to block out the sounds of the city. I also like writing in the early hours because it's quiet, but I find that working throughout the night on a regular basis isn't conducive to my equilibrium.
I started writing on an old Remington manual, before progressing to electric and electronic typewriters. I used to puff on 'eighty cigarettes' in those days, and spent most of my working hours desecrating my machines with so much ash from my ever-lit fag, they looked like they were perennially covered in pigeon shit. I was convinced I wouldn't be able to write another word if I stopped chain-smoking my Kools, and was surprised how more productive I became when I finally quit the habit in the Eighties, coinciding with my first computer, an Amstrad. All my journalist friends bought one at the same time, so we were all learning how to adapt to new technology together. When my old relic eventually conked out, I graduated to Apple Macs.
I've written straight onto the screen for years, and just can't imagine how I coped before having a computer. All that Tippex was so messy and when I was writing my first novel, I used to rip out the page and start again if I made just one typo. But, one positive thing about working on a typewriter (besides not getting afflicted with RSI), was having to re-write entire new drafts from scratch, which meant I would be writing the entire novel several times from start to finish. I really got to know my books inside out, even though I was reduced to sticking charts of plot points and characters up on the walls to help me remember the total story.
The one danger I find with writing on a computer is that I tend to edit my sentence before I finish it; it's so compulsive to do so with its copy, cut and paste facilities. Also, using Word is so helpful: for instance, it's so simple to change the name of a character throughout the book in seconds, instead of having to re-write the entire novel like I used to in the old days.
Some writers swear by writing their first draft by hand, but because I've been writing on machines for decades, I can hardly write my own signature, let alone write with a pencil and pad.
I never specifically wanted to be a writer although I've compulsively written as long as I can remember. Even though I loved English at school and churned out original stories without anguishing over every word (I wish I could do that now!), I never fantasised I would try to write for a living, even though my weird short stories were accepted by the school magazine.
I‘ve kept a diary on and off throughout my life, and have now religiously kept one since 1982. It’s not full of introspective drivel, but is a factual account of my daily life, i.e. where I’ve been, whom I’ve seen and who said what to whom, that gossipy kind of thingy.
I didn’t write my first unpublished novel until I was twenty, and similar to most first time authors, it was libellous. My then boyfriend lived in the basement of a famous artist's house in Powis Terrace, Notting Hill Gate. Notting Hill is now gentrified and is one of the most expensive areas in London, but when I lived there it was a slum. The tabloids called Powis Terrace the dirtiest street in London at the time, but I didn’t notice sinking my high heels into the muck as I was totally immersed in writing my book.
In those days, I would rise at dusk and crash at dawn, hanging out in the artist's basement during most of my waking hours. Each dawn, just before I went to bed in my little flat across the road, I typed up the evening’s proceedings, using fictitious names for all the original characters I met in the basement. Looking back, I suppose my writing effort could have been called faction. The only person I allowed to read my work-in-progress duration was my ex-boyfriend who was intrigued to see his life thinly disguised, although he wasn’t happy with his accurate portrayal.
I find reading, especially re-visiting the classics helps my writing a lot. Fortunately, my school had a well stocked library, so I read 'everything'. One of my favourite books in my youth was Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Vile Bodies’, which inspired me to become a gossip columnist.
When I did start writing a bitchy gossip column for David Bailey's 'Ritz Newspaper' years later, I found the time to simultaneously write a new draft of my unpublished novel. I showed this version to some publisher contacts and agents I'd made through being a prolific freelance journalist. Although, I received some encouraging rejection letters at the time, I decided to put the book aside for a while.
Journalism focuses on meeting deadlines, which is very useful when it comes to writing. If someone, let's say, commissions me to write something in a week, I can do it. However, when I once worked on Fleet Street as a diary writer, my editor relentlessly chided me for polishing my prose excessively. That's the luxury of being a writer. You can perfect your craft by polishing and re-writing your stuff as much as you want to, unlike journalism, which doesn't allow you to wait around for inspiration to grab you.
And, that's another thing. I never wait for my subconscious to dictate me what to write like some deluded newbies do, but know that in order to write, I have to sit down at my desk and physically key-tap. From experience I know that writing, like most artistic gifts really is ninety per cent perspiration, and ten per cent gift. It's no use being talented if you're not prepared to work and develop it. That's abusing your gift.
I re-wrote 'Frantic', my novel several times over the years and when I knew I had finally finished the book's final draft, Eiworth Publishing offered to publish it, as well as 'Crushed', my illustrated teen fiction book which took me only a short time to write.
Writing chose me but I have to make sure I work at it daily. If I don't write something, even for a day, I feel peculiar. That's why I'm currently writing another novel, a screenplay and a collaboration on a TV series, and that's just for starters.
Copyright: Frances Lynn 2006