Graft

I am not special. I am not a genius. My characters don’t keep me up at night, conversing, nattering, telling me their life stories. I am one of nature’s grafters, trying to compensate for my lack of natural talent with hard work and a furrowed brow.

Writing is an unusual thing. Take a glance at Twitter, or do a search for author quotes: I’m betting you’ll find in short order quotes on the lines of ‘writer’s block is when your invisible friends stop talking to you’; ‘I don’t create, I merely eavesdrop of the voices in my head’. I’ve been reading about the phenomenon of voice-hearing and it makes me rather sad that I don’t seem to have this faculty. I’m sure I used to. Somewhere in the last ten years I lost it.

I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake. I’m just a middle-aged white cisgender male who has yet to achieve anything worth singing about. I have no Muse – which is decidedly not the same as inspiration, of which I have plenty, thank you very much.

On the other hand, I have got things done. I have written seven novels, some of them worth the effort of creation. It’s been a strong contention of mine that too much attention is given to the nebulous and unexplained phenomenon that is ‘genius’ and not enough to the achievements born of submersing oneself into a field and working damn hard. I say again: I am a grafter. I’m proud of that.

All these awards for ‘best first novel’, ‘best first writer’; shouldn’t we also celebrate the most improved novelist? Can’t we tell more from a third novel than a (possibly) flash-in-the-pan debut? Can you sustain the pressure? Can you make a career out of an artform?

I’m not grumpy about this – or at least no grumpier than I am about the rest of modern life. I’m merely musing Muselessly. But I’d be very interested in your experiences. When you’re writing do you hear your characters talking to you, telling you what to write? Or do you have to poke them with sticks and lead them by the nose to get them to get off their fat asses and act?

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Visions in the storm

“But you’ve got a vision.”

If a vision was all it took I’d be a rock star by now. All those years writing songs in my head – I had a vision. But I’m still sitting here behind my computer churning out words for a handful of people to read.

Until the software is developed that allows instant transference from brain to world an idea is not enough. Other skills are needed, be they technical (knowing how to play an instrument) or collaborative (knowing people able and willing to do the playing for you).

A story is perhaps the easiest thing to transfer from mind to reality. We are, after all, taught how to write at school. Computers are all around us. The skills required to either hand-write – because you can still pay for people to transcribe a longhand document onto word-processor – or key in a story are basic and more or less universal. Music, on the other hand, is an order of learning higher.

And so is art. This is my vexation. I have another vision: to design the perfect cover for my own work. I have the image. The idea is real, to me; real enough so I can sketch a design, a rough idea. But taking that from outline to finished project is, at present, beyond me.

These days a writer is not just a writer. They also have to be publisher, designer, accountant, publicist. Some of these skills will come easier than others – but they all take practice, application and, most of all, time: time that could be (better?) spent honing the fundamental skill of writing. I am impatient. I want to get on. I want to write. I can’t afford Photoshop, let alone apply myself to going through the tutorials form rank beginner to competent amateur. I don’t need to be a professional, but I need to create the illusion of professionalism.

A vision isn’t just important, it’s essential. Nothing can be achieved without that shining idea of a final outcome. But don’t mistake an idea for the finished product.

Vision + inertia = nothing.

Vision + graft = result.