Can you try too hard?

To not give maximum effort goes against conventional wisdom. To try your best, fail, and try again, and only give up when there’s nothing left – maybe at the point of death. But what does that mean in the process? Perhaps it means living with an obsession, letting it rule your life if not your time; shaping you into someone who, while viewing yourself as focused on a goal, is seen by others as self-isolating, or maybe even selfish (or likewise self+ words). Anyone who is trying to make it as a successful writer will understand this single-minded drive. It is your life’s purpose, everything you do, hear, read and experience in whatever way can surely feed The Writer, influencing all future creative endeavours.

But how about simply letting go?

I tend to obsess about things as a matter of course. Often trivial, it might be something I’ve lost: such as a door key I was certain had to be somewhere nearby in the house, or that pocket radio I lost in my back garden. And then only recently when for no particular reason glancing down on the ivy-covered end of lawn just behind that chair I last remembered seeing it on, there it was! So obvious – its little white plastic case and headphones in tact. But surely I’d already looked there? Had looked everywhere else; had put way too much time and effort into finding this old radio I could easily live without. The same kind of thing happened with the key: only after I’d finally resigned myself to not finding it, even got another one cut, suddenly – of course it had to be there!

So perhaps you can focus too hard or too narrowly on a goal.

Trying for perfection was what ultimately put me off art: the painting/drawing was never finished. The same is near enough true for my novels. And also thinking I’d never put enough work into selling them to an agent, despite that in-depth synopsis and overall summary and theme, expounding my grand scale ambition and inspiration behind it all; how what they’re getting is the complete package – the novel, me and the irrefutable potential therein. I mean, how could they possibly reject me after all that?

I don’t want to make an argument for being careless or mediocre (though so much mediocrity has been successful) or not giving your best. I just think there’s something to be said for taking a step back and seeing it’s not so vitally important; or just getting away from it, maybe when the work is becoming frustrating. Easier said than done though, from my experience! But that is accepted advice in the creative stage of writing – ideas often coming when you’re not trying to think them up.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)


Is it all material?

The most commonly quoted advice, write about what you know, is often open to misinterpretation. I’m not entirely sure how much it refers to personal experience or general knowledge. But it’s generally accepted that experience of life is a good thing for a writer. That is, going out and travelling as much as possible, and just living. But should there be limits?

There have been times when I have forced myself to go on risky holidays where things haven’t worked out as I’d hoped. We’re not talking any life-threatening adventures here (I could happily brag about trekking along the Amazon or Gobi desert were it true). The only things truly threatened were my sense of morality and bank balance. Possibly this has helped my creativity, given a better perspective on my writing. Possibly.

I wonder, as a writer, the way of dealing with things that go wrong is different; you process them differently. Maybe it takes a while, and then: I could incorporate that experience for one of my characters. Even in science fiction, in my view good sf, you should bring something of contemporary life into whatever future. After all, it’s all about transposing … and it’s probably something I should have done more of. I’ve tended to avoid autobiographical writing in previous years; it had seemed somehow self-indulgent. But I guess there is always a way to finesse that into fiction.

It is said that the best writers are often the most troubled. Not an observation I entirely buy; I know of some seemingly very well-adjusted prize-winning authors. Maybe, though, writing is a therapy in itself, and without it those authors would be wrecks. Certainly with a novel in progress I seem to be at my most contented, even if there’s no knowledge of it ever being publishable. Otherwise writing this blog comes a close second. But without either would problems and worries become insurmountable? Well, I wouldn’t want to test that.

However you get there

I think most writers develop rituals for their creative work. Even the most rational can harbour a superstitious belief that sitting in a certain chair, a place, or even wearing a particular type of clothing will summon that creative genie. Well if those things worked before…

There are of course the ultra prepared who have their novel all mapped out before they even begin the first chapter; they know the story arc and roughly how its going to end. These tend to be the more prolific writers who can churn out a novel a year, and start early morning writing for five or six hours a day every week day, without fail. They are often successful. And though many of those have their quirky rituals, that’s the only thing I share in common with them. From the outset to right near the end I had no plan of how my novel would finish. I’d be ensconced in my shed with an old netbook and have no idea of how to move the story on, just staring at its little screen. Then somehow the next scene would come to me, and a sentence became a paragraph, became 500 words. Reaching 103,000 words really felt like an achievement (though still, a lot of rewriting to be done!). In short, I found the best way to keep making progress is to put myself in a situation free from distraction where there is nothing else to do but write.


Here’s a link to the first few pages of The Captured that have been edited (but subject to change).

And there’s links to other samples of my writing on Scribd.

Where does it come from?

It’s a mysterious thing, the creative process. Truth is, I try not to analyze where those ideas come from, otherwise it can feel like the spell is broken. Most often, though, there are subliminal influences from the myriad of media we ingest and somehow it gets distilled down into a seemingly original work. I’m not even sure if anything is totally original these days.

However – and this blog will now take a darker turn – an idea can truly come from the unconscious (or subconscious). Almost never does a dream translate into a coherent narrative, much less a story; they exist with a different set of rules to the logic of reality: the surreal, the inconsistent is accepted. But on one Saturday morning I had a dream that was clear and vivid. I watched – like a movie – someone planning an atrocity, a man angry at the world and how it had treated him and his kin. So all a bit dark, and seemingly random at the time. Still, I couldn’t get it out of my head and had get it down into a story to see if it made sense. Well, it did that evening after hearing the news reports of the atrocities in Pakistan, Iraq and of course Kenya. I had a different take on it in my dream/story. Of course, as humans we look for connections and patterns where there are merely coincidences. So I’ll leave it to you to decide.

My short story: