Category Archives: – Quotes from people wiser than me

Mission: First Draft. Complete.

IMG_1632

“Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.”

Nicholas Sparks

Joy, relief, apprehension, excitement, yadda yadda yadda.

It may have taken a little longer than anticipated but Draft One is complete. You can’t see me but I’m lying on my sofa having just done a little celebratory dance (picture this: flailing arms, lanky legs pumping, shoulders jiggling. I always stay classy).

Written by hand, in pen, on paper – and transferred to my computer every 30 or 40 pages. Written in a form of free verse that I believe in 100% but still doubt my ability to pull off. But most importantly, written.

I once wrote a post in which my main words of wisdom were: ‘If you want to be a writer then write.’ That’s advice worth following – but recently I’ve struggled. As I got close to the end of my first draft, I started looking for a new job, then I got a job, and it’s a busy job, and my focus shifted, and I wanted to write but I didn’t write, and I didn’t blog, and then I said to myself ‘If I want to be a writer then I need to write’, so I wrote, and now I’ve finished my first draft, and it feels good.

But there are no laurels to rest on. I’m already looking forward to the second draft – to the re-writing. And trust me, it’s going to need some serious re-writing!

For now I’ve put the manuscript away. It’ll stay locked up for 3 or 4 weeks…. ready to be looked at with fresh eyes. I can’t even remember the last time I saw the first page so at the moment I’m mostly just hoping it isn’t completely shit.

And in the meantime I have two other projects that I want to devote some time to – so they’ll be getting some love and attention.

Just time to reminisce with a pointer back to my first ever blog post, which was an early excerpt from the novel.

Now, for one more arm flailing dance…

Stuff that inspires me: # 5 Gil Scott-Heron

The revolution will be no re-run brothers,
The revolution will be live.”

Words, heart, politics, anger, clarity. Teacher. Leader of a revolution. And most importantly, soul.

He began as a poet. Then he put beats to his beats.

He sung about things that mattered… politics, race, addiction, war… but he spoke to inspire not to incite hatred. He often spoke with sadness, but also with optimism. He inspired a generation, or two, and he also inspired me.

With a voice so rich and smooth, so wise and full of wit, I’ve always found it easy to be in awe of Gil Scott-Heron. And his final note was a perfect one. ‘I’m New Here’ (2010) was recorded just a year before his death. It floats and it rolls, it looks back and draws strength from hardship, and is as relevant and beautiful as ever. At only 28 minutes, it doesn’t need to be a minute longer.

“Home is where I live / inside my white powder dreams,
Home was once an empty vacuum / that’s filled now with my silent screams,
Home is where the needle marks / try to heal my broken heart,
And it might not be such a bad idea if I never / if I never went home again.”

– From ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’, Gil Scott-Heron

Authors who look like their writing: #5 Will Self

13_will_self

This edition of the series was nominated by Mame from http://writemybrainsout.wordpress.com/I’m always up for taking suggestions so please shout if you want to nominate an author to be featured.

“What excites me is to disturb the reader’s fundamental assumptions.”

– Will Self

When I lived in Stockwell (South London) I would often pass Will Self, cycling with his kids, as I made my way to the Tube station on the way to work. Self is one of those ‘famous’ people who I could feel proud about living round the corner from. If he lived there, then it was clearly an area fit for creative types who bucked against the establishment and forged their own unique path. In addition, his writing gave the impression that he might just be a little unhinged. Excellent. Yes, this is someone I was happy to share a neighbourhood with.

He’d be so happy to know that.

But it’s the writing that makes the man – and I do believe he exudes the way in which he writes. He takes the everyday and twists it. He perverts it. He exaggerates the absurd and often ties it up in fantastical and surreal worlds. He’ll satirise pretty much anything and he’s happy to make you squirm. And that’s an author I want to read.

Authors who look like their writing: #4 Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

“My entire career, in fiction or nonfiction, I have reported and written about people who are not like me.”

–       Tom Wolfe 

Considering that the above quote is from the man himself, it may seem strange that I’ve chosen Wolfe for a post in which he’s supposed to look like his writing. But that’s who he is: an outsider looking in. An observer. He’s always one step, very clearly removed from the action he reports – and keeping his distance is one of the things that makes his writing so insightful and true. It’s also what can make it so cutting or full of awe. He’s never been a writer to deliver the most subtle of messages but he’s massively entertaining… brash, fun, exuberant… his writing is zapped with fiendish humour.

Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff are two of my favourite books. I like to think of him standing in front of a fireplace with a glass of champagne (or probably a fine scotch) in his hand, regaling a room full of people with tales from those books. Hmm, maybe I need to stop imagining all of these fantastical meetings with authors and get a move on with my own book…

The loneliness of being a writer

DSC_0771

“What the budding artist needs is the privilege of wrestling with problems in solitude.”

– Henry Miller

A writer’s world can be a strange one: we desperately try to find moments of solitude but then, when we get it, often struggle to adapt to the loneliness.

The truth is that writing can be a lonely old business. It usually needs to be. And different people cope with that in different ways. What’s important is that we choose and embrace this solitude rather than feeling powerlessly cut adrift. I guess that’s the difference between solitude and loneliness.

I actually like the solitary nature of writing – but I’ve found that I’ve been at my most productive on writing retreats, where I’m surrounded by other writers. In it’s own way, this is still isolation: in a house in the middle of nowhere, with no distractions and nothing to do except write from morning till night. It’s inspiring to feel the energy coming from the other writers in the group – that was the additional motivation I needed – but I still had to find my own bubble to write in.

There’s also the ‘no-one else understands’ loneliness. Oh yeah. If you stick your head out the window right now you’ll be able to hear that wail from a thousand heads looking up from a thousand keyboards.

And it is true. It’s highly unlikely that anyone else (except other writers) will understand exactly what it is you go through every time you sit down in front of a blank piece of paper, knowing that you’re embarking on a process that will take months, if not years, to complete. Not only won’t anyone understand why you do what you do – but they may not understand what you end up writing either!


It’s not so easy to fit all this in to our day-to-day lives. We crave the moments we manage to find for ourselves: after work, before work, at weekends, when the kids are out, on that weekend away, on the train. And it’s never enough. But then we make the time and guess what?

1. We procrastinate

There’s always that friend you meant to email, the youtube clip you meant to watch, the washing-up left in the kitchen sink, that thing you had to do that you’ve been meaning to do and you should probably at least look in to how you go about starting to do it.

If only someone would ring on the doorbell, you’d invite them in for tea and cake.

And sure, you want to build up a social media profile, to update your blog regularly, to make contacts… but if you haven’t made peace with the solitude and put the time in to your writing then the other stuff is all for diddly squat (is that even a phrase or did I just make it up?).

Seriously, just ‘suck it up and get on with it’. If you want to be a writer then write.

I guess this is now a tough love post!

2. The pressure, the pressure!

We’ve found the time and the space to sit with our pen and paper or at our keyboard… but what if the words won’t come? What if everything I write is shit? It’s making me crazy!

You know what? Seriously, just ‘suck it up and get on with it’. If you want to be a writer then write.

Ok, I know I’m being harsh. There are plenty of techniques and exercises to help get the words flowing – I’ve suggested and discussed a lot of them since I’ve started blogging. But being a writer is tough, no matter how much we love doing it or how much we feel that we have a story that needs telling. We need to learn to make friends with solitude and be hard on ourselves. Think of it as a privilege to do what you’re doing, not a chore, no matter whether your friends or family understand. For me, it’s all about being continually surprised and excited by what I’m writing… and if I can stay in that place then I’m a happy man.

(Photo by me)

(One day I’ll learn how to write a structured article)

Stuff that inspires me: #1 Paul Thomas Anderson

Slide1

Everything is open to interpretation. That’s the beauty of things. There’s no right way or wrong way; we take what we can from what we experience. This series of posts is about the stuff that inspires me. I’m not trying to convince you – I’m just brain-dumping some fanboy love on to the page. Not everyone will agree. That’s ok.

For me, Paul Thomas Anderson is a writer/director who is absolutely dedicated to film-making as art. That doesn’t mean that he makes pretentious, inaccessible films (well, not to me) but, in a world in which movies have too often become disposable, brainless and fit for the lowest common denominator, Anderson produces work that strives for greatness. I love the scale of his ambition and that he paints on huge canvasses – although he handles big set pieces and under-stated gestures with the same skill.

Yes, he’s flawed… of course he is. Of Anderson’s most recent film, The Master (2012), Roger Ebert said, “In its imperfections… we may see its reach exceeding its grasp. Which is not a dishonourable thing.” I think I liked The Master more than Roger did, however I do agree that it’s ‘reach exceeded it’s grasp’. That’s undoubtedly a fault – but it’s actually something I also love. I always want a film-maker (or any artist) to risk failure, to strive to produce something brilliant and better and better and better than to settle for mediocre or safe… or worse.


Part of this is the way that his stories don’t only live through characters or styling or location but through the framework he uses to tell them. In Punch Drunk Love (2002), he told a story about the craziness of being love by making a film that was itself insane and disorientating in every way. There Will Be Blood (2007) is a movie about greed and power, based around the volatility of California’s oil wells at the start of the 20th Century, which rumbled along with a frightening build-up of tension and energy before gushing to a raw, unpredictable finale.

I think that actors like working with him because of these things but also because he clearly treats all of his characters with care and tenderness. This doesn’t only shine through in those that we can more easily root for, such as the naïve, eager-to-please Eddie Adams in Boogie Nights (1997) but also in characters like Daniel Plainview, the tyrannical, power-thirsty oilman in There Will Be Blood. Each is crafted, looked after as they grow and sent out in to the world with love.


That’s how he managed to pull Tom Cruise’s career-best role out the bag in Magnolia (1999) – which is a great, great film. He gave us the unexpectedly brilliant performance that it now seems Adam Sandler was always destined to deliver in Punch Drunk Love, and he brought us back a great Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights.

Anderson is a painter, poet and storyteller. His work is brave and ambitious, it’s epic and intimate, he makes me question things I thought I already knew and he makes me want to do better, better, better myself. When I walk out the cinema having watched a Paul Thomas Anderson film, I feel as if there really is a genuine opportunity to do what Neil Gaiman told us to always do: Make. Great. Art.