Saturday, 5 September 2009

Don't Forget To Write

Back in the early-mid 1980s my life was so very different. It was a time of high unemployment in the UK (a phenomenon we're sadly witnessing again today) and I was in a 'sink or swim' situation. Eventually a lifeline came to me through writing, after I'd bombarded the editor of a provincial Sunday newspaper with so many articles, he eventually invited me to lunch. I suspect this was his way of telling me thanks, but no thanks. However, in the event, he invited me to write a 13 week series that lasted almost two years.

During this time of personal discovery my confidence was at an all-time high. I wrote a stream of letters to various authors and playwrights I admired, often with the inclusion of the request...'would you take a look at my work please?'

Of course I was pretty 'green' then and would have settled for compliments when I should have been looking for constructive criticism. All these years later I know that to produce writing that's worth its salt you have to accept that the percentages are probably in the region of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. You have to GET ON WITH IT!

I was so naïve, but then my naivety was probably the key to my confidence. I was running on that 'have-a-go' spirit that we so often see in our grandchildren. I had no fear of failure. From where I was, what did I have to lose?

Yesterday it was announced that one of those authors I admire had passed away. Keith Waterhouse's reply to a letter I sent him around 1984-85 still resides in my copy of his wonderful 'There is a Happy Land'. It reads as follows:

'Many thanks. I hate to say this but no. I don't have the time – my working day, finishing a book, is about 15 hours at present and you can imagine how much I want to read a MS after that!

But writers are the worst people to show work to – the people who publish writing are publishers. You write the book, you send it on its way, and hope that one of them will take it – that's how it's done, and I don't know of any other way. And if they won't take it, you write another. Hard life, isn't it? But that's how books get published. Good luck.'
  Keith Waterhouse.

Thanks for the reality-check Keith.

As it was, I denied my natural inclination to continue writing and opted instead for academia, where it dawned upon me, after a decade or so, that I was now, with a few exceptions, surrounded by people who lived in fear of failure.

Since taking early retirement I have been encouraged to write once more, and for the first time in years I feel as though I'm back on track.

What advice would I give my three beautiful granddaughters? Use your talents and be prepared to go wherever they lead you. Don't ever get talked out of that 'have-a-go' spirit.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

6 comments:

  1. 'Having a go'is certainly what Blogging is all about. Thanks for commenting on my blog this morning, and can I say Hi! to a fellow 'Hampshire Hog'.... How on earth did we end up with a name like that? Any idea?

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  2. Hi Jinksy. Thanks for dropping by. In answer to your question, the HCC website says:

    Francis Grose in "A provincial glossary" defined the Hampshire hog as a "jocular appellation for a Hampshire man; Hampshire being famous for a fine breed of hogs, and the excellency of the bacon made there."

    Well I think we've both probably learned something there!

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  3. 'Have a go' is a pretty good piece of advice for anyone, any time. But certainly for writers. You just can't beat practice ...
    June in Oz

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  4. Hi June, thanks for dropping by. Yes, I've always tried to encourage anyone who expresses a desire to write. Though, often, what you can't get across is the sheer hard work involved in producing anything half-decent. You're so right about practicing, something that applies to learning any craft.

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  5. I always wanted to be a writer. I dabbled in poetry, short stories and column writing, with very modest success. I finally realized that the crucial thing for me is the act of writing, putting the "best words in the best order." That's Coleridge's description of poetry, but I think it works for all writing. Of course, an audience is nice, but I don't have to publish a book or win accolades to enjoy my writing life!

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  6. I totally agree with you Susan. Writing has to be for the writer first and foremost. Tight deadlines and too much compromise can stifle creativity.

    A friend recommended that I look at the Authonomy website, where new authors can have their work on display and (sort of) peer reviewed. I know a couple of people who have had some success with this but it's not for everyone...including me.

    Thanks for your comments. Keep writing and do drop by again.

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