I have a confession to make: I haven’t always been a writer (like the title doesn’t give that away!). I realise this may sound a little silly but telling myself this as I often do opens up a whole semantic minefield. Like, ‘Dave, what do you mean by always? What do you mean when you say writer?’ For the purposes of this post, lets just say always means ‘not until after my teenage years (like, wayyy after)’ and writer means ‘writing fiction entirely of my own volition (and not what Teacher instructed).’
So why did it take so long for me to put finger to qwerty? Well, I’m a huge believer that experience shapes the way we in which see the world and how we try to make sense of it. We’re not pre-destined to live certain lives. Experience makes the world go around for all of us. I also believe the paper clips of experience needed to unpick the locks hiding whatever desires and/or abilities lying dormant in our minds are not readily available. Looking back through my childhood, I know if I had read more fiction – genre or otherwise – that lock would have been unpicked long ago. As it happened, up until the age of twenty-two, other than texts set by my English teachers, I struggle to remember a single work of fiction I’d read. It’s one of the biggest regrets I’m ever likely to carry to the grave, but hey-ho!
In March 2003, that lock was unpicked having been persuaded by an old workmate to read Orwell’s 1984. Something clicked inside me. I felt an exhilaration I never thought possible. I read it again (and again after that, I think). Then I moved onto other dystopias: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and We by Yevgeny Zamyatin spring to mind. Then I branched out into the wider sci-fi genre, even some non-genre. About a year later I decided I wanted, no, needed to write. Something in my mind was triggered and all I could think of were a flood of different ideas. I procrastinated for a couple more years before I started writing my first novel, which I gave up on two thirds of the way through owing to the fact it was unmitigated shite…but necessary. I realised then I needed to learn the craft, to listen to those who knew what they were doing.
And it was around then when I came across that most horribly exclusivist of words: ‘innate’ – and we’re suddenly back to the whole pre-destination thing. According to some of the ‘how-to’ authors, good writing is innate and cannot be learned. That’s right, cannot, can-not, c.a.n.n.o.t be learned. Sure, learning the craft could help, but this was supplementary rather than integral. But writers are ultimately born with ability; it’s just the way of the world. As you can imagine, I found this greatly off-putting. I thought ‘Christ, Dave, why waste your time pursuing something you didn’t give a shit about until you were in your twenties?’ Had I missed that literary boat? I started visualising a circle of self-satisfied, self-assured ‘writers’ looking down at me laughingly, poking me with their big ‘innate’ sticks. Compounding this insecurity, I lost count of the amount of author interviews I’d read where he/she lovingly and nostalgically recalled how they’d been writing from a very early age. *Another visual klaxon: kids just out of nappies scrawling their first bestsellers using naught but crayons!* It was all just so frickin’ depressing.
But…the urge to write never faded. The dam around my mind had been burst. How the hell could I replace the concrete to stem the tide? And anyway, I’m notoriously crap at DIY, so…
Since joining the SSFFWG two years ago, my writing has come on leaps and bounds – no exaggeration. More importantly, however, the group has convinced me once and for all that the art of writing is something that can be learned. Life’s experiences are what you make of them. No-one has an inherent gene that screams ‘WRITER’. If there is anything innate about writing it is, in my most humble of opinion, the desire, the need, the urge to tell stories to the world. But that innateness was hidden from view. I needed a trigger, an experience to take away the blindfold. For me, reading 1984 was it.