What may become apparent the more I do this blog, is my harping on about defying convention and overcoming self doubt.
This is not to say I think myself a success or an example or above others opinions on writing, or that I believe I know enough of the rules to consider myself able to break them at will.
But, in my own writing, the biggest limiting factor in being productive, is my own self doubt, and not considering my work good enough: It doesn’t look right. There are too many commas. There are too few commas. Too many of the paragraphs start with He / She. Etc. etc.
It puts me in a funk where I lose interest in getting back to the story. I want to edit. I want to re-write. And then that task seems too daunting and I inevitably return to surfing Facebook.
Because of my job and social life I often don’t get much time to physically read books. Most of my “reading” occurs through listening to audiobooks. Which I love as I can maintain my love with the written word and creativity and it helps me wrap my head around the rhythm of prose and what I want to take / or leave from the writers and narrators in defining my own voice.
The problem with this is that when it comes to writing, you lose some of that perspective gained from seeing other writers’ work on the page.
At the moment I am in Brazil on holiday with my girlfriend who is touring with her band Napoleonic (shameless plug: check them out!). On the way here I decided to download an e-book version of one of my favourite author’s latest books – Perfume River by Robert Olen Butler.
Now as a bit of a preface, Robert Olen Butler is a Pulitzer Prize winning author from Florida USA. I first discovered him when I was searching for stuff on YouTube under ‘Creative Writing’ and found his ‘Inside Creative Writing’ series.
This series was recorded in 2001 not long after the World Trade Center tragedy and is a thirteen part thing where for 2 hours each night, six days a week for two weeks, Robert writes a short story from scratch and you watch the entire process. He introduces each video and explains what he is doing whilst he writes and answers questions, and for me this was and still is the biggest inspiration and help for me in my writing.
In his series you see that someone at that level of writing starts off not dissimilar to you or me. At the start I found myself watching and saying to myself “what? That writing is terrible!” It looked like amateur hour. But as things progressed, and I saw him edit and re-write and read aloud and debate with himself on how much he had used the word ‘had’ in a paragraph. It turned into calming magic that made me want to write and write and write.
I went on to listen to three of his books: Hell – A Novel; Mr Spaceman; and his Pulitzer Prize winning work, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. I loved all of them in spite of each being vastly different books both in tone and in style.
On this trip, I wanted to actually read whilst on my way here so I downloaded his latest novel – Perfume River. And reading this, as in seeing the words on the page, once again just inspired me so much to get back to writing.
It wasn’t because the work was perfect and I wanted to aspire to that level. It wasn’t because it reminded me of my own story and I wanted to get back to my own tale. It was because of all of the things I saw in his writing that everyone tells you is wrong. And in reading his work, I didn’t care!
I went onto Goodreads to check it out a little more and not one person (neither those who liked or those who did not like the novel) mentioned problems with the actual writing.
He often uses full stops where you would expect commas. He uses italics liberally. His sentences are fragmented. He makes liberal use of new lines for pacing. He writes many short sentences and many very very long sentences. He uses ‘and’ to connect what would normally be separate sentences into one beautifully poetic long sentence and has you resolving in yourself subconsciously where to breath and pause and linger and contemplate. He does not hesitate starting many sentences in a row with ‘He’ or writing something like:
He closes his eyes.
He opens his eyes.
He wants to say something, but he says nothing.
He waits, silent. Unsure of how she might see him, should he say how he truly feels.
And in reading his words on page, I realised I saw a lot of the things I was doing in my own writing as part of my natural process, but I had become accustomed to this being wrong that I had wrung myself into frustration from continually trying to have this perfect image of a sentence. A perfect flow. A complete lack of repetition, and definitely no repeated sentence introductions.
And seeing his words on the page (and also skim reading some other novels in the airport book shops) freed me into being able to re-enter my writing, and actually helped me appreciate my own writing style. And the words that a few days ago had appeared terrible, now looked half decent.
So now I sit in the lounge room of our lovely Brazilian hosts, Betch and Persio and not only feel amazing writing this blog and being in Brasilia but I feel excited to get more writing done!
Ola from where I am now 😀