I WILL be myself ( if that’s ok with you)

I’m convinced that when I started out on this looong journey of novel writing I was a better writer than I am now. Okay, not better, better but more spontaneous, witty, interesting, full of verve and good ideas. But all of this wonderfulness didn’t add up to a good story which needed to be pared down, edited and put in to some kind of structure.

I guess that’s what ‘honing your craft’ is all about and it’s taken me years to understand why some things work and others don’t. Why a writing friend would cross out great chunks of my words and even long paragraphs ( it only made me cry a little!) and ultimately realise the importance of learning to edit your own writing. Use one word instead of three, don’t repeat yourself by saying the same thing in a different way ( oops have I just done that?) keep up the pace ( wake up- this bit is interesting!) Make it so riveting that your reader can’t stop reading, even though she has to be up at six the next morning, she’ll just have to turn one more page…

So I was learning all of this brilliant stuff, but somewhere along the way I got scared to be myself because all of this ‘how to’ knowledge  was dragging me down in my writing. I would start a chapter and then ponder for ages on which parts of it might offend someone or need to be re-written, which is not a bad thing I suppose- didn’t Oscar Wilde once say; “I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out. …” so I was in good company. But worse was to come (I know, I haven’t learned not to start a sentence with “but” yet!) I think I took on board too much from too many writers, read too many conflicting guidelines and ultimately lost my own way because I was ALWAYS considering my potential readership -but didn’t really know who that was. I tempered my writing so much that I think it lost any sparkle it ever had. I didn’t dare to keep the opening chapter of one novel where the heroine was self- harming in case it gave someone in a vulnerable state ideas, thought that I would never get one novel published as a romance because it had someone taking cocaine,although I loved that particular piece of writing and he was a “baddie” so should have been allowed to be bad. I wrote a humorous piece that had me chuckling, but then read it so many times that I wondered why I ever thought it was funny. I put in a comment about Princess Diana and then decided people might not get it, especially if they were young- so I took it out again.

I was doing myself in being politically correct and trying too hard to be “right”- and it was wearying and damaging and made me lose the small amount of confidence in my writing I had.

I love it when writers say “I just wrote the story I wanted to write.”  That’s all I ever wanted to do. Which is fine of course, if you and Aunty Joyce are the only people who are ever going to read it, or you are a fantastically brilliant writer, and the story you wrote is the one the whole world wants to read. Rather evidently, I am not a fantastically brilliant writer yet and my sister is the only person I now let read my writing (apart from fellow writers) but I am learning to be true to myself, and hope that I am almost there in learning my trade and freeing up my spirit so that I dare to put in a bleeping swear word if I want to (okay, so I’m not quite ready for that yet!)



4 thoughts on “I WILL be myself ( if that’s ok with you)

  1. Hi Jackie
    What an interesting post and I can totally relate to what you’ve said. I too worry dreadfully about what people will think of what I write. If it helps it took me three discarded drafts before I felt my post for the blog was just about OK. And one of the reasons I’m such a slow writer is because I edit and redraft so much before I let any chapter go.
    Thank you so much for sharing this. Hope you’re now well on the way to being true to yourself as a writer.

    • I know what you mean. It is so difficult to let others read your work. I had a hang up about the first chapter! At one point I just kept rewriting it. Now I have passed that, but it is so tempting to go back.
      Also it is finding your own writing voice. And will anyone else like it.
      It certainly gives us food for thought.
      Lorraine x

  2. Hi Jaxx

    What a great post and one which I think many of us aspiring writers can empathise with. There is such a fine line between retaining that sparkle and following the reams of rules that go with writing. I know exactly where you are coming from.

    I posted on a writing forum (but look, here I am, frightened to say its name ‘out loud’ here!) about my plans to send out my first novel, following positive feedback from a critique, but acknowledging that I needed to sort out my tendency to head hop. I got some quite sharp responses saying that, if I hadn’t sorted that out yet, I should chuck that novel in a bottom drawer and write another two or three to learn my craft before I even thought about submitting. However, I had a lovely response from a best selling fiction writer on the forum who said that her first published book was full of head hopping too and that she wished she could recapture that same sparkle, which seemed to have been lost on the pathway to learning all those rules.

    The consensus seems to be that “if you’ve made it, you can break it”, but aspiring writers, like us, are supposed to tow the line. Still, if it’s any consulation, I think that humour, wit and sparkle of yours is intact. Your emails always make me smile. So go for it and we’ll all be ready and waiting to read it when you do.

    Jo x

  3. Very interesting Jackie. I’m sure we all recognise bits of our writing selves here – I surely do. I wonder if everyone has to go through the whole process of questioning whether what we are writing is ‘right’ before reaching a point where we stop beating ourselves up and settle into our own ‘voice’, like some kind of writerly rite of passage?
    In my last novel I had my main character thinking that Brian was a naff name for a man and I’ve been wondering ever since whether I should have picked a different name in case my friend, whose un-naff husband happens to be called Brian, ever gets to read it. She will know, hopefully, that my characters’ opinions are not mine – or will she?!
    Alex, I write as you do, slowly, editing heavily as I go. Sometimes I envy those who can crack on with the story and dash off a first draft by the time I’ve got to chapter 2. I don’t know how they do it, I really don’t. But I suspect I don’t have it in me to write like that so there’s no point in trying to change. The plus side, of course, of doing it this way is that there isn’t nearly so much to alter by the time you get to the end. At least that’s the theory!
    Deirdre x

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