Thursday, 23 May 2013

The navels of others

FACT: 43% of all novels have a protagonist whose employment relates in some way to writing.

Give or take some numbers, that's approximately accurate.  I have been known to audibly groan when I open a book or watch a trailer for a film which features a daring diarist in the title role.  It shows a wearisome lack of imagination in the author and I think it's fair to assume these are author insertion characters.  What's that?  Your book's about a reclusive writer living in the woods who happens to become embroiled in a dangerous mystery which results in him sleeping with a beautiful, much younger woman?  Can he be played by Johnny Depp?  (Don Huan deMarco, John Wilmot, Hunter S Thompson, J M Barrie, 'Mort Rainey') Ugh.

The thing is, I heartily recommend that writers spend a lot of time doing stuff that's more interesting than writing.  Get a career that's completely unrelated.  Jump outside your comfort zone.  Hang out with some Tories.  If you have sex on a Saturday night, shake things up and do it on a Tuesday lunch.  Then, on Saturday night, eat something which isn't attached to your partner.  Go to a lecture.  Watch something on TV you've avoided in the past.  Read a shit newspaper.  Listen to atonal free jazz. Examine someone else's navel.

Much of writing consists of not writing.  Look around.  Think.  Read.  Think.  Think some more.  Have a great idea.  Write it down.  Think some more.  Discuss idea.  Change idea.  Think.  Look around.  Read.  Think.  Think some more.  At this point you might be ready to write.

Never feel guilty because you haven't written.  If you spent your whole life thinking and looking around then wrote one really beautiful thing, that would beat a lifetime of sitting at the desk and hammering out novels about Johnny Depp's beard.  Wouldn't it?

(I am aware that the insertion of the photo detracts from my final point)


Colin Davies said...

I agree with the Tag, and I agree with the looking around, though Hunter S Thompson is a bit more than just a writer writing about being a writer.

To observe is to know, and you should always write about what you know. So in essence, you are always writing.

Cool post. Now, I wonder if I can Johnny Depp to play me in my latest screenplay. "Colin Davies babe magnet and the zombie spies"

Ashley R Lister said...


My current wip is about a writer at a writers' retreat. My last non-erotic title was about a murder mystery at a writers' circle. The last non-fiction title was a writers' guide to writing.
Then there was the erotic title about the librarian charged with tracking down a copy of de Sade's nefarious unpublished masterpiece.

I am a wearisome lack of imagination, aren't I?

Great post,

Ash :-P

vicky ellis said...

Colin, I think the 'write what you know' quote gives the impression that writers should stick to their current frame of knowledge. Actually, it should read 'If you don't know, find out. Then write about it.'

Ash, controversy and a plug. Clearly this post was an elaborate ruse to boost your book sales. Readers will disagree with me and head to Amazon for a copy of Death by Fiction.

Jim Murdoch said...

I recently watched all of the old Ray Bradbury Theaters having never seen them when they were originally televised and it’s striking how often the protagonists are writers of some sort or other. I am also guilty but only the once: the protagonist in my third novel is a writer but as the whole book is a metafiction he kind of needs to be. I don’t mind if the protagonist in anyone’s book is a writer if his being a writer is relevant. I like to read books where a writer, albeit a fictional one, is talking about his craft in the same was I enjoy poems about poetry. The subject matter isn’t the problem; it’s how it’s handled. At the moment the character I’m writing about is a writer. I knew what I was doing when I made him one—although I’ve yet to decide what kind of writer he is—but because he’s interacting with an historical figure who was, amongst other things, a writer it’s a way to find common ground. All that may change. The point I’m making is that I made the decision to start him off as a writer for a reason not simply to capitalise on my work experience because I’ve had quite a varied career path and, to date, I’m not sure I’ve drawn on any of my precious jobs in my fiction. I’ve never believed that writers should write what they know. I think we should be writing about what we don’t know but what we’re interesting in learning about and that’s the jumping off point for all my writing, not to tell stories. Writing is as valid a subject as any other. I don’t have it in me to write a textbook on writer—there’re probably enough of them kicking around anyway—but there are definitely aspects of being a writer that I’m curious to explore through my fiction.

Tommi T Kekola said...

Vicky, there's no copies of Death by Fiction on sale at Amazon. (or they just sold out?) :( Hmm, I wonder if anybody made a snuff film called Death by Friction?