Being a Writer – The Reality Bruce McCorkill
Being a writer can be extremely satisfying and rewarding, but also mentally draining. Before I started writing, I thought people just sat down and wrote, letting their creativity skilfully weave a story. But now I know differently. It is not something anybody can simply sit down and easily do. A gifted few may have a wondrous natural flair to produce lovely readable writing, but I am discovering by sad experience, that writing is largely a type of craft or trade. Something that requires careful learning and practice.
Take for example, constructing a piece of fine furniture, say a chair.
You need to start at the end. To have a vision of the final product. Then it needs shaping and refining with your tools, until finally it is ready for display.
Yes – the vision of the artisan industriously toiling away over a piece of timber, bringing gleaming honed tools from the battered toolbox and skilfully using them to shape the piece and bring the vision to fruition, is an appealing one.
But for the writer – this is only a wistful fantasy. Because our toolbox exists only as a tenuous space in our mind, walled by our past experiences and future hopes, and lidded by our visions. Our box is certainly crammed full of tools such as plots, story lines, characters, tenses, place, grammar, form, styles, nouns, verbs, adjectives, punctuation – and so on.
The problem is that the writer’s tools, by which we hope to transform our vision to useable product – generally won’t perform and behave like obedient tools should. They all compete and want more than their fair share of the action. The carpenter’s tools realise their master will be steadily producing furniture of all types; they know they will all be used at some time, so they have learned to patiently wait their turn. But our tools have learned by bitter experience that we may at times work like fury and produce worthwhile pieces, then we tire and stop, then we half finish a piece, or produce a piece that is not worthy of a good tool. Sometimes we burn out and have a long break, with our tools lying dormant in the box, getting rusty and blunt. So, naturally enough, as soon as the lid opens, they clamour to be used. They have learnt the lid may not be opened again for a long time.
The big tools – plots and stories aren’t too bad – big lumps of timber, they know they are the foundation of our chair, and have to be used. They realise they will be hacked about by the sharper tools, but patiently wait to be hauled out of the wood shed. The other main tools – verbs and nouns, also know they are indispensible as the form of the piece. Characters aren’t too bad if you can keep them under control; they have a mind of their own and want to decide how they will fit into the piece. Often you find a big knot of a character which just won’t be planed smooth and you have to threaten to chisel it out. They also know that as the story progresses they can subtly suggest ways to improve their status, so they bide their time. They also know that as you become more frustrated with your product, they will have the chance to be more and more outrageous.
It’s the rest that are hard to control – the place wants the chair sitting in the middle of some exotic island, instead of a shop, the tenses either want it to be some old period replica or some futuristic design that you can’t even sit on. The semi colons want the arms roughly bolted on rather than being a flowing glued seamless joint. The full stops act like sharp saws and abruptly cut the legs short, while the commas compete to act like hinges and want to join all parts up to convert the chair to a long folding door. The tacky little inverted commas want the chair to make a ‘statement‘, while the exclamation marks always want to make the ends of the arms and legs stand out dramatically and make a point. They just have this need to be noticed.
Then, when you think you have a well constructed comfortable chair, and start to put the tools away, the dreadful adjectives suddenly realise they have been left in the box. They start demanding to be hammered into the smooth edges – to make them stand out vividly. I try to reason with them, explaining that this one is only a simple functional piece, and that if I ever make Franco Cotzo imitations they will be extensively used. I can’t stand them – they are just cheap imitation brass knobs and shiny sharp tacks.
Finally, I have had enough, I am exhausted, it will have to do. The tools get shoved back into the box – still complaining, and my piece gets a final rub of oil and onto display. I’m not convinced it’s totally completed, but my tools have beaten me.