Evolution Of Style
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Actually, I’ve been a writer for around 40 years. (I started young!)
But more than that, I always dreamt of being a published author. Not so much for the fame and fortune – although obviously a steady monthly income from my books would be very welcome.
No, my main motivation has always been a love of making things up. Inventing places and people and situations is one of my favourite forms of entertainment (alongside food, travel, drinking, reading etc). I can devote hours to speculating and pondering: in fact, I spend far too much time thinking about stories and not enough actually writing.
I definitely don’t want fame – not the celebrity, face-in-the-newspapers, kind of fame. What I want is to entertain. Maybe provoke. Inspire people to do something new or look at the world in a slightly different way.
I want to give readers a story or an idea that enables them to escape into an alternative reality: to enjoy some vicarious thrills with me as puppet master. And once it’s over, I’d like my audience to sit back and think ‘wow, shame that’s over’ or ‘that was intriguing’.
I suppose what I’ve craved over the years is recognition. For people to think of me as someone who can create memorable, original stories that move the reader in one way or another.
Trouble is, being a good writer isn’t that easy.
In my early 20s, I became a trainee journalist, working for an old-fashioned weekly newspaper in the town where I’d grown up. Immediately prior to that, apart from fiction, the only writing I’d done was essays on politics and sociology for my degree.
Making the transition to newspapers was a challenge. Instead of waffling on for thousands of words about different ideological theories, I had to boil the who, what, where, when, how and why down into a newpaper report of a few hundred words.
That was tough enough. But some years later I found myself on a daily paper in Plymouth. By this time I was writing news stories of the same complexity in dozens rather than hundreds of words.
Now – depending on your genre – brevity isn’t everything. But what I learnt was that a standard of writing that was okay for a little local paper didn’t cut the mustard on a city daily with frequent deadlines and a lot more pressure.
Writing fiction is the same. What’s okay for a school assignment probably won’t earn you any literary prizes.
I moved house recently and, as mentioned in a previous post, unearthed a box full of old manuscripts and notes. One folder contained a number of short stories written in the early 90s.
I was very proud of those stories at the time. I even sent some to various small press magazines. But looking back now I feel slightly embarrassed and not at all surprised they were rejected.
They’re not terrible. Some have good concepts and nice turns of phrase. But. Overall? They’re simply not good enough. With the benefit of hindsight – and a bit of dispassion – I can see that much of my writing was overly wordy, badly edited and clumsy in both execution and design.
I guess that’s one of the advantages of the years passing: I’m able to look at my younger self’s writing and see its strengths and weaknesses. My stories had promise. But they weren’t good enough: not for publication and not for my current standards.
There is reassurance to be had though. Those old stories offer a kind of yardstick. I look at them and know that I’m a much better writer than 20 years ago.
And, yet again, it emphasizes the fact that becoming a good writer takes work. I’m still learning – and hopefully my peak is to come.
On the other hand, I am now a published author and have had some good reviews. (Some excellent, some good… and some not so good.) Each good review is such a milestone. When someone I’ve never met takes the time to write a review saying how much they enjoyed my stories then I’m already achieving my dream.
Maybe I’m a slow learner but at least I’m evolving!