Every time I post a new article, it’s like asking a woman out on a date.
The groundhog experience of writing that never has the same response. It’s an interesting world to live in: being evaluated and judged on your thoughts and views on topics.
I was recently at the Franschhoek Literary Festival – as a writer, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing other writers speak. Some of the speakers were 30 book veterans; others weekly columnists. I imagined myself up on stage talking about my books; my muses; my processes I have for writing and explaining how it is I became a writer.
And on a more introspective level:
Become honest with myself that I am one.
I read a fascinating article in the Guardian on why we love books and why festivals like the one I just attended are regularly sold out.
“The answer lies in the power of stories.
Stories have been around since time began; they tell us what it is to be human, give us context for the past and insight towards the future. A narrator’s voice replaces stressed, internal monologue and takes us out of our life and into the world of the story. Paradoxically, we think we are escaping ourselves but the best stories take us back deeper into our interior worlds.”
This is a brilliant description of what a reader might experience at the hands of a writer. But what about the latter? This writer would like to let you in on a few of his secrets.
Where it began
I never had any aspirations of being a writer. In fact, I only remember one of my English pieces in creative writing getting an A (ironically it was about being in Cape Town – my new found home).
My writing developed because I was a terrible communicator. Talking about my problems used to make me feel as though I was in a bad dream, where I wanted to speak but had no vocal cords. I’m still not entirely sure whether it was related to all my insecurities or if it was because I didn’t want to burden anyone else with my problems. I felt that I just needed to sort them out myself. Thankfully I’ve worked through that (mostly).
I still have the first ‘Book of Andrew’ – my tributes to, and way of recording, the beauty in my life:
Statements (I suppose what today would be memes)
My expression of happiness
It was a way for me to take the constant chatter in my head and turn a blank page into something meaningful. For me, it was far easier than expressing myself in person – especially when I was having, what mom eloquently named, “growing days”.
It was almost as if writing gave me the opportunity to become the ‘communicator’ on paper that I wished I could be in real life.
Writing was, and is, a way I could express myself completely.
My nudge to think of writing more seriously
It’s amazing how the universe works. After swearing I would never move to the UK, low and behold, I ended up there towards the end of the 2003 summer.
These were the days before communication channels like Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook et al. It was either email or phone cards – and emails were the cheaper option for weekly correspondence.
It started innocently. I’m blessed with a family that is not just involved, but invested in my life; and so I’d write an email once a week about my adventures living in London Town. With family back in Johannesburg and some over in Canada, I enjoyed sitting down to collate my experiences of the past week to share with them. And as an extra bonus, I got to relive all of it a second time!
My mom and aunt started writing back to me expressing their admiration for my writing; and even though they are avid readers, I brushed it off as family bias. (Truth be told, I still have to catch myself in awe that people actually read what I write).
Being in London provided me with the unique opportunity to get outside of my comfort zone every day and forced me to think about what was going on in my life and what I was experiencing. I started an unofficial diary but until a few months later, hadn’t dabbled in writing about anything other than my own experiences.
Short stories before my first novel
I met a woman and started writing short stories over email. It never progressed more than that though – maybe because I didn’t believe I could write a full story or that it would be any good. It was almost as if I had ADHD and, after more than a handful of pages, I’d become bored and prefer to start a new story.
Enter someone else to give me a push towards writing a full novel. The deal: she’d give me the title and I’d write her a story; sending her pages once I’d completed them (probably between seven to fifteen at a time). This was the first time I was pushing myself to develop a story and characters; but writing was slow for the first eight months. And then the universe intervened once again.
The company I was working for at the time was liquidated. I was out of work for four months. There’s only so many new job postings you can look at and apply for in a day. Thankfully I had my writing to keep me occupied – else I’d have gone nuts.
Almost a year to the day I started writing my first novel, I finished it. It is and will always no doubt remain one of my favourite experiences of all time.
What has writing taught me?
The article I mentioned above talks about readers wanting to ‘escape themselves’ only to go deeper within themselves. I think writers have to go even deeper. The evidence is in the blank pages painted with our tears, crinkled with our frustrations and illuminated with our love. Our stories take you on a journey. I consider that a gift and a privilege.
It is why I endeavour to always leave my readers (or as I like to call you – my conscience) with positives. Not JUST positives – tangible concepts that are implementable right now.
And on that note, I’d like to share with you what my writing journey has taught me to date:
Don’t dismiss positive praise. Look at the source. My family had nothing to gain from embellishing their praise. Nor did they have a history of telling me what I wanted to hear. So always consider the source and patterns of where the praise is coming from.
Criticism (good or bad) says more about the other person than you or your writing. I did a video on my Facebook page around ‘being wrong’ and I believe it’s a concept we should really reconsider. All our experiences and viewpoints differ. Not better or worse. Just different. I’ve become more open to creating dialogue rather than simply trying to get across my point of view. Because even though I may have something to share, I’m often the one that ends up learning something new. 99% of people have enjoyed my book but I’ve also had it compared by one person to a Mills and Boon novel. Ouch. But that was their experience and therein lies the beauty of stories – one can be written with an intention, and yet interpreted in so many other ways.
Be yourself. If I try to write what I think people will like, how would I decipher what that is exactly? There are 7 billion people on this planet! People respond to authenticity. I believe it’s something we all aspire to be all the time. Authentic in the absence of judgement. I’m nervous every time I post something new, but what keeps me going is the fact that I’m being true to myself; how I want to live my life. BUT – I know I don’t know everything and I need to be open to comments on my writing which highlight gaps in my thinking or illuminate something to which I’ve never been exposed to before. Again – I never stop learning.
Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes you wonder ‘What the f@#k’. Those four months at home writing day after day gave me a window into what it would be like to write full time. Some days it flows as if you’re plugged into a machine and downloading information with fibre-optic speed; other days it’s a struggle to write one sentence. Isn’t that a great metaphor for life? Some days we feel in the flow; others we feel whatever we do is like wading through mud. Don’t get disheartened – the struggle days are outnumbered by the good ones; and every day you feel is a battle will be followed by one where everything works out.
Value time. If you love something – set aside time to do it as often as possible. I’d even say every day – even if it’s simply ten minutes. I recently read this quote on Tim Ferris’s blog: “You can do so much in 10 minutes’ time. Ten minutes, once gone, are gone for good. Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.” – Ingvar Kamprad, Founder of the furniture brand IKEA
Be bold – it’s worth it. We build things up in our minds and human nature tends to lean us towards focusing on the negatives. ‘Who will read it?’; ‘He won’t want to talk to me’; ‘The world will swallow me whole if I do x’. The rewards I’ve gotten from writing (nothing monetary) have been some of the most uplifting moments of my life. Had I not listened to my family, this would never have been written; you’d be looking at a blank page. Just give whatever it is you’ve been afraid to try a go. I promise you – it’s absolutely exhilarating.
Just Start. Sometimes the hardest part is opening the laptop or grabbing a pen. I can come up with uncountable reasons why now isn’t a good time to write. Most of the time, though, these blogs included, just writing the first few words is the crack in the door I need to open it wide.