Writing and Best Beginnings

Starting something new is always exciting. That’s why I really like January, (apart from the dreich weather and hurricane winds that have caused major roof leaks in my house!) it’s the month of new beginnings.  The beginning of a new diet, an exercise routine,or even a novel.
One of my fellow students posted on Facebook that she wrote the first line of her novel at the stroke of midnight.  She’s kidding us on that it starts, “It was a dark and stormy night…” We’ll need to wait for her workshop submission to find out the real opening line.

But her FB post made me think of the best way to start a novel. I think every writer obsesses about making an impact with their first sentence. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but that doesn’tapply to first lines. One of my favourite well-known opening lines is,

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth” – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger.

But the best beginning that I’ve read recently was from a brilliant book- Precious by Sapphire- “I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver.”  Iwas immediately plunged into the world of an illiterate black girl who has never been out of Harlem and is pregnant by her own father for the second time and kicked out of school.  The novel is a fantastic exploration of abuse and deprivation but also totally uplifting. Read it!  I dream about being able to write such a powerful story.

But what got me writing in the first place? It was another FB post that got me thinking. It was a post by a new literary magazine for students in Scotland called Octavius. They aim to bridge the gap between being an unpublished student and submitting to professional magazines and journals and accept work of any genre and looks for writing which is fresh, unique and exciting.
Their FB post asked for a photo of your desk/laptop/outside of the library you work in, etc, and a brief description about what being a writer means to you and details about what made you start writing. This was my reply.

I don’t have a proper desk, so I escape to myboudoir bedroom to write at my dressing table. But don’t be fooled by the pink laptop and flowery décor, my writing can be dark and gritty.

I started writing when my best friend gave mea lovely notebook in 2006 for my birthday. The message inside read, “I wouldlove to buy a novel by you. I’m sure you have the talent and wit and‘experience’ to make it a great read. Thought you could keep some notes here.Have fun. Love Veronica x”

I love a challenge and her encouragement was the trigger to write my first novel. Almost six years later, I’m now working on novel number three and have finished the first semester of a MLitt in Creative Writing.

Turns out my pal gave me the best present ever-belief in me that I could write something worth reading and who knows,maybe one day I’ll be able to give her a special mention in my published novel…

Writing and Giving Yourself the Freedom to Fail

It was a big deal for me to sign up for the MLitt course and I was full of self-doubt before I arrived at my first class. The fear quickly faded by being amongst a group of supportive fellow students and enjoying every week of a well-structured meaningful course. I’d made the right decision BUT…

What if my work isn’t good enough? What if my submission is ripped apart in the workshop? What if I don’t do well in my assignments? What if my family and friends think my writing is rubbish? What if I can’t make it as a writer? What if? What if?

There’s no end to the list of insecurities! I don’t think a writer is ever free of self-doubt. It seems to come as part of the job.

But if ever I needed a boost, the visit to uni this week from the award winning writer DBC Pierre was inspirational. In 2003, Pierre won the Man Booker Prize for his debut novel, Vernon God Little. Wow! But how did he manage to win the world’s most important literary award?

A contemporary The Catcher in the Rye

Anyone who’s ever heard of him will know that his juicy life story is as interesting as any of his novels. But for Pierre, the positive side to hitting rock bottom meant that no one had high expectations of him and he was free to fail.

No one likes to fail and it’s hard not to be your own harshest critic. My internal editor is always sitting on my shoulder and instead of just getting the words down on paper, I constantly go over my work getting hung up on every sentence. And then there’s the expectation of others.

When I told my mum I’d finished my first attempt at a novel. She told her friend. And a week later her pal phoned my mum to ask why she couldn’t find it in Waterstone’s!!

No pressure then…

Pierre’s key message was to give yourself the freedom to fail. He wrote the first draft of Vernon God Little in a stream of consciousness in five frenzied weeks. But it took several drafts and many months of sifting through the original material and reconstructing the writing to create a phenomenal novel.  Everyone needs TIME to experience failure before they can achieve success.  No artist uses watercolours for the first time and has the painting hung in the National Gallery.  It takes years of hard slog to achieve such glory- just ask Jack Vettriano! I know now that I need to give myself permission to produce crap and then keep writing in order to get better.

At the book signing, Pierre wrote on my copy of Vernon God Little,
“Be free to fail- only by staring into that abyss can we write!”

No excuses left now…