The end of the story

Other people’s words about … writing

April has never really known loneliness until now; she has had all tastes of its dregs, like cold milky coffee curdled at the bottom of the cup, but she has always had faith in the fact that it would pass. Now, she is not so sure. And this loneliness is entangled with her failure as a musician, another certainty in her life that seems to have gone.

Most days, she tries to write.

She sits by the window with her guitar and picks idly at notes, strumming chords underneath, humming to herself as she does so. But nothing ever sticks, and she feels as if she is just pretending, playing alone outside a room she can no longer enter.

from ‘Between a Wolf and a Dog
by Georgia Blain

I did something I had never expected to do this week: I stopped working on the book I’ve been writing, on and off, ever since my last novel was published in 2010. Actually, I stopped writing fiction altogether, at least for now.

The novel I’ve been writing all these years has gone through many, many permutations: I’ve written it as a ghost story for young adults; as a reworked ghost story for middle-grade readers; as a love story for ‘new’ adults’; as a coming-of-age story for women my own age. I’ve written it in the first person and in the third person, and in past tense and in present tense. I’ve written it using pen and paper, and Microsoft Word, and Scrivener.

I’ve written it. And written it. And written it.

All the time I’ve been writing this novel, I’ve been telling myself that the doubt I feel in myself, and in my ability to write a third novel — this third novel, anyway — would pass. But it hasn’t. Sometimes it’s quietened down for a period, but then it’s flared up again. And over the years, like April, the sense of inner loneliness I carry with me — which is in part an aspect of being me, Rebecca Burton, and in part an aspect of being me, a human being — has slowly become ensnared with the doubt I feel about my writing. [N]othing ever sticks, and she feels as if she is just pretending, playing alone outside a room she can no longer enter. Yup. Yup. Yup.

Ever since I wrote my first novel and it was accepted for publication, I’ve believed, with all of my heart, that writing books was something I would do for the rest of my life, because that’s what writers do, right? It’s what they want to do. It’s their privilege, and their gift. Or so the story goes.

But I just don’t think I believe that particular story anymore. That’s what I finally realised this week, after all this time. I don’t think — as April thinks, in this passage which I have loved so much for so long — that I am a failure as a writer, or as a person, if I stop writing, for a while, or forever. I think the world is bigger than that.

I don’t know what the future holds for me if I’m not a writer anymore — for now, or for a while, or forever. But you know what? Unlike April, I want to find out.

It’s a big, big world.

The one true story

Other people’s words on … writing

He said, ‘What is your job as a writer of fiction?’ And she said that her job as a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are and what we think and what we do.

from ‘My name is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout

When I first began this blog, I was adamant that, though I am a published writer, my blog would not be about writing. A writer can blog about things other than writing, right? A writer isn’t just a writer: a writer is a person; a writer has a life. That’s what I wanted to blog about.

Besides, it seemed to me that blogging about writing would be, in my case, an inexcusably audacious act. My thinking went like this: I have published only two books. I haven’t published anything since 2010. My books have gone out of print. What can I tell anyone about writing? Who would want to read what I had the temerity to say?

Early drafts: an audacious act
Early drafts: an audacious act

I don’t much like the word ‘writer’. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t published much and don’t make a living from my writing, but I feel pretentious and arrogant when I call myself one. I think of myself instead as someone who has written two books, and would like to write another one, but is struggling to do so.

That’s another word I don’t like: ‘struggle’. When I first began writing stories and fiction, the writing was an act of joy. It was a process of humble discovery. Each word that I wrote, each sentence, each chapter, was a journey. I was learning to do something new. I was learning to do something I loved. I was learning.

Writing is a learning process
Lessons in writing: all part of the learning process

So when I first read the words I’ve quoted above from Elizabeth Strout, I thought: Yes! Writing fiction, for me, has always been about opening myself up to sorrow, and to joy, and to humility, and to discovery. It’s about expressing those things, however afraid I am to do so. It’s about making sense of my life. It’s about trying to make something beautiful. It’s about having the temerity — the audacity, the arrogance — to share my words with other people: people who, like me, love reading.

Most of all, writing fiction, like blogging, is about sharing.

And so that’s the reason I’m posting these words about writing today. Call it pretension; call it temerity. Call it audacity; call it arrogance. Call it learning; call it sorrow; call it joy.

Elizabeth Strout again (from the same book):

You will have only one story … You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.

Maybe this is the only story I have to share, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth sharing.