Beginnings… we all have ’em….

An aspect of writing that many appear to forget, especially in regards to their favourite authors, is that at one time they, too, were just starting out with dreams of becoming full-time writers. The vast majority never achieve that level, but they still continue to create stories and submit them to magazines and publishers – a few will strike it lucky, and go beyond the confines of the small-press and gain a modicum of success. When we read the latest from a particular author we are only privy to the end result, but what we don’t see and very rarely appreciate, is the hard slog prior to it all happening: learning the craft, making people aware of your name, the staying up ’til the small hours completing a draft, then rewriting it (several times, perhaps), often suffering from those anguish-inducing moments when the words just won’t come, submitting a story in the hope of placing it somewhere, the dejection after yet another editor turns your efforts down. A brief interlude when the question “Why do I bother?” looms large and almost crushes any aspirations: then, the shrugging of the shoulders and, with renewed determination, setting down once more to the task at hand and writing the story that will definitely be the breakthrough.

And this is the routine most writers will go through on their way up: this is what us mere mortals never get to see. It can sometimes be a mightily painful (and lonely) process and, even with all that effort, there are no guarantees attached. However, before all that, there’s something that a writer does, upon which his/her fate turns (if that’s not too preposterous a way of saying it): make the decision to start writing.

So that’s what this blog is all about, amongst other things: a series of meditations, if you like, on the processes involved in, and the progress of, ‘becoming’ a writer, a very public experiment detailing the career of someone who would like to turn a penchant for using words into more than just a hobby. Along the way, we’ll be meeting people, in a series of guest-blogs, who have already come some way into achieving that aim: they’ll be telling us how they got started and why. The book(s) and story(ies) that persuaded them to try wordsmithing: the ups and downs, the difficulties encountered, the disappointments and the triumphs. The point at which mere dabbling metamorphosed into seriousness.

So where better to start the boulder rolling than by pinning down the moment when I made that decision. I even have a date: September 2009. I awoke one morning to a brilliantly sunny day, except that I was enveloped by a deep sense of utter loss, accompanied by a startling, lingering image of a feather on a pillow and the first line of the first story I was to write – “All I found of her that morning was a single white feather”. I wrote it in a matter of two short weeks, agonising over choices of words and phrases, but even so I felt the ending lacked something.

One of the first things I learnt was to walk away from a story that wasn’t working. Fast-forward some months later, when Dave Kelso-Mitchell of Paraphilia Magazine put out a call for submissions for an anthology of ‘post-modern ghost stories in the vein of MR James’. I revisited “Feathers”, that first story, rewrote the ending and sent it in. A month later, I found out that it had been accepted.

Subsequent efforts have not been so starred in their fates: in hindsight, that’s just as well. For two reasons: firstly, rejection brings a sense of realism with it, underlining the fact that that first acceptance was a pure fluke (but highly welcome nonetheless, let it be said): and secondly, looking back on those stories, notwithstanding there are some nice ideas in them, my writing skills weren’t sharp enough. So, an object lesson there.

It goes without saying that, as disappointed as I was, it didn’t deter me from continuing writing. I don’t consider those rejections as indictments of me,the person, and neither should any new writer about their work: it was just that the stories didn’t quite reach the mark. I can do something about that, and that something boils down to one word; practise. It helps that I am a book reviewer in addition to being an author: learning about pacing, structure and storytelling can only be garnered from reading and, to a small degree, analysing the work of other writers. I have an innate knowledge that I am good with words: but it’s like a piece of wood – although the qualities to make it a beautiful piece of wood are inherent in it from the very beginning, to bring the best out one needs to polish it. And that’s exactly what I am doing with my writing.

Let me reiterate, then, one of the main purposes of this blog. Over the coming months I’ll be asking authors, some well-known and others not so well-known, to write about what started them off and their subsequent experiences. If nothing else, what they have to say will provide encouragement to new writers just starting out, serving to remind them that EVERY ONE of their favourite writers has gone through similar tribulations in the past. And that, ultimately, the message is: just to keep on moving, and looking, forward.

(My first story, “Feathers”, mentioned above, will be published midsummer [tentatively] in the anthology “A Dream of Stone” [working title], by Paraphilia Books)

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