I wish we said “fancy” in America. As in, “I fancy you.” It’s such a more agreeable term than “I have a crush on you.” What’s a crush? Like, I AM A BOA CONSTRICTOR AND I AM GOING TO IMMOBILIZE YOU WITH MY MISPLACED AND OBSESSIVE AFFECTION. “I fancy you” is like, you’re so shiny and glittery and I just want to put you on a shelf and look at you for a while ‘cause you’re fancy’
I got up this morning, and read the thirty or so questions that people had left in the last 8 hours. And apart from the few that wanted to tell me that, honestly, there’s nothing in the whole world like a photo of a gentleman holding a small yellow chainsaw, most of the rest of them were writing questions, about how you start writing and how you continue, and how you keep going when people criticise you and so on. And I thought, all this is stuff I’ve covered so extensively over on my blog at neilgaiman.com… and 90% of the answers were probably in one post. It was called On Writing.
I really don’t want to sit here giving you my life story. It’s boring and too long for me to write or for you to sit and have time to read. I was just told by a graduate school that because of my shabby GPA - a 3.07 - (not my writing sample)that I wouldn’t be admitted to their creative writing program. Anyway, with my writing, it’s just seemed like one thing after another, and I have no one to give me input on any of it since I, quite literally, come from a family of engineers, all very concrete thinkers. My question is this: when do you just give up? I don’t want to but it seems like the only logical thing to do. I’m so tired and frustrated with being deemed a failure. The one week I was actually able to give up writing was the most miserable week of my life. I know you’re busy and I really don’t expect you to answer this email. I just thought it might be nice to talk to someone who might just be able to understand, even if - at this point - I’m just sending a message out into the ether.
I’m not sure what getting into a creative writing program has to do with being a writer. Go and look at Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s list of the 14 things a slush-reader or editor is looking for , and whether you’ve done a creative writing program, have an MFA in writing, or are in fact currently teaching a course in creative writing isn’t on the list.
(For the record, I’ve never been involved in a creative writing program. In my case, that was mostly because I knew I wanted to be a writer, and had enough hubris to know that I’d rather make my mistakes on the job. It was also because I had a vague suspicion that people in authority might suggest that I should write respectable but dull fiction, and then I’d be forced to kill them, and it would all end in tears or in prison. Many of my friends have enjoyed creative writing programs no end. Some of them teach them.)
As for giving up, well, sure, if you want to. Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins. It has no job security of any kind, and depends mostly on whether or not you can, like Scheherazade, tell the stories each night that’ll keep you alive until tomorrow. There are undoubtedly hundreds of easier, less stressful, more straightforward jobs in the world. Personally, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do, but that’s me.
If you want to be a writer, write. You may have to get a day job to keep body and soul together (I cheated, and got a writing job, or lots of them, to feed me and pay the rent). If you aren’t going to be a writer, then go and be something else. It’s not a god-given calling. There’s nothing holy or magic about it. It’s a craft that mostly involves a lot of work, most of it spent sitting making stuff up and writing it down, and trying to make what you have made up and written down somehow better.
I think for me the tipping point was when I was a very young man. It was late at night, and I was lying in bed, and I thought, as I often thought, “I could be a writer. It’s what I want to be. I think it’s what I am.” And then I imagined myself in my eighties, possibly even on my deathbed, thinking that same thought, in a life when I’d never written anything. And I’d be an old man, with my life behind me, still telling myself I was really a writer — and I would never know if I was kidding myself or not.
So I thought it might be better to go off and be a writer, even if what I learned from the experience was that I wasn’t a writer. At least that way, I’d know.
It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn’t allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!” and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there’s nothing left to write. Because the rejection slips will arrive. And, if the books are published, then you can pretty much guarantee that bad reviews will be as well. And you’ll need to learn how to shrug and keep going. Or you stop, and get a real job.
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.