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A trouble shared…..

February 23, 2011

Every writer I know has trouble writing.  ~ Joseph Heller

I have trouble writing. As I type this, I am struggling to find the perfect opening for this post about myself. I’m fairly sure this isn’t it but as I at least now have momentum on my side I’ll keep going.

I have trouble writing but I cannot not write. As my wife will attest, I suffer from acute Writer’s Grump when I don’t have time to write. Which explains why I have almost always written. In my early years I re-drafted my superhero comics by cutting up the panels and rearranging them by hand. In my teens I wrote bad horror stories in a poor imitation of Stephen King. In my early-twenties I wrote pseudo-intellectual comic scripts when I should have been studying for my degree. Now, I write whatever takes my fancy, flitting between literary short fiction, a YA novel in the redrafting stage, a horror novel plotted but not yet written, a literary novel (really five novellas in a framing sequence) currently being drafted and a comic project about to get up and running with my old artist-partner in crime, Chris Askham.

In my late twenties and early thirties I stopped writing for a several years. I taught English in secondary schools in the U.K. for nearly a decade and much of the time I was too busy with work; marking, preparing, organising school productions, parents evenings, etc. Yet even then I carried a notebook, even then I was jotting ideas and images down, sorting them for later use. During holidays and the odd weekend, I even wrote a few stories, never submitting anything–instead filing them away for some undefined later.

By the time I had been teaching ten years it felt as if later might never come. Luckily for me, around that time my wife decided she wanted to return to work after some time off following the birth of our first child. I jumped at the chance to become a homedad, devoting my time to our growing family. As the kids began heading out to nursery and school, time slowly became available to write. It was time to take things seriously.

I signed up for a Diploma in Creative Writing with the OU–which I completed over two years. I started blogging. Most importantly, I started writing. Every day–or as close to every day as being a homedad to three children allows. Last year was a big year for me, getting a fair few publishing credits to my name, completing my diploma with some great feedback from the tutors and winning the Yeovil Literary Prize for short fiction. I might have far less time now than I ever had teaching back when I was single–far, far less time than in my twenties and teens at Uni–yet I write more. I wring each and every second out of whatever writing time I have. Last week, on a visit to my local library, I literally wrote until my laptop battery ran out of puff.

When I’m not writing, I’m plotting, planning, testing out story structures in my head while hanging out the washing, changing pooey nappies or hoovering the house. Agatha Christie said, ‘The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.’ I get plenty of ‘planning’ time. My family is used to me sometimes not answering when they call, there in body but my mind wrapped up in whatever story I am working on.

As a reader of Write Anything for the last year or two I have learnt a great deal from the wealth of experience posted here; something I am sure I will continue to benefit from as I read the posts from the host of new WA contributors. I hope also, as a new contributor myself, to provide similar insights and help to those reading my posts. I know I’ll have trouble to some degree or other with each post I write, but I’ll take solace in the fact that this trouble is what tells me I am a writer. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing or mean as much when it works.

Which brings me back to my opening point. Writing isn’t easy. Every writer who genuinely wants to improve his or her craft will struggle. I have all kinds of doubts about the value of my work. I struggle to find time and quiet to work. I battle with the blank page each time I start a project and wrestle with a manuscript each time I redraft. But in this way I am just like every other writer out there now. Just like every other writer who has come before. Just like you. It is true that every writer has trouble writing, but I would add that every writer will take the trouble to write and keep writing.

I look forward to sharing the troubles and the triumphs of writing with you over the coming months.

10 Comments
  1. February 23, 2011 1:18 am

    What a superb post Dan! I love the expression ‘Writer’s Grump’, I thought that was just me.

    And it’s so lovely to hear all about you, I totally understand what it feels like juggling writing and parental duties.

    Brilliant post.

  2. February 23, 2011 4:12 am

    Very excited to have you on board Dan!

  3. February 23, 2011 4:40 am

    Very glad to read your post, Dan, I can identify with a lot of it, and agree that writing is hard for a reason.

  4. February 23, 2011 7:09 am

    I can identify with nearly all of this post, Dan. I had a stretch of 16 years during which I didn’t complete anything “at all” except for two, short poems. I mentioned in my post that writing is just what I always did because it came naturally. But it has never been easy and it is always a love/hate relationship between me and my pen, typewriter or keyboard. But I keep doing it. And I’m glad that you keep doing it too!

  5. February 23, 2011 11:02 am

    Hey Dan!🙂

    Great post… I think we’ve all been down that road as writers – not writing, finding time to write, etc. My saving grace came when I was laid off from my job in early 2009… I had nothing to do and mounds of student loan debt so I decided to do the smart thing – write.😉

    FYI – I now have plenty to do and still have mounds of debt… but I’m happy and having fun!🙂

  6. February 23, 2011 1:57 pm

    I’m with you! There’s nothing more frustrating than loving something too much to quit, but hating it too much to love it. (…Don’t think too hard on that sentence.) Looking forward to more posts!🙂

  7. February 23, 2011 3:33 pm

    Some novelists have trouble writing, such as Tom Wolfe. It took him eleven years to write A Man in Full. He said, “My children grew up thinking that was all I did: write, and never finish, a book called A Man in Full.” But others seem to find writing easy. R.F. Delderfield, the English author of family sagas, wrote 33 pages each day, and he wrote until four o’clock in the afternoon. If he finished a novel at three o’clock, he rolled a clean sheet of paper into his typewriter, and began the next novel, and worked until quitting time. He credited a daily swim in the English Channel for his prodigious output. Another English writer, Charles Hamilton—who used twenty-five pseudonyms, the most famous being Frank Richards—was so prolific that George Orwell accused him of being a team of writers. Hamilton responded, “In the presence of such authority, I speak with diffidence; and can only say that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, I am only one person, and have never been two or three.” He wrote a million and a half words a year. Delderfield and Hamilton may have found writing hard, but we wouldn’t know it judging from their output.

  8. February 23, 2011 5:46 pm

    Interesting info, Jim. We all write differently, don’t we. To me, the challenge and the impossibility of finding the perfect words makes the end result sweeter (regardless of pub status). I doubt I’d enjoy it so much if it weren’t so difficult.

  9. Jason Coggins permalink
    February 23, 2011 11:57 pm

    Dan Powell: the man; the enigma. It’s reassuring to read about thehumble path you took to get to where you are today. You’re an inspiration, man!

  10. March 5, 2011 2:12 am

    I like the way we all came to writing in such different ways. Thanks for sharing your path.

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