A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

The worst thing about writing

So the lovely Author Allsorts have asked me: What’s the worst thing about writing?

Having waited so long to be published, it does feel a little churlish to attempt an answer. It’s like nit-picking over a free meal or complaining of the English summer being too hot.

However, fortunately, for this blog, I have been blessed with quite a remarkable capacity for moaning. In fact I arrived on earth readily-equipped with hearty tutting and heavy sighing mechanisms. And can often be found in many a public house examining my half empty pint.

But enough about my sunny side, back to the question I really shouldn’t be answering…The absolute worst thing about writing for me…
…is having to focus on one idea. That’ll be one, not two, or five, or twenty seven. Just. One. Idea.

It took me many years to get my head around the fact that if I truly wanted to be a writer I had to knuckle down and see through one idea to the end, write one whole manuscript, hinged on one story.

I’ve never been that good with the singular. I relish choice and variety. I opt for buffet over fixed menu; pic ‘n’ mix is my favourite choice of sweet. Popcorn? Both sweet and salt. Always. I flick TV channels worse than Homer Simpson. I like holidays on the move.

Similarly, I love beginnings – the start of something, the moment before…anticipation and first steps. The moments prior to a trip away, the opening sequences to films and books; the excitement before a party.

Over the years I’ve filled many a notebook with beginnings – the first ideas of stories I will never see through to the end. I constantly, excitedly, spout new plots like a giddy Alan Partridge does programme ideas. Indeed, my family and friends have started to sigh at the words, ‘I’ve got another idea’.

I can’t help myself. It’s the best natural high I know – that moment when another idea casually strolls into your head and you meet it for the first time. When it’s all shiny-new and unfamiliar and you get to ask it lots of questions and listen as it eagerly introduces itself. You don’t have to do anything to it yet. You don’t have to stretch it and twist it and turn it upside down. You can just walk around it like a work of art and simply…enjoy it.

Which means, it can’t ‘alf smart sometimes, to have to remind yourself of the vow you’ve now taken as a writer: to stay with just ‘The One’ idea, through to the bitter end. The promise to be idea monogamous; to learn discipline and avoid diversions (cup of tea anyone?). To not allow new flirty ideas to nudge you with their sharp elbows, fluttering their eyelashes coquettishly, look at me, look at me, not him; I’m new and exciting, me!

On the other hand I’ve learnt I don’t have to shut out other ideas completely. I can appease the skittish side of me, as long as it aids the writing process. New ideas, in their proper place, can keep the old creative cogs flexible, like a warm-up before a run (not that I’d know). Allowing them in now and again can keep my imagination agile and stop me from settling to soon. Even ‘The One’ idea still needs stoking to create more sparks.

As another writer once said, the best ideas are the sticky ones – the ones other ideas collect around and stick to. In which case – I tell myself – I should allow my mind to drift and fish in the ideas ocean occasionally, if ‘The One’ story is to properly grow and explore and push at the boundaries.

So, yes, it can be the worst thing about writing, to have to put up the gates against new story ideas. But as I go on I’m starting to realise – like in all things – it’s about finding a balance – between the temptation to host new ideas, ah go on then, while staying true to ‘The One’.

And not beating myself up whenever I fall off the wagon. After all, idea fidelity isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

3 comments on “The worst thing about writing

  1. Helen McG
    September 29, 2014

    Love this! And I know how you feel. I have a list of book plots as long as my arm, but I think I really need to concentrate on one to the bitter end…

  2. AlexCampbell
    October 1, 2014

    Helen – maybe we should hold an ideas swapping party for all those lonely ideas that will never get written…!

  3. Helen McG
    October 1, 2014

    Well, I like to think most of them will be written one day. What would be really helpful would be to have a chat with an agent or editor and say ‘Look at all these plots, which one is most likely to bring me a publishing contract (providing it’s well written of course) and which ones don’t have a hope in hell?’ That way I’d know where to concentrate my efforts!

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This entry was posted on September 29, 2014 by and tagged , , .

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