Tag Archives: Writers Resources

Responding To Criticism

Oh, this is one of the ‘fun’ bits of writing that should come with a warning. How do you deal with criticism?

Firstly to use an apt cliché, writing is a school of hard knocks. It’s true. You’ve written something, you’re sure you’ve perfected it, and then some person comes and insensitively points out all the things you’ve done wrong. It’s not nice, and there is no softening it. The first time you receive criticism like this, you might cry. You’re very likely to discount it, to push it out of your mind.

So how do you cope with it? We all know that criticism is ultimately good for us as it helps us improve in the long-term, but that doesn’t make you feel any better at the time.

I think the first thing to set straight is your mental attitude. Realise that the reason criticism affects you so is because you care about what you do. You take pride in it, and you’ve worked hard. You haven’t produced some half-baked attempt and tried to wing it. Once you’ve seen the feedback, don’t dwell on it. Try to take your mind off it, go and unwind. It never helps to undertake something when you’re upset. So recognise how you are feeling and don’t do anything until your emotions are in check. Only then will you be able to respond positively and logically.

When reading through criticism, you need to determine what stance the person has taken. Is it feedback, or is it criticism? I was misleading you with the last sentence, because feedback and criticism are the same thing, except we interpret criticism as negative.

Feedback, criticism or critique should mean to you anything that is measured, positive or constructive. It might point out your mistakes, but it should do so in a way that is not a personal attack on you, or treats your work in a derogatory fashion. It should give advice and point out flaws, but don’t mistake honesty as an attack on you. It never helps to read sugar-coated feedback, and sometimes things just have to be said as they are.

But what about the negative, the feedback that clearly is written with no intention to help you? I’ve got a word for that. Rubbish. You laugh, and you leave it. Why? Sometimes it’s clear that the person has no idea what they’re talking about. Other times, it’s blindingly obvious that they’re just trying to hurt and insult you. It’s perfectly legitimate to write some people off – don’t feel obliged to take into consideration everything everyone says.

Now, what do you do with the feedback that you haven’t thrown in the bin? Read it carefully, read it slowly. Be logical and objective. Remember, if this person has taken time to point out the problems in your writing, they want to help you. But what if they aren’t using the critique sandwich? Start with the good points, then move into the problems, and then finish with what was liked. What if it’s just all about the problems?

Well, I’m that type of critic. It’s not because I want to belittle the writer, make them feel bad, imply that there is nothing they did well or even try to impose my own authority upon them. It’s simply because when I read critically, I spend my time writing on what can be done better, not what is already done well. If you’re strapped for time, you probably will do this.

This is a small tangent, but it’s something I think both writers and critics should understand. Sometimes  when you’re giving feedback, you just don’t have anything negative to say. Stop the presses, that’s something a good critic should never do right? Wrong. There is no shame in standing up and saying to someone “you know I’m sitting here reading through your work and I can’t find anything wrong“. In fact, I was asked to beta-read a story for a friend this summer, and while I had a slight pick at the first chapter, I’m waiting until he is online again before I tell him that he doesn’t need me to critique it. It’s good. It doesn’t make you a bad critic. It doesn’t mean you weren’t being critical enough. I believe it makes you more legitimate in your feedback by saying this, instead of proceeding to talk about non-existent problems.

Let’s get back to the main point then. How do you cope with feedback? To summarise, you leave it, you get yourself in order. You then read it carefully. You decide whether the feedback is legitimate or not. Then you act on it.

You should never, never, respond to feedback when you first receive it. You’ll be emotional, you won’t think straight. You’ll misinterpret, and you could go to the nuclear option. That is, you could delete your entire work and say you’ll start again.

Never delete anything you write – that is the cardinal sin as far as I’m concerned. You have the ability to re-draft as many times as you want. So don’t got and delete your work – because all you’re doing is reinforcing negative emotions about your writing and destroying any progress you’ve made.

Deleting an re-writing is not progress. It is not re-drafting. It is undoing the progress you’ve made. It is quite literally, trying to write something perfect from scratch. I need not tell you how silly that is.

Consistency In Worldbuilding

One of the best things about being a writer is creating a world. You get to create something that no one else has, and as you work on it more, you bring your vision to life. World building is satisfying, but it’s tricky too. You can easily build a world, but how do you make it believable, how do you draw people into it? I tend to find that some worlds suffer quite generally from what I’d call cultural inconsistency. It means what it says on the tin, quite bluntly, the cultures existing in that world don’t add up.

The best example of this is in language and place names. When creating the world map, it’s hard to resist letting lose the floodgates and going with any name you think of. On the flip side if you struggle with names, you can be clawing at your head to come up with one name, let alone a bunch of them to choose from. One of the results is that your map seems to just have a random selection of names on it. Names need to be consistent – for example you wouldn’t have two characters from the same culture with two vastly different names. Does that sound picky? Perhaps a bit, but if we take a look at a map of our own world, you see similarities between the names of places in that country. I’m British, so I’ll see Warwickshire, Yorkshire, and so on. They’ consistent.

When to comes to that fantasy world, you’re ideally looking for the same consistency. Sure, there can be exceptions, as there are in real life, but they aren’t numerous. Some readers will tolerate a lot; especially because fantasy might be the genre that they love anyway, but others won’t. As a writer these days it doesn’t work to make your writing fit into too small a niche. For me, seeing a fantasy world that is consistent implicitly tells me that it is well constructed and thought out. Readers can be picky, and believe me, if you world looks, sounds or feels like it’s some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, readers can lose their suspension of disbelief.

It’s all easily remedied though. Instead of leaping straight into your new world, plan it. Figure out what the fundamentals are for each culture you introduce. Standing back objectively is hard to do when you’re passionate about something, but paying close scrutiny to creating a world that is consistent will pay off the effort you put in. As a final little example, take a look at a map of Middle-Earth. Now, because it’s the cultures are consistent, it feels like a real map someone made for the world, not a map that someone made of a world.

The Freedom from Names – Why I Write Under Alias

I’ve never been drawn at all to using my real name on the internet, or as a writer even. It’s not born out of any conscious desire for security, but instead to keep me free from names. What do I mean?

Well, if I don’t use a name it leaves plenty of factors out entirely. Try as we might, we do form an opinion of a person from a name even. It’s just part of how we build a judgement of that person. It’s also a way people can categorise what you do. To be honest, I don’t even want my writing to be associated with my name. It allows my work to stand out on an individual basis and solely on their merit. There can’t possibly be any notion that because I wrote X, Y must also be good too. It leaves no room for presumptions – and doesn’t allow you to build a bibliography of my work up. That, and it also makes my life as a writer easier, as I don’t have to worry about expectations being placed upon me, and it keeps my writing firmly apart from myself. Once I finish writing this, it can’t be put to my name. In short, my writing can’t come at me when I’m not writing.

The best aspect of alias are that it’s impossible to pin down a gender on my writing. You can’t point at my writing and say “this is a woman’s writing” or “this is a man’s writing” because there is no name to give you a hint. Tying anything down to a gender is pointless – because what influence does it really have? I don’t want you to know, because I’m wanting you to read what I’ve written for what it is. Rather than try to break it down as a work of a female or male writer.

As for myself, it gives me freedom to write anything. Do readers place expectations upon author’s based (either fully or in part) by gender? I believe we all do, even subconsciously. Remaining an Alias means that I can write whatever idea enters my head.

As a quick question, do you believe writing under alias are a good or bad thing? Do you think gendered expectations are placed upon writers? Should literature be influenced by the gender of who wrote it? Discuss!

 

Escapism, Reality and Writing – Why Do We Create To Escape?

At the face of it, writing creatively is a purely self-destructive activity. Of all the things to spend your time, you choose to write on fictitious events, worry over imaginary characters and work to create the unreal. All when today, we retain the idea that we should do things of relevance, and that concept of what makes something worthwhile is intrinsically tied to a grounding in reality. In short, it is seen as productive to have a hobby that has some benefit to you in reality.

Here’s a hobby of mine. Rock Climbing. A good way to exercise; so it would seem. The practice of heaving yourself up vertical surfaces. Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? Yet even now when we’ve long passed over the hunter-gatherer stage of human development when this kind of skill would have been relevant, we still view it with an air of justification. Instead of using it to heave yourself up or down steep terrain to get to food others might not be able to access, it’s good exercise. It has a benefit to the body. Exercise releases endorphins, which make you happy. A happy citizen, a happy worker, a more productive worker. So, that’s fine, go climb those walls.

Yet writing? Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. It’s just daydreaming. It’s just imaginary nonsense. Haven’t we grown up and learnt to focus on what’s real, instead of inventing things? Yes, oh dear. It’s a tenuous position, sitting and dealing with imaginary people, treating them as if they were real. We’re adults now, not children, we must focus our minds in the real world, upon all that is real and nothing else. Why is that? Because we’re meant to ‘grow up’, a concept that involves expunging childish practices from us in order to become a rational adult. With that in mind, the following paragraph will sound mad.

I spent several hours today inside my head, thinking about a world I created. I wasn’t just thinking about characters, I was imagining myself as them. I thought as them, felt as them.

Sounds like a mental problem, doesn’t it? Especially if you know the characters I write about.

It’s worrying when you break out of the daydream, blink, and realise for a split second, you were thinking and feeling like that character.

Really, writing in first person present screws with my mind at least. Not that I was complaining. Oh, take that society!

In short, this is why I opened by saying writing is self-destructive. Perhaps we spend our time inside our heads too much, imagining an escapist world like a child does, instead of being a good little worker and getting on with our lot in this world. Or rather, instead of learning to cope with the world itself, coping by proxy.

But hey, I don’t actually believe that at all. I wouldn’t say writing is self-destructive. But why did I just lead you on that tangent? I had to explain that in order for you to understand the next idea. Well, there’s a refuge in the word ‘writer’. The practice of writing is a refuge for imaginative process that would have been culled around the time you go to secondary school. That begins when you’re 13 if I remember correctly. Think back in your education. When did the emphasis on creativity and imaginative practice go? When instead of writing a story in English you had to start writing essays? When did they focus shift onto getting good grades for oh, that seemingly distant job? See, it’s an implicit part in the practice of ‘growing up’. The imaginative gets sidelined for the practical. Creativity is preserved only if it can serve an economic purpose. Learning suffers the same as well. Cram your head with the facts to pass the exams. Who cares if it’s something you want to learn about.

Creative problem solving. That’s useful, it means you’ll be a good worker that can better deal with unforeseen problems. What about being a writer? You’re using the imagination to write stories that sell. That’s the refuge. So all day, I’m not potentially wasting time indulging a denial of reality. No, I’m working to create a product. The thing is, unless writing can justify itself by selling, creativity for creativity’s sake alone is cast of as void. It becomes a nice thing for children to do. Paint a picture, write a story. How many artists and writers have we lost because they never thought to keep their creativity into adulthood? I look around at the people I know here at university. Of the English students, how many that say they are writers are? Few. Precious few. They’re here for inspiration. They’re here to learn how to write. Perhaps. But how many go of and write? Of them, who writes regularly? Who is really working on that book, and not just stuck in some limbo falsely labelled as work in progress?

Let’s say I haven’t found one yet. None isn’t a word I want to hear, but that’s another topic.

The continued existence of the refuge of writing presents a strange idea though, and why do I label it’s existence down to consumerism?

Well, it exists because it’s a balm, a slave for all the dreary existence we find ourselves trudging through. Working 9am to 5pm, seeing the same sights, living a life of routine without any change. It creates a craving for adventure. In all ways, all stories tell one. Whether it is as literal as that doesn’t matter. There are changes. There is excitement. It is novel. Buy a book, or better yet, write one and you can create your own adventure, with all the security of the current existence intact. I don’t doubt that anyone will ever be truly content with their lives. We can always find something more we want. Perhaps loosing yourself in a wood full of elves helps. Perhaps not. But the need for this alternate reality still exists, and it is a healthy one.

The question is, why do you start writing (if you are a writer) and if not, what do you think about creative endeavours? Do you indulge in escapism?

It Belongs In A Museum, Not A Bin – The Problem With Literary Canon

It’s no lie. I would without hesitation throw away many literary classics for being dull, contrived and boring. I can imagine that will upset some people reading this, but I have reasoning.

For instance, let’s ask why some books are ‘classics’ in the first place, and not others. With all artistic endeavour, it is impossible to give a concise measurement of a book, and thus you cannot say what criteria makes something a classic. Like all works of art, they only gain status when people are willing to go out and say why they think such a piece is a classic.

But there’s a problem I think we as readers, and certainly as writers, have a duty to address. As far as I’m concerned, ‘literature’ is a stagnant entity. Stuck in a time-warp more likely. Our definition of literature that belongs in the cannon seems to be stuck around the necessity that it must either be old, or deal with deep spiritual and philosophical points. Of course, any selective criteria creates a picture that does not represent the whole. As such, the canon does not represent the entire summary of writing out there. I wouldn’t even say it’s the best. I think we can all list a few literary classics that we’d never want to touch again.

Literature has lost something in becoming so conceited. It has lost its primary function, the thing that made all writers start in the first place. That is telling a good story. Sadly, along the way, storytelling became sidelined, cast into the realm of sensationalist fiction, and therefore not literary. Hence, anything that is popular cannot be literary. Why do we not see science fiction or fantasy included in the canon? We know the answer.

This is what I think must change in order for literature to maintain its credibility. It must not linger in the past alone, but actively engage with present works, rather than exclude them because the author isn’t dead, or because it’s set in a fantasy world.

In light of this, what would you put in your own literary canon? What would you champion, and what would you leave out? Would you put Shakespeare in the bin, or would you keep things as they are?

Writing Off Your Own Worst Enemy – How Do You Stay Postive?

There’s a lot of truth in the phrase that someone can be their own worst enemy. It might be one of those stock phrases that sound awfully cliché when you use them, but it’s one of the few in that category that are cliché because they’re just so apt, and therefore overused. I mean, how else could you say it?

When it comes to writing, I’ve been accused of being my own worst enemy. It comes with a great list of things. Stubbornness. Inability to accept praise. Constantly believing that your writing isn’t good enough, or neither will it ever be. Out of those few, the one that stood out most for me was being unable to accept praise. As soon as someone gave me a positive comment, I’d immediately look for ways to disprove it. It sounds bizarre, but I’d write off people’s comments for the reason that I couldn’t accept the good things they said.

Considering receiving a positive comment is the thing writers crave; this all sounds crazy. I’m pretty sure I caused a few writing friends to bang their heads in frustration with me. In fact, in one case I know it. I was explicitly told.

Why would I choose to reject any positive comments? I think it was because I was never ready to believe in my writing; the idea that if I always thought it was rubbish, I’d never get my feelings hurt. I’d never get caught up in a few well-intentioned comments by friends, glossing over glaring errors because they wanted to be encouraging. Well, once you start going down that road, you start thinking everyone is sugar-coating, unless they’re being critical. Welcome to the world where nothing can possibly be good.

The question is, did any of you as writers slip into this mode of thought at some point? How did you get out of it? Or even if you didn’t, how do you keep yourself from becoming your own worst enemy? How do you keep that little voice in your head quiet?

Moving Forwards With Your Writing

Writing is a unique experience. Unlike other pursuits, you are the only person solely responsible for everything. You must be the one to write in the first place, but you must also have the willpower and discipline to continue to do so. Even when you’re fed up with edits. Even when you feel like you can’t be a writer anymore. The only way you can be a writer is by pushing yourself, and managing your progress towards every single goal you set up for yourself.

No one else can interfere.

The questions I’ve been hearing from good friends is how you stay focused as a writer when you try and get your career in the field going. There are plenty of ways to make a start. You can publish traditionally or by yourself. You can submit short stories to a variety of publications, enter competitions and such. The problems with those common ideas are that they are too closely tied to success. They garner themselves to the expectation of instant success and when the inevitable rejections come, you’re left wondering what else you can do to get started. It would seem your aspirations have been nipped in the bud before they got to flower.

Firstly, forgive yourself for hoping to have success at the first try, regardless of the level.

So your short story got rejected. Your self-published book didn’t sell anything like you hoped. That’s fine. Don’t lie to  yourself about wanting to succeed at the first, second, third, fourth or even firth (or more) try, because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have ever bothered in the first place. Recognise you want to succeed quickly, but don’t allow yourself to repress that feeling because your head might tell you that’s such a vain hope.

It’s not, and you’re only human.

But if submitting work to various outlets sets you up for a blow to your hopes, what else is there to do? The problem is not finding some other outlet, but simply valuing the activities you do before you think about publishing. You’ve got to sort yourself out mentally, so you can condition yourself to react to rejection in a positive way. This means evaluating your approach to both your writing and goals for it on a regular basis that is constructive and enables you to better appreciate what you do.

When we talk about publishing, particularly publishing failure, we often try to find external sources to blame. The editor was picky. The reader didn’t understand the point you were making. Whatever the excuse, we scrutinise ourselves last when things don’t go our way. Of course, we don’t want to for a number of reasons. The primary ones are that it’s easier to blame someone else, and that we’ve invested a whole load of time and emotion in our work. As such we’re extremely unwilling to find fault in ourselves as it negates all the work previously put in. It is painful to realise that you need to rewrite an entire story because you wrote it in the wrong way. Again, take a step back and don’t hate yourself for being only human. No matter what you do, there’s no way to get rid of that horrible, sinking feeling in your stomach when you realise you made a mistake. You’re justified in feeling that way; a mistake is not something to celebrate.

A mistake in writing is never a total disaster as long as you respond to your emotions correctly.

Don’t jump in the deep end; don’t delete all your work because it “isn’t good enough” because there is very much the chance that it might well have been a case that the editor just didn’t like what you did. Writing is subjective, and you can edit your work as much as you like but it might still get you nowhere. In all cases, I would say that you must never delete anything as a rule of thumb. Once it’s deleted, it’s gone. Instead, keep everything you do and edit. Edits are how your improve your writing, not deleting and starting from scratch. You must also learn to be confident in your own skills as a writer. Evaluating yourself requires that you have a good gauge of your abilities as they truly are and you must appreciate them. To do so otherwise is purely destructive, as you’ll never know where to focus your efforts, but more importantly, you’ll probably end up destroying something that you actually do well – you just didn’t have the confidence in your ability to see that. There are plenty of writers who will tell you everyone gets rejected so many times, and even the ones held up as literary greats got rejected many times as well. So, go build up your self-belief and remember that you will get there as long as you keep on trying.

A true rejection is if you give up without getting published.

What you must also reconsider is how you gauge your progress. Don’t measure yourself by letters, but instead do so in how much you write. Perhaps the greatest thing we forget when trying to gauge progress in our respective writing careers is how much we write in itself. I feel we really undervalue it if we measure progress only by how much you’ve published. Writing is the prelude to publishing, it is the very first step on that road and it is crucial to it. Nothing else can come if you don’t write first.

So if you find yourself thinking that you’re going nowhere in writing, stop and look at how much you’ve done. The reality is that you’re always going somewhere and all of it is progress.

I keep myself writing with one thought in mind. I enjoy writing in the first place. Such enjoyment will always keep you going as long as you focus on it, and not things later down the road. Keep such reasons in your mind first, and all other worries second otherwise you just burn yourself out.

If you want to succeed, keep writing and remember it’s just as much about writing well as it is being able to continue going forward in spite of all hardship.

 

Making ‘Fiction’ Fiction.

When you stop and think about it, writing is actually quite a silly thing to pursue. It’s down to logic. Why write about something that isn’t real? Or even better, why continue to agonise over something imaginary? If we measure our behaviour towards productivity, then writing is something that doesn’t fit. To be purely logical, why should anyone spend time that could otherwise be spent on facilitating some sort of material gain? Is there any value we can actually place on stories apart from emotional ones? It’s hard to find an answer. Financial inventive might work, but its rare to find any author who began writing for financial gain. It further collapses when you realise stories only sell because people invest emotionally in them. Quite simply, people buy stories because they like them.

As we grow up, we’re increasingly exposed to pressure that determines what we should and shouldn’t do. As such, the focus on imagination and unrealities dies off in favour of logic and reality. It’s why English classes go from having exercises in creative writing to writing analytical essays about works of literature. ‘Literature’ itself rarely includes any works of fantasy or science fiction. Those are populist, low-brow, sensationalist and therefore not high-brow. The irony is that many ‘classic’ works of ‘literature’ actually were criticised in their times for those same perceived faults. We only have to look back so far as to Modernism to understand that novels in themselves were criticised for lacking intellectual weight. The result is that even within the literary world, writing both struggles to and rigorously attempts to justify itself. There still is no answer.

Why is it then some of us continue to imagine the unreal, and therefore write?

This isn’t a post about defending writing, or trying to legitimate the process. Quite the opposite, I believe writing actually suffers from trying to legitimate itself and justify its place in society. The question shouldn’t be why you are you dreaming, but in fact asking those who asks such questions why they don’t dream. Imagination is key to being a good writer, so you shouldn’t try and legitimate your writing by neglecting it. Quite simply, this means where you should write where your imagination first takes you, and not where your head takes you to. As such, perhaps writers should not focus on writing fiction about our current reality, but instead write fiction that is truly fictitious. That is, it is not set in our reality, in our time. Instead, it dares to be imaginative, to deal in created worlds, rather than based on the one we’re already writing in.  In this way, you make ‘fiction’ fiction.

Literature and Science

One of the strange things about being a writer is that you become sucked into having a stance upon scientific endeavour, and its relationship with literature. As far back as primary school, you’d become aware of the tension between these two schools of thought and be forced to pick a side. Yes, it’s the typical Literature versus Science debate. What I find amusing, frankly, about this argument is that firstly there is no need for there to be an argument, and secondly, that scientific endeavour has a great habit of exposing people’s insecurities about their own paths. This whole topic I’ve found is brought up more by writers, English Literature students and other affiliated parties than those with a grounding in or an actual career in scientific fields. That tells you something in itself.

As a writer, I’ve got the worst history I think you could possibly get. Instead of starting writing early and being fascinated with stories, I actually spent most of my childhood interested solely in science. In school my best marks where always in the sciences, I always enjoyed doing science, and I hated doing English and creative writing. Ironically, I simply couldn’t write creatively and at that point I was convinced I wanted to do something in the sciences for a job. Now things are totally the flip side – I’m studying English Literature at university and I spend my time writing. I fit the mould for being a writer better now yet the thing is, I’ve sat on both sides of the camp for this topic. Quite honestly, this whole issue is a laugh for me because it’s not an issue at all.

In several of my lectures so far, I’ve been bombarded with a bit of literature propaganda as I’d like to coin it. I’ve had Shelly’s quote that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” repeated more times than I care for (even though that number is one – its such a vain quote) and lectures dealing with the issues of scientific enquiry, each with the veiled implication that literature isn’t pointless. What strikes me about the tone of these lectures is the implicit self-justification, the underlying tone that seeks to reassure both the speaker and the vested interested of the students listening. The message varies, but the overall trend is the same, that literature has a point in the face of science.

What’s interesting is how the perception for such arguments is that science is hostile to all other modes of thought, that it is trying to prove all other schools of thought wrong. That’s an entirely unjust categorisation. The goal of science is to learn the truth about things (a huge generalisation), but the crucial distinction to make is that it seeks to understand and arrive at what can be proved as truth. Thus, it only deals in the physical and the material. Issues of belief and thought are not it’s concern, because no test can be determined to prove a thought true. Therefore, it is not out to prove other modes of thought wrong. Ironically, those knowing in the operation of language should be savy to this distinction. In scientific enquiry, it is determined that a theory can be tested and by confirmation of test results, proved to be correct beyond reasonable doubt. It therefore operates in the psychical world, not the world of ideas. A great example would be that science is not out to prove religion is false, because there is no test that can be devised to prove the existence of deities. The conclusion is that science is a way of determining the properties of the physical world, but it is not in the same realm as philosophy, art or literature. Philosophy deals with thoughts, mostly questions of why. Art and literature cross into philosophy, but they’re also about aesthetic pleasure. Studying English is simply learning a mode of analysis and thinking – just with a different subject matter.

In the end, it becomes clear that Literature and Science are on two obviously different paths, aims and fields. They could not be more different, and thus more separate. One cannot transgress and try to disprove the other because they have no overlapping currencies. This means that yes, arguing that one field is more important than the other is irrelevant. What it only reveals, as I said in the introduction, are the insecurities of individuals. Science can determine what cake is, while language explains what cake is. One is about what it is, the other is about what it means. Both however at first deal with what it is, and it’s the small distinction in what “is” or “being” can mean that you must remember.

 

The “Author” Self.

I know precisely why I hate the idea of the archetype “writer”. I have a bit of a long running scepticism against the cultural stereotype of being a writer. I now know why I actually hate it.

The process of writing, and being a writers, is so very contrived. The process of writing and being a writer is an insular process; it is a self-absorbing action that increasingly demands interest in itself. When writing something, you draw yourself as a person into the process – you become increasingly wrought in the story as you write. In effect, the longer you spend writing, the more concerned you become with the process of writing. As you write, you mould yourself into both the writer and into the text itself, so much that you become invested in the text, and your text invests in you. Thus, the writing reflects itself upon you as you become the writer, and this writing persona is then reflected in the text. People look for the persona in the text, and draw parallels between it and the “writer”. What remains is that your real self is sidelined by the authorial identity that is constructed by the process of writing and signified in the written works.

What this means is that when you first set about writing your first piece of writing, you do so as someone who is not an author. As I’ve said before, the notion of the author is a loaded term that comes with a huge baggage train of philosophical and cultural expectations. Thus, as you begin to write (and crucially show your work to others) you move from being you, the person, to you, the author of various works. What happens is that the created “author” dimension to your person grows and becomes the dominant mode, or trait people recognise you for. The example of this de-centring of the “real self” for the “authorial self” is right here.

Let’s ask, how many of you primarily see the identity, “Words” as an authorial one? In effect, what does the name signify when you see it? What do you associate with it? For the majority, it signifies the “authorial identity”. It thus acts as a locus of created written persona that you attribute works to, and from those works you attribute traits to the idea of “Words”.

But the problem is that it is not real. It is not the real me – instead it is created by the process of writing and reading. Written actions, preserved in text create the status as a writer for “Words” but the problem is that writing has no inherent truth, as language itself is arbitrary and only referential to itself. Here’s another example of what I mean – through written works and our reading of those written works, we create the idea of the authorial self. We see J.K.Rowling first not as the person, but as a perceived experience constructed from reading her writing. We have a notion of the author, but not of the real self. Reading J.K. Rowling’s works does not bring you any understanding of the actual person.

This is the reason why writing is contrived – it is so self-absorbing that it creates an other self for the individual that writes, and it is this authorial self that comes to replace the individual.

Thus, your experience of this blog even  is one located, created and reinforced by written works – not by any personal experience from meeting me. Your expectations will be dictated by your reading – you expect that I should post some writing soon, that I should write to a certain style or subject, and you shall seek to draw in impression of personal investment in my writing.

This is the very problem with writing, and the notion of being a writer. Being a writer – I just said it then, comes to define you. It becomes the single stand-out action about that person. Thus, you no longer cease to be an individual, with multiple interests and a complex personality. Instead, you become the writer – a creation that confines you. A “writer” is a constrictive chain upon identity – it speaks of a sole activity that all your other experiences can be linked into as contributing factors to the writing, not as separate parts of your identity. Your hobbies then become means for understanding what you write, not as things you enjoy and are then expressed in your work. In short, things you do become a means to an end of writing. I do rock climbing, and to explain what I mean, if climbing were mentioned in some fiction I wrote it would not be there because I personally enjoy it. Instead, the climbing I undertake in life becomes something that contributes to what I write. In an abstract way, it functions like research. I’m doing it so I can write about it, rather than I’m writing about it because I enjoy it.

It’s this fact that writing comes to absorb your self is what I hate about the idea of being a writer. The phrase itself signifies its aim. Being a writer. It leaves no room for anything else – you are a writer. But remember, it’s also something people impress upon you. Which is why I must caution you – to go looking for “the self” in writing is pointless. We read and interpret stories in our own individual ways, so we don’t need to look for authorial guidance. Does the person who created a story have to be found within the story? No. Remember, as soon as the character’s voice begins, the author is dead.