There was no way to prove — actually prove, really prove — that that man was me. The story was familiar — I knew I had written it — but that name on the paper still was not me. It was a symbol, a name. It was alien. And then I realised that even if I did become successful at writing, it would never mean a thing to me, because I couldn’t identify myself with that name. It would be soot and ashes. So I didn’t write any more. I was never sure, anyway, that the stories I had in my desk a few days later were mine, though I remembered typing them. There was always that gap of proof. That gap between doing and having done.
— Ray Bradbury: “No Particular Night or Morning” (from The Illustrated Man)
Look: that’s Bradbury nailing what writing’s really about. The doubt you feel; the doubts you share. It’s Bradbury on the middle-point of a novel you started, a short story you sacked off, a poem you thought was going somewhere. For me, it’s that exact reason you stop writing a work in progress. The loathing and the loss of confidence.
But your parents don’t really care that you’re writing. Pay your bills and manufacture some handsome grandchildren — that’s what they care about.
Want to be a writer? All the advice points to writing hard and often. To be a good writer, you have to write hard to get good. Write, write, and write some more.
But you know that.
And your girlfriend, she doesn’t really care how you do it. She wants you to put the laptop down. Wash up and kiss her hair.
So, right, you remember things. You remember how writing’s the practical part — the practiseable part, the verb — then really what makes the difference between a good writer and a failing one is knowing when you’ve finished.
And me, I don’t ever know. Chances are, you don’t either.
But your friends don’t really care much about your hobby or the sediment it puts in your guts. Their eyes go all glassy, don’t they? Did you notice that? That’s because you’re playing out. You’re having a beer — not telling them about the way your weirdo main character get weirder all the while.
Then there’s the parable about the man who rewrote his novel every year till he died. Never content, he trimmed and pruned and tweaked and shaved. And never, ever, was he happy. He’d send it round Jupiter and back, that bloody manuscript of his, and still he’d hack it to bits. And that’s you, isn’t it? You keep doing that to your novel as well. That’s why you haven’t subbed it for a month or six.
Only your writer friends, well they’re more arsed about their own characters, flailing through their blank pages without a full stop to hang off. They’d sooner their own stuff come out than yours. That’s the beast — you’re the lamb — now clear off. Competition, if you’re going to be honest. Oh give over, you’re thinking now. You love your friends winning book deals.
Well, that’s because you’re lovely. That’s because they’re your friends.
But come on. Writers don’t write books in teams. We’re selfish, us writers. Taking all that time to peck at the keys; to wake up in the night and wake our partners to write in notepads by lamplight. We’re bastards, some of us. We ask the wrong questions to dig out the truths.
Some of us.
(I like friends getting book deals)
And there’s never enough time, is there? Never enough time. In from work, out of clothes, on to the settee. Making time where there is none. Your brain always on it. In the shower, taking a dump. You can’t stop thinking about that scene; that scene and that death; that plot hole and that cliche.
But your employer doesn’t give two figs about the novel you’re writing.
Nobody really does.
So how do you do it? How do you make anybody care?
It took me till this week to realise. To realise that nobody really gives a shit about your writing till they’ve gone to bed to read it. That’s when they care. And their questions come later. Their attention comes later. Their compliments if you’re lucky.
And till then, well. We’ve got all these blog posts we writers write for each other.
So keep trucking.