Some years ago, I was working as a consultant for an Irish organisation called Coillte who managed the forests in Southern Ireland.
There can’t be many better places to work than Ireland when you’re being paid by the hour and not by results. But more of that sort of thing another time.
A very old, very senior, member of the organisation was retiring and I was not so much invited to his leaving do as found myself in the right pub at the right time. A long evening of celebration ensued which culminated in the great man being given a rousing send-off into retirement. A member of the audience asked this venerable chap for the one thing he had learnt that he could pass on to those taking up his mantle.
He paused, thought for a moment, then said: ‘The one thing I’ve learnt over the last sixty years is that when it comes to pub toilets incoming traffic has priority.’
Wise words and an example of an incontrovertible truth.
I’ve thought about what my contribution might be in similar circumstances. I offer it to you now so that you don’t have to wait for the retirement party, or even bother to attend.
Here it is:
In order to be a writer all you have to do is to write
There you are, a bit obvious isn’t it? Yet it’s something that I’ve only recently understood. There are a lot of accompaniments to the writing process that I’ve tended to get snagged on in the past. One of these is the nagging thought that what I write has to be good. For most of my life this single misconception has effectively prevented me from doing what I love most.
Don’t judge what you’ve written. That’s not a writer’s job, we pass that task on to our readers. Even if a reader should find what I’ve written isn’t to their taste then, hey nonny no, that’s completely up to them. I have to resist the temptation to explain to them why they are wrong and point out all the aspects of my work that they should be enjoying. That’s futile. It’s like extolling the virtues of apple juice to a beer drinker and expecting them to change their preferences. Or arguing that tea is somehow intrinsically better than coffee.
Quite honestly, if someone does me the courtesy of reading something I’ve written then I’m not only happy I feel privileged. Whatever they might think of it.
Writing is not a competitive sport.
My advice is to write down your story from start to finish. Try to make sure that it is as easily understood as you can manage. Know that finishing the whole thing is vitally important before any form of revision should be attempted, including spelling mistakes.
When you’ve finished, put your story in a drawer, virtual or real, then write another story. Leave it there as long as you can manage. Some of my stories have been in there for fifty years and I’m still not inclined to drag them out. One year is a good target if you can manage it. After that length of time the story will either have breathed its last or be raring to go.
It matters not a jot how long, or short, the story is. Some stories can be told in a few words, others require more. Don’t get hung up on word count. This is a mistake that I’m still making but a little less often these days.
I could go on, as many of you know, but I’ll leave today’s message as uncomplicated as I can manage.
And remember the pub toilets protocol at all times, you’ll be glad of it one day.