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Writers are full of shit (and where ideas really come from)

Jasper Bark

Jasper Bark beckons readers into his fantastic fiction, but is he really full of shit?

Writers, gentle reader, are SO full of shit it beggars belief!

Considering I’m a writer myself, and knowing the silo loads of shit with which I’m stuffed, it shouldn’t really beggar my belief. But let’s just say, for the benefit of this column, that it does. Let me give you an example of this outrageous and completely unqualified claim.

If, like me, you’re in contact with a lot of writers through twitter and facebook (and if you’re reading this I’m presuming you are, unless you’ve just stopped by because you heard this column contains celebrity fisting anecdotes) then I’m sure you’ve read a tweet or status update like this one:

Just written 4,000 words of my latest novel before breakfast and done 50 laps of my Olympic size swimming pool. Now I’m off to make love to my super model partner – WOOT!

What the writer might not realise, as they type those words, is that the word ‘CUNT’ springs involuntarily to the lips of every other writer who reads them. Not because we’re eaten up with bitterness and jealousy (which we are), but because the claim they make is so intrinsically opposed to the actual experience of writing professionally. A more honest post would read something like:

Just stared desperately at my laptop screen until I wept tears of pure blood, then beat my forehead against my desk for over an hour. Now I’m off to inject smack into my eyeball and lie on the piles of unpaid bills that clog my hallway.

Maybe it’s because this is so much the norm for our careers that, on those rare days when we do manage to be positively productive, we want to share the joy with our writer brothers and sisters. Or maybe it’s because, as stated previously, writers are FULL of shit.

Still not convinced? Hmm, you’re a tough crowd. Okay well here’s another bug bear of mine. Quite frequently I’ll read in the trade and fan media that a colleague of mine in the comics industry has been commissioned to write a regular comics series. When asked for a quote the writer will often say something non committal along the lines of: “Just started work on the first couple of story arcs and I’m having SO much fun writing it!”

Let’s just look at those last five words again: “SO much fun writing it!” If you honestly believe that the words ‘fun’ and ‘writing’ belong together in a book that describes the profession, let alone a sentence, then you’re either heading for a universe of disillusion, or you’re a writer, and therefore – full of SHIT.

Unless of course, your idea of fun is an experience akin to tearing out one of your innards and tying it round the throat of an epileptic doberman. Then kicking the unfortunate creature over the side of a cliff in mid seizure. Because that’s what it really feels like to tear concepts, plots, characters and dialogue out of yourself, to meet an unrelenting deadline, on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, there are occasional moments of unparalleled elation when everything comes together, but these moments usually result in the sort of manic episodes that have me writing letters of apology to all the neighbours and promising never to go near root vegetables or KY jelly ever again.

All of which brings me to the point of this column. You mean, I hear you ask gentle reader. That there IS actually a point to this column?  Well no, but let’s pretend that, even though I’m a writer, I’m not actually full of shit, and I’m not just changing the subject because I’m getting bored now. As the point I’m making does start with another example of writers and the shit of which they’re full.

Public appearances and the lies writers tell

Whenever a writer reminisces about public appearances, they always claim the one question they’re asked most is “where do you get your ideas from?” Strangely I’ve never been asked that question. Even more strangely I’ve never once heard anyone ever ask that question at all the hundreds of signings, readings and conventions to which I’ve been. I don’t know if this is because everyone now knows this is the most asked question and doesn’t dare ask it anymore for fear of being derided by their favourite author, or if this is a collective hallucination that all authors share and no-one ever bothered to slip the right drugs in my drink (probably because they thought I was on enough already).

Or maybe it’s because writers are actually the ones obsessed with where their ideas come from. So whenever they’re asked to write a quick article for someone they trot out the standard line about “whenever I make a public appearance, someone always asks me …”. Whatever the case, it isn’t the most asked question in my experience.

The most asked question that I’ve ever heard (and I dohear this at just about every public appearance) is: “do you just sit around and wait for the mood to strike you?” I think they picture me lying around on some chez lounge, surrounded by naked dwarves with a feather quill in my hand, awaiting the arrival of the muse (or my dealer). I’ve always thought this a pretty strange question seeing as this is what I do to pay the bills and, seeing as all the fluffing work dried up when I hit 40, it’s all I do to pay the bills.

No-one ever imagines other professions sitting about and waiting till they’re hit by inspiration. Have you ever heard of a tradesman suffering from ‘plumber’s block’? As I write this, we’re currently having a kitchen fitted. While I admit that every time I walk into the gaping hole that used to be my kitchen, the builders do seem to be standing around either scratching their stubbly chins or waving a coffee cup hopefully at me, I’m pretty sure they’re not waiting for ‘the mood to strike them’. They want to get the job done as quickly possible so they can move on to the next. Just like I do now – writing this column, even if I never seem to get to the point.

Some years ago, when I was still a music journalist, I interviewed Brian Eno (and no, if you’ve been hanging on for that celebrity fisting story for the last 1,500 words, I’m afraid this isn’t it). We spoke about his working methods and he told me how he wrote his latest album by walking into the studio each day, grabbing hold of the first idea he could think of, and working on it until he had a finished track at the end of the day. He seemed to think this was a pretty novel way to work, but I remember thinking it was pretty much business as usual for most professional creators toiling away to meet a deadline.

This is the truth about where our ideas come from. We torture our imaginations with pressing deadlines and financial imperatives until they rupture and bleed. Then we catch those precious few drops in a story or a script that we’ve hastily cobbled together to keep an editor and/or a mortgage provider off our backs. It’s not always ‘fun’ and we rarely do it in 4,000 word blocks between bouts of healthy exercise, but it is usually the very best we could do given the circumstances and the short amount of time we were allotted. This is what Wilde really meant when he said “art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Anyone who tells you different is either full of shit, or a writer which, as I’m sure we’ve now established, amounts to the same thing.

JASPER BARK

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7 comments

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  1. Luke Walker

    One of the best pieces on writing I’ve ever read. And probably the sweariest.

  2. Troy Dennison

    That was spot on! Funny, insightful, and as self-confessed incredibly slow writer it’s scarily accurate.

  3. craig saunders

    Brilliant.

  4. ANDREA MARIE NORWOOD

    I so agree with you on this, because any writer and including myself that says writing is a thrilling experiment or that writing is like a great vacation is full of bull.
    I have been writing for eight years now and writing an 40,000 or 50,000 book or even a children’s book can become overwhelming for writers to do. I always get my best ideas for a book through sincere prayers to god.

  5. Ed from Madison

    I have been asked the question a couple of times, and I’ve taken to answering the way Harlan Ellison did. “Schenectady.” I tell them there is a writer’s service based there. For $50/month, they send me a list of 10 ideas. But you can only get the address if you belong to the Writer’s Guild. It’s a better answer than, “they pop into my head when I least expect them and if I don’t jot them down IMMEDIATELY, they are gone into the ether, never to be heard from again.”, which is the truth for me 90% of the time.

  6. Teall

    Totally and laughably true. Giggles were present all the way through.

  7. Andrea Marie Norwood

    I am now working with my second spider manuscript and boy is it exhausting! I am going to take a break to enjoy the thanksgiving holiday and be back with a great read of a first novella by the time the holidays are over and before the new year rings in. Writing is exciting at times and fullfilling and especially when you’re getting paid are greeting a flock or small followers of fans, but it can really wera your mind out and exhaust you to the point of just wanting to stop. Whenever I feel this way I get that quiet and pleading voice of my spider character in the back of my mind, that says, “Andrea, no you mustn’t! You have to tell them about us- the spiders, We must live through you.”

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