I was brought up in a home where we taught never to sing our own praises. That’s why I find it hard to step back and look at what is good in my writing. I’d far prefer to write “it’s all bad”, and leave it at that. But that would be doing myself a disservice. There are both good and bad things in my writing. And to improve, I need to identify where improvement is needed, and surely that’s what the posts this month are all about.
I enjoy writing. That goes without saying. Or does it? There are times when the last thing I want to do is write, when I just don’t enjoy it. What then? I don’t write. And that’s probably the first weakness I need to overcome. Keep going, keep practising, even when I don’t feel like it.
What’s good in my writing? That question is impossible to answer alone. Fortunately, I have people who help me through their feedback. So a lot of what follows is based on what others have said.
My characters. This is where I stand and fall as a writer. When a piece fails, it’s usually because I haven’t got a good handle on the characters. And there’s more to this than just drawing up character profiles. I have to really get inside her, figure how he thinks, what kind of things she’s saying to herself. From there having him acting out the story is easy.
Description. I love working with photos, not so much real ones as ones I create in my mind. I shape and reshape them and when they’re ready I try putting them into words. People have sometimes said to me, how easy it had been to imagine a scene or setting they had never had any personal experience of, just through my writing. When that happens, then I feel I’ve made it.
The above two points probably reveal one of my greatest weaknesses as a writer: taking short-cuts. It’s when I don’t take the time to let the characters and to let the pictures sink into me, that I end up with pieces which are no more than second best. It’s easy to do under the pressure of wanting to produce, and sticking to deadlines. But it’s fatal.
I’m a bad winter writer. Perhaps because I’m a light person and the dark months get me down. More important though, because I love writing outside. I have one or two places which really inspire me but French winters are not very conducive to spending long stretches outside with my hand and wrist providing the only movement. In addition, most of the characters in my story are born at the table of a street café. I go, I observe, I listen then I go for a walk and let imagination take over. I could go inside but it’s just not the same thing.
Anyone who knows me and my writing also knows that I’m a fairly one-sided writer. Most of my stories have real-life settings and are about ways in which characters evolve and are reborn through the conflict they have to face up to. I’d like to try to provide some variety by turning my hand to some historical fiction, using a similar pattern. Some people have also said, stories like this could also find an expression in science-fiction. This is something I’ve not tried out yet, and I’m not sure I will. I don’t read much science fiction and am not really drawn to it. But then, my mother always said, “Pigs may fly,” so who knows.
I’d never have thought that where you live would actually influence the kind of thing you write. I’m not so sure now. A lot of my French friends have said how much they love my comedy. And guess what? With one or two exceptions, I’ve never written comedy in English. I think this is because my comedy is basically autobiographical. I make up a character, but very often I am writing about myself. So it appeals to those who know me. As most of my writing in English is read by people who know only my on-line self, and not the real me sitting in front of the screen, it just wouldn’t work.
Writing in another language is, of course, difficult. But in one area I find French far easier than English: poetry. I’ve not really written much poetry and none in English. The few poems I have written have been for reading aloud, not putting into print. When read, they have usually aroused appreciative murmurings from those listening. One was even chosen to be read at an evening performance following a weekend of writing away in the mountains. Maybe poetry lends itself to non-native speakers more than prose because the form is freer; the writer can give himself more to the emotional pictures he is creating rather than having to deal with the nuts and bolts of a (even after 14 years) still not quite familiar language. Besides, what could be more poetic than French?