In 2017 I could call myself a writer again. That felt good.
For the first time since about 2012, I end the year with a solid body of work behind me. The mix of fiction and non-fiction, long-form and short-form, is uncharacteristic of me but in keeping with my writing philosophy of ‘it’s all good practice.’ Hemingway honed his bared-down prose style, in part, from the style guide of the Kansas City Star; Mayakovsky (I think) wrote rhyming couplets to accompany billboards for the Soviet postal service; and so on.
Writing is writing is writing.
So, in this spirit, my 2017 output included: a magazine feature on vegan fast food; a dystopian story about a family of cannibals; copy for nightclubs and cafes (proudest bruschetta-related soundbite? ‘Get your drizzle kicks’); blogs for the Guardian, Huffington Post and BookRiot; and guides for school pupils debating Basic Income and cultural appropriation.
It’s been a busy year.
Sometime in August, I parked my ambitions to write ‘War and Peace set in 1970s Afghanistan’, a project that has been floundering in the desert since…2012 (as above – funny, that). I’ve written about this in more detail elsewhere but essentially, all ready for take-off, I stalled. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer for something like that yet; something with so many moving parts.
All the same, I left teaching this year to get serious about writing. Thus, Plan B: put in the hours, treat it like a job not a hobby, and write a collection of short stories. I haven’t put in the hours for years and it’s caught up with me.
The great thing about writing stories is the short amount of time – usually a week – between having the idea and holding the end product. I’m learning important lessons all the time because I can easily compare the one with the other, identify the flaws, and try to improve on the next one. Still, I can’t help thinking of them, even the best, as well-made trinkets, and training exercises for a novel. (Which I intend to finish before I turn 30 – 519 days and counting. Reading the 22-year-old Carson McCullers’ brilliant ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ was a kick in the pants.)
Story-writing serves two other purposes: artistic validation and working discipline.
First, I’ve entered monthly competitions and had two early successes: one story shortlisted for the flash-fic 1000 word-challenge and another came 2nd in Writer’s Magazine’s contest. Writing’s a lonely business so to be told you’re doing something right by someone who isn’t a friend or relative is greatly encouraging (esp. after getting lost in the desert).
Second, these competitions have deadlines. Deadlines mean word counts. Word counts mean writing. Writing, if you do it enough, makes you a writer.
What does 2018 hold in store? More of the same, I hope. More writing in general, more poems and stories, and more chances to leave my comfort zone.
With one difference: a novel that gets written.