I think I’d like to be a writer.
Don’t get me wrong. I already write. More than you probably think. I have books that you can buy, and I’ve written articles for magazines and journals. I’ve written stories, collections of poetry (and before you ask – no, you can’t) and I’ve started several unfinished novels of varying degrees of quality over the past 25 years.
I write a lot that’s just for myself. ‘Journalling’, if you like (though I wouldn’t call myself a ‘journalist’). Three pages longhand first thing every morning for years now. That’s about 750 words of braindump. Recently I’ve taken to doing it in the evening as well. So that’s 1500 words every day without even putting my fingers on a keyboard.
I’ve also been blogging here for the past eleven years, and have written an estimated million words on New Music Strategies. I have a music blog where I write about records I like and I’ve had a number of different blogs on a number of different topics over the years. I even wrote about whisky for a while there…
But I’m not a writer. Not yet. I’m simply someone who writes.
I know writers. I know some amazing, gifted writers. People who craft beautiful or heartbreaking sentences, weave narrative from fine threads of metaphor and myth, and tell stories with such impact that the reverberations continue long after the last words have been read. People who will string a group of words together that will just make you stop and say “Huh…”.
I know writers who write fiction and writers who write non-fiction. And many of them, I suspect, have written far fewer words than I have written – but for whatever reason, they are writers far more than I am a writer. It’s what they’ve focused their attention on, I guess. My attention has always been on so many different things all of the time. As a result, I like to think I’m reasonably good at lots of things, but exceptional at nothing in particular.
I guess the same is true for musicians, now that I think of it, or athletes maybe – but it seems that ‘writer’ is a state of being. A capacity. A quality. You can always tell when someone’s a writer, because they’re a writer when they are not writing. It’s who they are. A writer walking. A writer sleeping. A writer singing songs.
That’s what I want to be. And it’s not what I am yet.
But the way that I’m going about becoming a writer is by working at it. Focusing, finally, rather than merely dabbling an awful lot. For the longest time, writing has been how I do lots of other things – rather than the thing that I’ve paid attention to for its own sake. And so improving the calibre of the composition has not been the at the heart of my work, but instead, I’ve used writing instrumentally in order to communicate in a particular mode in the service of some non-literary aim or other.
You may have noticed an upsurge in the number of posts on this blog of late. This is a writing exercise. It’s practice. 350 words minimum every day here (usually substantially more), and a post each day on my music blog. And improving the calibre of writing is the primary purpose of those activities.
Don’t worry – it’s not going to be this regimented or relentless forever. I’d like to be in a position one day to simply write for pleasure, as the mood takes me. But I do want to make some headway towards that goal of being a writer which, for me, follows from being good at writing.
Much like someone who wants to become a concert violist must perform and practice every day, I’m sitting at my keyboard as a matter of ritual observance, regardless of whatever else is going on in my life, and I am practising. I may make some occasional squawks and play some wrong notes – but the purpose is to just write.
I know I can put a sentence together that communicates, generally speaking. And I almost never have the paralysis of the empty page that so many people talk about. But the quality of my prose is nowhere near where I’d like it to be. It’s the craft of writing and the feel and taste of the words on the page that I want to really master. It’s the difference between cooking a family meal each night – and being a chef.
It helps that I have a couple of work-related book projects on the go. That gives me plenty of opportunity to write. Every bit helps. And I’m studying the work of others, as well as some writing about writing that I’m finding incredibly helpful.
And yes, I’m also working on a novel. In my spare time. You may be waiting a while for that one. But I’m thinking of that project as my graduation.
A novel – especially one that I’m pleased with – will, I hope, be the chrysalis from which I emerge a fully fledged writer with the kind of colourful wings I see on those that currently soar above my head.
Which is all really just to say… hence all the blog posts recently.