Three years ago, I had an idea. It was a small, silly, malformed idea, and over time it mushroomed into something I couldn’t really grasp.
As a craft, writing- fiction or non-fiction- is perhaps one of the cruelest when you realise it’s something you need to improve upon. People don’t consider themselves artists or musicians: oh, sure, we can pick up a pencil or start strumming at a guitar, but from the outset we accept our efforts will be flawed. We’ll fumble around the edges of a skill that we know will take time and effort to master.
When it comes to writing, however, it’s not hard to see why people will want to take a crack at it: why they think it’s something anybody can do without difficulty. Because, strictly speaking, from a middle class British perspective, practically every adult can write. They can spell words, string sentences together, juggle grammar and syntax and produce something technically correct. But whether it’s compelling, or meaningful, or good, is another issue entirely.
I work full time as a copywriter, and in the course of my work I’ve come across all manner of bad copy. But, really, having tried to write creatively over the last few years, I don’t blame people for trying.
What have I been doing over the last few months? I’ve been researching the art of storytelling- Into the Woods is a great breakdown of story structure, itself a vital part of the craft- but researching something isn’t the same as understanding it. I’ve been taking my work to a writer’s group, but it reinforces that my work (and even my delivery of it) is in serious need of improvement if I really want to grab people when they read it.
I’ve come to realise that my motto in life is this: don’t confuse activity with achievement. I have a document full of Not to Scale scenes, ruminations and bits of dialogue: what started as a dumping ground for strays bits of copy turned into something three times longer than my dissertation. But how much of that is worth reading? How much of it is properly paced, or developed, or compelling to an audience? I have no idea, and that’s a big problem. The point is that people can spend countless hours putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, and still turn up something that’s rubbish. That is something every writer must accept, and do everything they can to avoid.
At this point in my life, I think my writing has several big flaws with it. It lacks proper structure, or is written without a proper awareness of it: some of my overarching plot might conform to our common understanding of structure- as is to be expected- but there’s no guarantee that the story as a whole will have its ingredients in the right place. It lacks too many real-world elements: I don’t know if things like dialogue, situations or the character’s overall arcs have enough of a grounding in reality, and I lack the real-world experience to confirm it either way.
A great piece of fiction- as I understand it- paints a vivid, beautifully realised picture of a place real or imagined. I don’t know if I know enough about anything to create any kind of world that’s plausible. As time went by, Not to Scale became something that would address any number of topics- identity, history, religion, prejudice and narrative. Our attitudes to sex, and how we as a society absorb and respond to new ideas. But in time, this became something turgid and unwieldly, a list of topics that each required extensive research and introspection to do justice. I could create a simpler, more superficial comic… but at no point do I want to compromise my work in the attempt to just get something out the door.
And then there’s the fact I don’t always have a great amount of faith in my ideas, inside and outside of the comic I’ve been blogging about for the last year or so. They say to write a story that you want to read, but that’s always a risk when you consider what you want to read might result in something too narrow and insular to have mass appeal.
What’s frustrating about being a creative type (or aspiring to that) is that there’s always going to be something about it we can’t grasp- an element of intangibility. We can read books and write stories and grind and practise and reach for the metaphorical stars… but there’s also that knack or raw talent, an immaterial knack for something that people just have. A foundation they can build upon to succeed as a writer.
So what does this mean for me, and this strange little idea I’ve been nurturing since 2012? It means I’ve got a long way to go before I’m the writer I want to be… and it means I don’t think I’ll be publishing anything soon that I’m truly satisfied with. It means I’m putting this site on hiatus and considering how I can create the comic book I want to… or if it’s something I’m even capable of doing. It means, for now, I want to thank you for coming by… but wait and see if I can be the writer you deserve.
As a story Not to Scale was, to me, something brilliant and beautiful and complex. It was something I was excited about and invested in as a writer, and the project that would cement my status as someone whose work was worth reading. But as is often the case, that idea stumbled when it was exposed to reality… and for the time being, it’s a story that has come to an end. Thanks for taking an interest.