Thursday, 16 May 2013

A Question of Passion

A little while back on Twitter, Ian Rankin was bemoaning the quality of his debut, Knots and Crosses. “There’s hardly a page that doesn’t make me cringe” he wrote. I did the same as 30 other people; I smiled, retweeted, and spent a few moments feeling better about my writing struggles. 

A few days later, in the way these things often do, I found a neat little connection between Rankin’s gripe and another piece I was reading; Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. (They discuss ‘art’ in general, but for the purposes of this post, I take it to mean writing.) In it, they are argue that one of the more painful experiences of a writer’s lot is the movement – gradual, dispiriting, repetitive… in short, pretty damn gloomy – from what they call naïve passion to informed passion.

This is the (significantly simplified) deal, according to these guys Bayles and Orland. Naïve passion is the hell-for-leather, carefree, up-and-at-‘em creativity of the  first-time storyteller. Stories explode from the pen; characters leap into life, plots are unfettered, diverse and ambitious. The whole process is fearless because the creator hasn’t assessed or analysed potential obstacles and so the outcomes, always breathless and energetic, can be by turn amazing or disastrous.  

But whichever way it turns out, you can’t keep hold of that naïve passion for ever. Once you’re done creating and the dust has settled, looking back from a critical distance you can often wonder how the hell you managed it at all. And so you move into another phase. “Naïve passion - which promotes work done in ignorance of obstacle…” write Bayles and Orland, “…becomes, with courage, informed passion, which promotes work done in full acceptance of those obstacles.” That, they argue, is the great leap forward the aspiring writer makes and, so they say, huge amounts of people stop creating during this period; they freeze up, curse their luck, cry writers’ block, in some cases put the pen or paintbrush down for good.

But gather round, people, gather round – for here’s the good news. One key conclusion is that novels get finished not by geniuses, but by those with enough dedication and bloody-mindedness to face down the daily challenges and doubts. Do that, and you move incrementally from naïve to informed.

Which is perhaps why Rankin can look back at his early work and wince; it’s the product of a different kind of passion, an earlier version of the passion he clearly still feels twenty-odd novels later. 

All I can hope right now is that I get even a quarter as far as he has, and one day have the chance to look back on The Poison Boy from some distant, marginally loftier position… and cringe.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Fletcher Visits an Old Friend

Square one! How nice to see you again. It seems recently that you and me have been drifting apart. Over the last few weeks in particular, I’ve been hanging out with some of your more distant cousins; squares twenty three and twenty four. They’re good, positive energising company, it feels like we’re going places and doing things when we’re together. They’ve got a fizzy whack of get-up-and-go, those guys, and I’ve had a blast with them. Such optimism, such vistas and views from up where they hang out!

Still, it’s nice to be back here with you, square one. In a sense, it feels comfortably familiar. We’ve spent a lot of time together over the years I guess. I notice a glint in your eye pal, and I know it’s because of that recent practical joke you played on me – you know, the one where you pack me off on a long journey with a length of invisible twine looped round my waist, so that just as I think I’m making progress I find myself bound taughtly to you and I’m forced to return. Rather than throttle you with it, I’ve decided to simply take it off and leave it here with you while we get comfortable in each other’s company again.

Yes, you can laugh all you like, square one, but remember this. In a couple of weeks I’ll be off again, and maybe this time I won’t be back. You, on the other hand, are always stuck here and the only company you’ve got are those who don’t even try.