Posted by Tania Kindersley.
My students have undone me. They were so good today they made me cry. I am not being figurative or hyperbolic. Actual salt water sprang from my eyes.
'It's the Irish in me,' I said, all gruff and embarrassed. Because as every fule no, the Irish never stop weeping for a single solitary second; the streets of Dublin swim in rivers of tears.
Also: they gave me a fuchsia. A FUSCIA. It is the fattest, most gaudy peacock of a fuchsia I ever saw. And cards filled with kind messages, and a lovely tray made of willow, and all sorts.
Most of all, they gave me their trust. They wrote so well and bravely today that I ran out of superlatives.
As a result, I can't really remember much of what I spoke about today, let alone summon the vigour to write it all down. (You can find a full version of last year's class here.)
But I cannot leave you without a few final snippets.
I talked of the dull practical things:
Get an agent. Never send anything directly to a publisher; it will end up on the slush pile, and that will make you sad. Consult the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, send a polite covering letter, a one-page synopsis, and the first three chapters. Polish these to within an inch of their lives. If there is one grocer's apostrophe, or a single misuse of the words imply and infer, or even the hint of a dangling modifier, no one will ever take you seriously in this town again. Make sure everything is double spaced. No fancy fonts, now. Times New Roman point 12 is an excellent, professional choice.
Research. Do as much as you can, as fast as you can. I find if you do it intensively, it is more likely to live in your head, and you do not have to spend half your time consulting your copious notes. Be ruthlessly vigilant about anachronisms. If someone answers a telephone before Alexander Graham Bell was even born, the fourth wall is broken, the suspension of disbelief is lost, and your brilliant historical novel lies in ruins at your feet.
Search always for the clear spine of your story. You can do diversions and tangents (I am addicted to tangents) and musings, but always return to that lovely, central arrow. If the spine is not strong, the thing will not hold.
I always remember that line from Amadeus, when the Emperor told Mozart: 'Too many notes'. Sometimes there are just too many notes. Get out your secateurs and prune.
On a related note: you always have to kill your darlings. Be alert for any whiff of self-indulgence. The phrase or the paragraph or the idiom might be lovely in itself; it might make you laugh; but if it is not pulling its weight in the piece, it has to go. I find the process of darling murder so agonising that I keep a special file titled: Dead Darlings. That way I do not have to do daily battle with the delete button. Like the Norwegian parrot, they are not quite dead, they are just resting.
Be bold. Take risks. Remember, no one is ever going to see your first draft. If you fall flat on your face, it will only be in the privacy of your own boudoir.
EM Forster said a marvellous, true thing. He said: 'The king died and then the queen died' is a story. 'The king died and then the queen died of grief' is a plot.
Hemingway also said something that I think is shiningly true. He said: Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it - don't cheat with it. (I have a suspicion that he was writing to F Scott Fitzgerald when he said that, but I cannot be quite certain.)
I say: in the end, you have to do it for the love of the thing itself. You should write because you cannot not write. Writing is difficult, and baffling, and maddening, but it also holds a lot of joy. I think we write to make sense of the world, which often has no sense. I think we write to explain ourselves to ourselves. If you lose the joy, there is not much point to going on. Getting published, getting paid, getting nice reviews are not nothing, but they will not solve any of your problems. Seeing your name in print is an undeniable thrill. But really, that is all jam. The important thing is the writing itself, and, at the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker, I do think that has to come from love.
To any of my students who might be reading this: thank you. You gave me a great gift this week.
To all of you wonderfully kind people out there in the blogosphere, thank you for reading, and for your lovely, generous comments. They make me smile.
I wish you all great joy in your writing.
I leave you with the words of Jack Kerouac:
Be in love with yr life
Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
Blow as deep as you want to blow
Write what you want bottomless from the bottom of the mind
Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
Pictures of the day are of the dogs, because a Friday is not a Friday without a snapshot of canine gorgeousness:
I must thank my darling mum, who looked after them all week, while I was out teaching.
And I would like to thank the Academy…(writer is gently removed, and relocated to a darkened room).