Be warned: Lots of thinking out loud coming up…
“Learn to write well, or not to write at all.” John Dryden
It’s been almost exactly a year since I last had something published with my name attached to it. My last published article (a film review) was actually a pretty good piece. I can tell by reading it again, though, that I was ready to holster my keyboard and hang up my spurs for a while.
The article was the last in a run of twelve reviews written in the space of about a year for a music website. For that year, I held the title of “Film Editor” for that website, which was just a meaningless euphemism for “The Only Guy Who Really Writes About Film For This Site”.
So, I walked. (Not that anyone noticed). Partly due to circumstance, partly due to personal desire, partly due to changes behind the scenes. I knew I was done with film journalism. Maybe permanently, maybe I only needed a break to get the blood pumping again. Either way, I needed to walk away for a bit. Now, that may sound like an ending to you. To me? Sounds just like a beginning…
“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” Cyril Connolly
Nevertheless, a writer writes, right? I can’t not write. I don’t know how to. It’s a compulsion. If I don’t write for a couple of days, I get restless and twitchy and need to get the words out to keep myself sane. A curse or a gift, depending on which way the wind is blowing on any given day.
So, with the film journalism on the shelf indefinitely (maybe even permanently), my mind wandered onto thoughts of What Happens Next. And it didn’t take me long to decide. I was going to take myself out of the game for a while. No pitching, no structure, no editorial constraints, nothing. Just me and words for the foreseeable future. If I just ended up with a shapeless mess of language, all jagged edges and lumpy blobs? No problem. It’s all a writing exercise. Gets the juices running. Gets the synapses sparking.
Hell, it’s all writing exercises. Film reviews? It’s writing to length, to house style, getting to the point, keeping it accessible, try to entertain, try to keep a bit of yourself in there. Blogging? Scribbling on scraps of paper? They’re all writing exercises, if you allow them to be. Nothing is a waste, everything has a purpose.
And it’s been good. I’ve had the freedom to dick around endlessly with whatever takes my fancy. And it’s all just for me. Learnt a few tricks and got a few things out of my system. But I’m getting that gnawing itch again. Time to jump off a cliff and think about What Happens Next again.
The Year of Film Reviewing for a Totally Inappropriate Website is sooooo 2004, and long gone. And now, The Year of Self-Indulgent Word Wankery is also drawing to a close. So, what next?
Well, it’s time for The Year of The Project. Get my name back out there. Impose structure once more. I’ve been playing with the art of writing for long enough. Now is the time to get back into the craft of it.
And ideas? Man, I gotta bunch of ‘em…
“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.” Neil Gaiman
So, this is it. Day One of my New Year. Film journalism will be back on my slate of projects for the coming months, but not in the way it has been in the past. Not quite ready to make any announcements about that yet.
Short stories, comic scripts, screenplays, long-form novels….it all starts here. I’ll spend a while pulling together all the disparate threads I’ve cast out over the last year, and when they are nice and taut, twanging with tension, then the work begins. But it’s not really work if you enjoy it so much, is it?
“I am a galley slave to pen and ink.” Honore de Balzac
Something worth mentioning: One of the many things that has inspired me recently, for many reasons, is Monster Island by David Wellington. A novel originally written and published online as blog postings, it has recently been published as a print edition. And it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Want a quick bite-sized one-sentence review? OK: If Charles Dickens was a New Yorker who wrote zombie stories, he’d write Monster Island.
Monster Island bear-hugs every zombie cliché imaginable, before spinning them on their rotting heads and weaving something consistently surprising and original with every inventive twist and turn of the story. As it was published as blog entries over a period of time, almost every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, pushing you forward to the next bit. And, like every true Romero acolyte, Wellington doesn’t use the word “zombie” once. Top man.
And it’s made me think about the nature of serial fiction quite a lot. Monster Island, like the work of Dickens, started out as serialised fiction, which forced the author to think about making every scene and moment count, ensuring that you return for the next bit. So that’s got my wheels turning too…
The best bit? You can read Monster Island in its entirety online right now, for free. And the two sequels in the trilogy. And his latest, currently incomplete story, Thirteen Bullets.
Me? I’m old-school, so I’m forcing myself to wait until Monster Nation is in print later on this year before I dive into the second novel in the series. Also, the man deserves my money for giving me such a damned good read. I’m so tempted to nip into Chapter One though…
Anyway, enough of my yakking. There is work to be done.