Just had a great night out watching Ardal O’Hanlon on stage doing stand up. Amazes me how stand ups remember everything they are going to say; I wonder if there is a trick to remembering several hours worth of material?
Anyway watching him reminded me of course of Father Ted, ie Dermot Morgan who died age 46, and then I thought too of Douglas Adams who died aged 49. Both men were born early in 1952, both died of heart attacks. Is being genuinely funny a death risk I wonder? Both men seemed fit and active – in fact I believe Douglas Adams died in the gym. They were both very successful – perhaps the stress of success and the need to be frenetic got to both men in different ways. Maybe being unsuccessful is safer – that way you might live longer – or perhaps it simply seems that way?
Enough of that – anyone with an infallible way of staying alive and healthy, let me know.
Just started a new set of creative writing classes, and once again struck by the fact that some people believe writing is a mysterious process, whereby you are either good or bad at it, but as if this quality were imposed from above. I thought of an analogy – plumbing. No-one would say they would quite like to be a plumber but don’t know if they would be any good at it. No, they would go on a course, perhaps do an apprenticeship – they would learn on the job, practice, and get better at it through practice. This is the same for writing. You do it, you practice, and you get better at it.
Perhaps the problem is that many people write on their own and don’t get feedback. After all as a plumber there is feedback – your pipes leak, the sink falls off the wall, whatever. You don’t ask your beloved to come and look at it – they would probably say, ‘very nice dear’. No, someone turns on a tap and sees if it works. You soon know if you are any good.
But if you write, you show your work to your nearest and dearest who is probably not a writer and who says, again, very nice dear. Actually since the enjoyment of writing is subjective, the feedback is even less helpful than the tell tale leaky tap. And relatives are no more likely to say, ‘actually dear I don’t think it is very good’, any more than they are going to say, ‘yes dear you need to lose weight’ or ‘yes dear your bum does look big in that’.
So if you want to write, you need to do it, practice it, and get feedback, preferably from other writers who don’t want to make you feel better.
I think the only pre-requisite for being a writer is to be organised and diligent enough to make time to write regularly, to read lots and lots of good writing (not Hello magazine and cereal packets) and to develop your powers of observation and your memory and recall. I think being able to remember stuff in detail really helps. I have a great memory of my childhood (I mean I can remember it vividly – good and bad stuff). I wonder if it helps to be an only child? I am sure only children spend more time in their heads, and perhaps then are more suited to imaginative work. How many other writers out there were only children?
(first published November 2007)
Additional comments: I would love to have time to do a survey of writers to see how many are only children. I certainly got feedback agreeing with me after this blog was originally posted.