Why Even Bother?

Many things bemuse me, but nothing bemuses me more than those who met my younger self and found him so likeable that they remained his friend long enough to meet the man he is today. Having known the boy so well, I find it hard not to think he was deserving of at least some of the scorn he reserved for himself.

However, for all his many faults that I struggle to forgive, I must lend him credit where it’s due. He had an unshakeable belief in his own writing abilities. As much as he loathed who he was, he was utterly in love with what he could do.

In life, he was quiet and terminally gloomy. On the page, however, he was confrontational and confident. At the time, his chosen form was hip-hop lyrics, emulating the rappers he often had on loop. And like his (ill-chosen) heroes, he could brag about his verbosity in one song and then be thoughtfully introspective in the next. He could shine a light on the darkest corners of his mind, and that perpetually nervous child got to be a tragic romantic figure.

Many who read his songs said they were good, but they wanted to hear them. Only he couldn’t perform very well. His voice could not match the confidence of his pen. There was no joy in the performance, either. This wasn’t the right path for my younger self.

His inability to perform his own lyrics didn’t hold him back, though. Blissful denial played some part in this. A greater part, however, was played by his best friend at the time.

Whenever he finished typing up a song, he printed it out on cream-coloured paper and folded it to fit inside the pocket of his school blazer. Then, the following school day was spent eagerly waiting for it to end. Once the final bell rang, he and his best friend would meet under the willow tree beside the school gates. There, he would share with her his newest verses. At the time, her enthusiasm for his words was all he had needed to feel content in his craft.

Back then, his talent was about the only thing he truly believed in. Perhaps if life had been less miserable, he wouldn’t have bothered trying his hand at writing at all. He might have stuck to filling his hours with video games and television.

When did that young writer lose his stubborn belief in his abilities and become the ever-doubting perfectionist that is me?


My favourite playwriting notes from Mark Ravenhill

Final tweet from Mark Ravenhill in his 101 notes series, which reads: "To finish,Toni Morrison ‘if there’s a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, you have to write it’. Resonates -that’s how I started l-the sense that a play ought to exist,it would be easier if someone else wrote it but they haven’t so YOU MUST"

Mark Ravenhill is a playwright I studied for my MA dissertation, which focused on plays attributed to the heavily criticised label: “In-yer-face theatre.”  His play Shopping and Fucking, first performed in 1996, was one of several key texts referenced in my final thesis.

So I was thrilled when last year I saw Ravenhill sharing playwriting tips for free via his Twitter, using #MarkRavenhill101.

Earlier this week, I discovered that all 101 notes have been collected into a single post. I decided to revisit them all and have noted some personal favourites I wish I’d known sooner.


Do more, think less, enjoy the journey

The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know.

Henri Nouwen

When accused of overthinking, it’s funny to counter with the suggestion that maybe everyone else is just underthinking. But I know I overthink. I know it because I’ve spent enough time thinking about it.

The other day, a very good friend of mine listened to me ramble — or rather complain — about all the numerous ideas in my head that I can’t put on paper. What came out of the discussion was the amount of pressure I put on myself to produce shareable work. I’ve been so focused on the desired destination that I’d forgotten to enjoy the journey.


Write lists

Austin Kleon’s “HOW TO BE HAPPY” list from his book Keep Going

Does anyone else love making lists? Quite often I love making a list more than anything I’ve listed.

Lists bring order to the chaotic universe. I love making lists. Whenever I need to figure out my life, I make a list. A list gets all your ideas out of your head and clears the mental space so you’re actually able to do something about them.

Austin Kleon, Keep Going

Austin Kleon, in his book Keep Going, notes the benefits of writing and keeping lists. He mentions numerous creatives who make lists, from artists like David Shrigley and John Porcellino to writers like Steven Johnson and Mary Roach. List-making is a way to curate a collection of all our messy thoughts and put them into order.

In my last post, I talked about writing through the noise in my head. Sometimes writing a list helps cut through that noise.


Ten lessons I’ve learnt so far from starting to write a novel

A month ago, I would not have envisioned even attempting to write a novel at this stage in my career. But then a literary agent asked if I had 25 pages of a work-in-progress to share, and I realised I wanted to say, “Yes.” So I’ve started to write one.

It’s very early days, far too early to share any concrete details publicly, but I thought it was worth writing about ten lessons I’ve learnt (mostly about myself) since I started writing it.

1. I’m not much of a gardener

My project has grown in the telling. Initially, it was conceived as a single short story. Then I decided to make it a trilogy of short stories. But then I had more ideas, so it became a collection of interconnected stories. It has now settled into its final form (I hope): a novel.

Therefore, I had a lot of key plot points and characters worked out quite some time ago. So I wrote my opening line—also worked out months ago—and I was confident a second line would follow.

Not only did the second line not come easy, but the next several were a physical pain to type.


Always writing, never written

For several years now, I’ve defined myself as a writer. It’s the only label I’ve ever felt comfortable with or enjoyed. And it’s never felt like a lie. I always feel like I’m writing. Right up until someone wants to read something I’ve written. That’s when the conversation gets a little… awkward.

“Have you written anything I can read?” When I get asked this question, my first thought is to wonder if I’ve written anything even I’d want to read.

“Well what do you write about?” Good question! Unfortunately, the answer is that I try to write a bit of everything, which is really no different from saying I write nothing. They’re both equally so non-specific as to be useless answers.

“Are you working on anything right now?” Yes: a blog, an article, a poem and a short story that isn’t very short at all. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Sometimes it’s even true.

I decided to total up my word counts from 2020. This includes the short fiction I drafted, blog posts I never published and the blog posts I did publish. Looking at the result, I might have felt better about myself if I had added all the words in my Notes app and all those job applications for companies that ghosted me.