Hello all you wonderful folk and welcome back to Irish Writers Wednesday, a little place for Irish writers to join me with a selection of fascinating guest posts on topics of their own choosing.
Last week I was joined by the very funny Caimh McDonnell, with a post on ‘How Irish is Too Irish?’ which you can read HERE
Today I welcome the awesome writer Evie Gaughan. Evie has written a number of books (see links below) and also writes fantastic thought-provoking posts on her own blog which you will find at Evie Gaughan
So I’ll hand you over now to…. EVIE GAUGHAN
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
(Westward Ho – Samuel Beckett)
Full disclosure: I’ve never even read Beckett. However I am a sucker for inspirational quotes (if only I could remember them!). I immediately pinned this one, in the hope that through some kind of Pinterest osmosis (Pinmosis, if you will) Beckett’s greatness would somehow rub off on me.
A cursory glance shows it to be an insightful, motivational line that suggests perseverance will result in success. Look a little closer, however, and you will see that this statement isn’t so happy-clappy. It doesn’t mention a thing about succeeding. What it’s really saying is: Trying is failing and success is willing to fail, over and over again. What can I say; us Irish are a pessimistic lot!
But there’s an authenticity there, the kind you don’t often hear in our goal-driven, success-obsessed and competitive society.
“In order to do something well, we must first be willing to do it badly.”
(Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way)
I think we all like the idea of being a writer, but the reality involves staring down your inadequacies (or at least pretending not to see them) and not crumbling at the first sign of how crap your writing is.
People assume they can just sit down and start writing a brilliant novel. But like that ill-judged skiing holiday, where you assumed that the sport involved nothing more than launching yourself down a slope and letting momentum do all the work, it’s not that simple. And like skiing, the biggest challenge is taking the risk to look like a complete eejit in the hope that eventually you’ll look like less of an eejit.
Oh I know us writers must sound like such moaning Michaels. ‘Writing is SO hard!’ we lament, while onlookers observe that we’re not curing cancer but whinging about a career choice we could just as easily have chosen not to do. But that’s what is so hard.
Nobody gives a shit if you write that book or not. Just like nobody on your skiing holiday really cares if you make it down that mountain (well, except for maybe your family who are waiting at the bottom, wondering if they’ll now have to perform a sky burial).
But essentially, no-one gives a shit, only you.
So yes, writing is hard because it’s so easy to give up.
Which brings me nicely on to another favourite quote of mine:
“Professional writers are just amateurs who never gave up”.
You will fall, you will look like an eejit, but that’s part of the process. The only way to get better is to keep going. You have to be willing to undergo an apprenticeship and give yourself permission to be a beginner. You have to be willing to write meandering, clunky prose in order to filter down to the good stuff. You have to be willing to take rejection and still go on foundering, trying, failing. And failing again.
Why? Because all of these things will help you to find your writer’s voice.
They might push you to the point of giving up or you might even quit entirely. Only to find an uneasiness; an itch that proves you can’t NOT write. Then you will know that you are doing this for you. Not for success, not for the publishing deal, not for the money or the fame, which may or may not come. You sit alone at your desk facing the blank screen because, despite the general sense of mystification, you love writing.
That’s when you know you’re a writer and that, for me, is success. Because to know what it is that stirs your soul and makes you feel passionate about something, regardless of the outcome, is the prize itself.
One of the most common questions writers are asked is ‘What is your writing process?’ People want to pull back the curtain and witness the magic for themselves. Because there is a sort of alchemy that transmutes a mere idea onto the page. But this alchemy is thickly disguised under layers of ordinariness.
The daily grind; an undignified slog; unflattering clothing options and silent moans (at least I think they’re silent). We’re just regular people, trying to make magic happen out of a succession of binary code. Or as Wilde put it, ‘We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are staring at the stars.’
Our mind may hold the most beautiful story idea that ever was, but translating it onto the page is a terrifying mix of adrenalin, frustration, self-doubt, resignation and blind faith. Author Ann Patchett describes this murderous process beautifully, by comparing our ideas to pretty butterflies that, in order for us to capture their allure on the page, must be sacrificed.
“The journey from the head to hand is perilous and lined with bodies. It is the road on which nearly everyone who wants to write — and many of the people who do write — get lost… Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.”
Reality generally fails to live up to our expectations. The idea for a book is always greater than our cack-handed execution. It is a universal truth, ingrained in our human condition that we will never be truly happy with what we produce.
But I think the point that Beckett is trying to make is that the beauty is in the endeavour. The striving to become a better writer elevates the spirit and the mind and that is worth so much more than producing a bestseller. Beckett is praising the process of creating and warning us that, while it may not be pretty, it will be worth it.
Creativity is a messy business.
Our ego longs for the book launch, when we can hold our pretty book aloft and say ‘Look what I did!’ But becoming too focused on the finished product can really stifle your creativity.
Creativity is in the doing, not in the done.
Art is in the process, not the product.
I am also an artist and I rarely accept commissions. It might sound like a terrible business plan (it is a guaranteed paycheck after all) but it always ends in tears. Mine. This is because people are asking for a product. They’re not asking for the emotion and spontaneity that goes into producing an artwork (even though that’s what they also expect). They are paying for a particular outcome, which creates boundaries and limitations on my natural creative process. I can’t experiment or explore, because the ‘agreed’ outcome has already been bought and paid for.
God help me if I ever get a two book deal! (Although something tells me I’d manage 😉 )
‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.’
I love those two words: ‘No matter’. Sometimes we take writing so seriously, it’s as if being a beginner is a hanging offence! We forget that creating should be fun, or at least, experimental. But these days you can’t budge on the Internet for Rules On Writing. Before you’ve even had a chance to sit down and goof around on the page, you are being told what not to do, so from the outset you have a fear of making a mistake.
Yes there are writing rules, but the best way to learn them is to write. Be willing to look perfection in the eye and say ‘Without you, I might actually write something!’
You want to make people feel, laugh, cry and empathise. So loosen up and try not to take the whole process so seriously. Creativity is fun and it comes through in your writing.
If you’re enjoying yourself, the reader will too.
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
(George Bernard Shaw)
Becoming a writer is something you choose to do because it excites you, because you have a story to tell and you think you might be good at telling it. So don’t let someone else’s idea of success dictate what writing means to you.
Apparently, only 3% of those who set out to write a novel actually succeed, so just completing a novel is a huge achievement in itself.
Define what success means to you and give yourself the freedom to write without an ultimatum. As for me, I have recently completed book three and I think I can say with no small amount of satisfaction that I have failed better!
Soon it will be time to start novel number four and muster up the grace to be a beginner all over again, but a beginner who isn’t afraid to fail, again and better.
About Evie Gaughan:
Hi, my name is Evie Gaughan and I am the author of The Heirloom, a fusion of historical and contemporary fiction set in Ireland and The Mysterious Bakery on the Rue de Paris, a magical story about a French boulangerie.
Living on the West Coast of Ireland, which is not renowned for its sunny climate, I escape from the inclement weather into my converted attic, to write stories and dream about underfloor heating. Growing up in a walled medieval city, I developed a love of storytelling and all things historical. With a taste for the magical in everyday life, my stories are full of ordinary characters with extraordinary tales to tell.
Purchase Links :
( Read my review HERE )