It’s a tough one to answer, partly because I don’t think about the process very much and also because there isn’t just one place where ideas are floating around and we writers gather with our butterfly nets and haul them in. At least, I’m saying there is no such place, if there is let me know, it will make things a whole lot easier.
So you imply one thing, the reader infers another. It can happen in small subtle ways, or great big clunking ones – the character you intend as a noble hero can seem more of a villain for example. Why is it hard for the writer to spot? Because it’s still you doing the rewrites, and you still have your initial perception colouring your view.
Here’s an example, not from art but from life, of this effect in motion.
So I have a stock response which is to say that I don’t know why I write except that I feel compelled to. I don’t necessarily enjoy writing so much as I find I need to do it, because it’s part of me.
So that deflects the question but doesn’t really answer it.
You’re creating a whole new world, so it’s never going to be straight-forward.
I think the tyranny of detail is something which weighs heavy. Is this or that bit right? But it’s best to press on.
I was chatting to a fellow writer on Facebook recently who asked my advice on her work. She’s writing a few different things on the way to her first published novel but one project is a type of romance novel and essentially, she wanted my view on how spicy she should make it.
She said: “I’m not sure how far to go with it because I could get a little graphic in that one if I wanted to. I just don’t know if I should keep it PG or not?”
Well my view is basically this – nobody can tell you as a writer what you are comfortable with when it comes to sexual content – it really is up to you.
But one or two things did come to mind:
A wise old rocker once said: “There are only two types of money to be made in rock and roll, less than you might think and more than you can possibly imagine.”
It was recently suggested that authors effectively live in a third world economy because, like such economies, the wealth is pooled at the very top of the pile and there is no middle class.
You are either very rich or very poor as an author and the poor outnumber the rich at about the same sky-high rates that the dead outnumber the living.
An old mate of mine, we shall call him George, for that is his name, once told me a story about his childhood. His family was a long way from wealthy and foreign holidays were not on the agenda, but his aunt once made a trip abroad to Austria and returned to Glasgow with a gift for George.
He opened his parcel it to find, to his horror, that it contained a pair of lederhosen. To his even greater horror, his mother made him wear them to school the next morning. He had been hoping to get through the day by keeping a low profile but it wasn’t to be as his form teacher dragged him up in front of the class and made him model his outlandish attire.
“Look everyone,” she said. “George is wearing genuine Tyrolean Lederhosen.”
I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions as a rule. For the usual reason that I tend not to keep them beyond about the third week in January. In fact, for the most part, I suspect that making a resolution in public is a good way to ensure it is doomed.
I read an article somewhere which suggested that psychologically you are more likely to achieve aims you keep private. The theory is that by expressing your intention to other people you assuage your need to achieve it to an extent and so weaken your resolve. So scientifically, making a public resolution is probably something of a schoolboy error.
I don’t read that many bad books, I take no pleasure in them. People sometimes talk about how they are going to gorge on book-junk as though a bad novel is a messy burger and there is a special joy to be gained from swallowing it. Not me.
I like many kinds of fiction and there are great writers in any genre, but I would rather seek out the glittering best of any given type rather than read that which is merely mediocre or indeed plain awful. So I do some research, take advice from people whose taste I trust. Hence I read very few bad books.
The Pick-Up Artist is what might be called a sex-comedy, though there isn’t really any sex in it. It’s a mostly light-hearted book about relationships, what the Americans call ‘dating’, which is a nice neat term which covers a multitude of sins.
I doubt there’s anyone less suited to the role of dishing out advice in this arena than me since I can’t remember the last time I dated, having been happily married for about a thousand years.