That's a quote from author Liz Fichera. I tried to find the, 'A writer is only a reporter for what they have lived,' one, but Google's throwing out, ur, googlies today. If you know who said that, please add it to the comment box - it's killing me!
You may be wondering why the intimate cast of The New Adventures of Superman are standing, in all their awkward glory, above these sentences. Well, it's partly because I can't get that incredible opening theme music out of my head - but mostly because I'm going to be starting a Journalism MA at London College of Communication in just under a month and a half. You can call me Clois from now on ... or 'JIMMY!'
I was initially worried about this decision. I thought, 'Shit, journalists are all hideous photo-rats gagging to type intrusive words about Jordan's tatters falling out of a limo.' I thought, 'Journalism isn't real writing. Not real writing.' I thought, 'I don't want to be one of those people who put off their dream forever and then have a breakdown age forty at their misspent youth.' I thought, 'This isn't me. I don't want to do this.'
Then I thought about it more logically: What the hell is this blog if not journalism? What the hell is the stuff I write for magazines if not journalism? Am I losing my integrity as a writer? No. Am I a person who can only write one kind of thing at one time, AKA, solely the afore mentioned boob bashing (dear God...)? No, I am not. Do I want to affect people and the world with my writing? Hell yes! Can I make a living as a prose writer yet? Hell no! But do I love to write and want to learn more about writing all sorts of things? Yes, yes I do.
This is literally how I decided to apply for this course.
I always knew writing was never going to be easy. I'm not doing it to be rich or famous. I'm doing it because I can't not. It's a part of me the same way my little eyes and big nose are a part of me (ur, sort of). I was one of those kids who, like Jill Murphy, author of The Worst Witch books, spent their childhood literally putting books together with A4 and a stapler. After a long period of adolescent/adult confusion, I realised about 2 years ago, that I had to devote myself to this, or I would never really be happy or feel fulfilled. I mean sure, maybe I've gone a bit overboard with the work and the heart palpitations and stuff, but I'm more than willing to suffer for my art - not that I'm saying over-work is good. Take breaks. Have baths. Yaddy yaddy yadda. Do the work.
So, here is a list of things I've learnt about writing in the past two or three years. They are as applicable to journalism as they are to prose. Hopefully you'll find them helpful, or at least interesting. Please feel free to add any in the comments:
1 - Take everything you write seriously. Even if you think it's not that important, even if you think it's trivial or ridiculous. The way you write is your manifesto to the world. The same way a great actor can make the lines their character speaks into and icon or a breathtaking performance, so the way you pen down you assimilated information and thoughts can make seemingly unimportant things potent. Think of the pubic hair caught in the knicker elastic on a failed wedding night in Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach. It serves as a microcosm of the awkwardness between the young newlyweds. It's poignant because it's written to mean more. It is one serious pube that tells you everything.
2 - What are you trying to say with your writing? What's the point? Why are you doing this? What does it mean to you and to the people you want to read it? What are you trying to affect here? Are you trying to get something out? What is that? Why is this the best medium? Ask yourself the fundamental questions and get the answers.
3 - Everything is a story. I hate the word 'story' so let's swap it for 'narrative.' Even gossip magazine articles are narrative: 'Jordan seen with new interest last week shopping in L.A. OMFG! What will Pete say??!' is a story. The fact that these people are real (hmm....) gives it extra excitement, but the construct is a standard narrative piece. All art is in someway narrative. Even Ulysses is a story. Songs are narrative ('Tonight's gonna be a good, good night...'), poems are narrative ('They fuck you up, your mum and dad...'), photography and painting are narrative. Think of The Scream. It's so unsettling because we don't immediately understand it, we want to work out the back story. Even if it is not explicitly a narrative, it suggests one, often it is the onlooker/reader/audience members' life story. That's what makes powerful art, powerful prose, and good journalism.
4 - If you can't be bothered, don't bother. It's not manual labour, but writing is certainly hard work. When you're writing, sometimes all you want to do is get away and chase that fluffy-tailed dog outside the window. If you do and don't come back. Never come back. Writing is work you should believe in, and you should always struggle, suffer and persist with what you believe in. I'm not saying 'suffering' is intrinsic to the creative make up in a way where you force suffering on yourself to fit a mould. What I mean, is that anything you care about will at some point cause you pain. It's an inevitability - but pushing through it, conquering it, is like, the best thing ever.
5 - Use your fears to make you accurate. When you're faced with a blank Word document, your mind and fingers can seize up. Fear of getting it wrong or doing something stupid has taken over. Use this fear to your advantage: it is your weapon. Fearless writing leads to sloppy writing, a laFifty Shades Of Shit (seriously, the opening two paragraphs are about the protagonist brushing her hair! WTF!! Hash tag fail E.L. James). If you really care about your writing, you will be scared of it. Are you scared of love? Of course you are. Instead of seizing up and comatosing yourself pre-fluffy dog play, use your concern to make you think, 'What am I saying here? What do I want to say? What do I want people to feel? What's the mood I want to evoke? Who is my demographic? Once you can answer these questions (questions are super important to the young writer), you will feel more confident in what you're writing. Your own parameters are key.
6 - (From Jack Kerouac's rules for writing) Be crazy dumb-saint of the mind. I agree. Do it.
7 - Keep it real. Like, what's the point in writing bullshit? No one gives a damn because they can't relate to it, the characters are inconsistent, the dialogue seems fake. Look at the world around you. Look at the life you have lived. A piece about a dragon and a wizard can seem 'real' if you recognise the emotions of the wizard, or even the dragon. People reading to escape still want to recognise something the can understand or feel emotion for. Report from life. Copy life, and expand. It doesn't make it a copout; it makes it worth reading. Stephen King thinks, 'Fiction is truth inside the lie.' Which is also true of non-fiction. As soon as you write it, it's interpretation, it's fiction. Which is why you have to aim for truth above all else.
Two more quotes on truth in writing:
'I always tried to start with one true sentence.' - Ernest Hemingway.
'Fundamental accuracy of statement is the sole morality of writing.' - Ezra Pound.
(I was going throw a Modernist stage.)
8 - Cut the adverbs. 'Will you kiss me?' she asked emphatically. No, I'm not gonna fucking kiss you. Know why? Because anyone who wants to 'empathically' kiss me should be snogging athesaurus. Most adverbs deaden the power of the verb. If your scene, or whatever, is written well enough, there should be little need for the adverb - your reader already knows how she would kiss me. The adverb exists in the mind of the reader as they imagine the scenario. Cut your fucking verbal cling-ons, E.L James.
9 - (A classic oldie) Read everything. I didn't realise how shit my work was until I read everything I could get my paws on. Suddenly you see that's a sloppy sentence. It's too long. That detail is generic. Shit, that's a mother fucking cliche and I didn't even realise. I have learnt nothing from reading this. It's throwaway fan fiction (or, need I mention it again, Fifty Shits of Grey.) In his book,On Writing, Stephen King says, 'If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.' Stephen, I hate your books, but I agree with the sentiment!
10 - Love it. If you don't sit back and feel the world is a better place after you've finished a first draft, maybe this isn't the thing for you. If it is, you already know how this feels. It's the best.
I hope you didn't think that was total wank. As ever, comments are much appreciated. I love a good discussion. Now, I'm off to watch that opening titles sequence again. You gotta love Teri Hatcher's shoulder pads and hair. And 'acting.'