It’s time I got serious about writing. To that end, I’ve set myself a goal to write a thousand words a day, every day throughout April. This is one of the key pieces of advice I got from Stephen King in his very approachable, part-biography and part-writing masterclass, On Writing.
I’ve been telling stories, to myself and others, as far back as I remember. In the holidays, staying with family and far from friends, I’d wander the parks and the seaside, inventing stories. I would write some of them down too. One summer I wandered into a bookshop and bought myself my first set of Dungeons & Dragons. A game about storytelling. I was hooked. The lack of anyone around to play with was no obstacle to inventing detailed worlds and potential adventures.
When the autumn term started, I organised a game, explained the rules and I was building fantasy worlds with friends around the dinner table. The stories I told as a teenager borrowed heavily from the science-fiction and fantasy I was reading but they were all my creation nonetheless.
As my reading habits expanded, so did the worlds I built. If my writing improved, it had become too self-conscious an act to tell made up stories to others. By the time I went to university, it was something to hide rather than to share.
The writing I did as I grew older was more private. I was more secretive about myself. I was working through my fair share of childhood trauma and post-adolescent wandering. My public writing became focused on politics and technology. I was ashamed of my ‘childish’ imaginings. I was more guarded about how I shared myself with other.
In truth, I was desperate to be taken seriously as an adult. With hindsight this seems ridiculous. A puffed up chest and big words on serious topics don’t make a sensible adult. Creativity and playfulness are not marks of infantilism but of confidence and appreciating life’s joy. *Become like the little children.*
The authors I love may have changed over the years(*). I may have become more discerning about form and substance. Less willing to work through terrible prose and hackneyed ideas. However, I still remain open to be amazed, to be transported wholly, subsumed into another world. I continue to prefer stories that capture a deeper truth, by stepping outside of the ordinary. If what you read is your writing destiny, then speculative fiction is perhaps my creative end goal.
One advice, amongst the many sound technical pieces in King’s book, is to write what is true. Not in the sense of what is necessarily factual and realised in our world (that would be odd advice from the master of popular horror stories). But in the sense that, it must come from something you know. Something which may be fictional but speaks to a true understanding of the world. Don’t bullshit, in other words.
I think that is the essence of what good writing is: it tells the truth about the human condition. It may use fantastical backdrops and lace its narrative with technobabble but it has to say something genuine about being human. We are a self-centered species and if we’re honest, we know nothing that is not reflective of ourselves. Yes, even the way we reduce the natural world to laws, formula and models, says as much about us as people as it does about some external objective reality.
To that end, here is what I will vow to do, and it is more important than the ambition to write so many words a day: I vow to tell the truth in my writing. To speak of something worth knowing. I may not always succeed and I will be frequently wrong but that will be my aim. I will not write to deceive. I will not write to make myself sound smarter, seem more knowledgeable or appear more interesting than I am. I will write to tell the truth of what being human means from my perspective. In ways that may not always be direct. But I will do my utmost to tell the truth in my writing.
And as to the thousand words, well, I have my timetable. My early mornings are for my family and for prayer. My evenings are often for studies. I have work during the day. There are fun times in my marriage too. But I will make time to achieve this goal. It just means giving up more mental candyfloss. Goodbye junk politics, goodbye faux crisis news, goodbye clickbait memes on reddit and less of you Facebook.
Because there is something very true about this: you become what you want to be by doing it. Intent is the first step. Any failure to be welcomed as part of the process of making something a success. Screw Yoda. I’m not ashamed to try.
(*) My current three favourites are, in order: John Steinbeck, David Foster Wallace and C.S. Lewis.