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Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Challenge for Writers.


Allerthorpe Woods.
For those of us who like, want, need or are compelled to express ourselves in writing there are a number of challenges to be faced. These vary according to the nature of the writer and the type of writing pursued.
So, if you're a writer, what are your challenges?
I'll start you off with my own.

My most basic challenge is one I impose on myself by a quirk of personality: I feel strongly about many topics; passionate, even. But I used to allow this strong emotion to overwhelm my writing, so that I became a proselytising missionary, spreading my beliefs and opinions at the expense of readability.

I prefer to write fiction, being a natural teller of tales, rather than an essayist, but my need to teach and preach (I should point out here that I'm a committed agnostic who views all organised religion with suspicion - there I go again, you see?) overwhelmed my story telling and turned my work into thinly-disguised evangelical tracts on one subject or another. Of course, this isn't attractive to readers. Why would it be? I mean, who cares what I think? Readers are looking primarily for entertainment. If they want to be harangued or beaten about the brain with someone's opinion, they'll go the local debating society, attend a political rally, visit a church or join some society or other. What they want from novels is story.

So, what to do about this unattractive habit of mine? Well, I wondered if I might dilute the urge to put the world right by allowing myself the luxury of joining serious debates taking place elsewhere, thus allowing that part of my brain to feel it's had its say. That way, perhaps, I could then write instead of 'right', if you see what I mean. So, I've become a member of Digg, StumbleUpon, AllVoices and the Huffington Post sites. Here I can indulge my missionary self whenever I feel the urge to attack some injustice that heats my blood. And there are many, I can tell you. I've always loathed injustice in every form. I also hate hypocrisy, and lies, and conflict politics, and waste, and environmental denial, and religious dogma and brainwashing of children and… well, you see where I'm going with this, don't you? But, by joining these arenas for serious debate, I can get the frustration out of my system and leave my imagination free to tell stories without reference to the passion of that reforming zeal.

Oddly, what I've found is that I now write free of the need to teach, but that my work is still influenced by my beliefs and concerns. However, this now forms themes rather than being the meat of the pieces. So, I'll write a story ostensibly concerning the relationship between two potential lovers but the perceptive reader will recognise the strand of gender inequality lurking under the surface. Or I'll write a futuristic piece apparently about the erotic adventures of a couple of 'eternals' but the reader who sees beneath the surface will detect the thread of debate on the poverty of relationships based entirely on the joys of sex and the danger inherent in allowing technology to develop unchecked by common sense. But the stories will be damn good reads without authorial intrusion. (Those who've read Breaking Faith and The Methuselah Strain may see parallels here).

There's some suggestion that our challenges as writers may be based in our challenges as human beings and I wonder how true that might be.
I left school early in life, due to a combination of external events over which I had little control (see my previous post on Motivating the Writer if you want more detail.) But I'd been brought up as a confirmed Christian and, following a crush I developed on the local curate, as a young man, I'd decided on the Church of England priesthood as my future role in life. Events soon knocked that out of me, however; events and a growing sense of the hypocrisy rampant in organised religion. But my need to 'preach', to 'evangelise' was clearly already deep-rooted even then. Later, when I re-examined my options and looked back at my life and varied career, it became clear that I might, as I'd often been told, have made a good teacher. It's clear that these aspects of my personality have come to the fore in my writing. So we can see where personal challenges become parallels of writing challenges.

As for injustice and my other long-held passions, I think they've developed alongside my self-taught awareness of the wider world. I've quite deliberately exposed myself to those issues that seem important, rather than dive under the covers of simple entertainment or drown myself in the froth and inconsequence of the celebrity culture that now engulfs so many adults.

I've always had what many have described as an unhealthy concern for truth and honesty, perhaps inherited from my extraordinary mother, who was a well-loved local confidante of more people than I realised at the time.

As for my interest in other subjects, my step-father was fascinated by butterflies and moths, by the night sky, by the tales of Ryder Haggard and the poetry of Omar Khayyam, whose work he could quote at length. So, I suppose I developed similar interests more or less inevitably. Though my own interests in science, natural history and fiction are far wider than those I was initially introduced to. But my step-father's passion did spill over and infect me.

So, it would seem there's some evidence to support the view that our personal challenges can become our writing challenges.

I've exposed mine here for you in the hope that such confession might be helpful for my readers and visitors. The refusal to accept or face those challenges that get in the way of good writing are often the cause of blocking of the creative channels. They must be faced and acknowledged before they can be defeated or at least diverted. If you want to write well, you need to discover what your personal challenges are before you can do anything to reduce their influence on your writing. So, whether you're afflicted with something as basic as a lack of grammatical discipline and knowledge or something in the way of a more complex psychological problem, the first step seems to be acknowledgement of the possibility. Once you reach recognition, acceptance is not far behind and it is then that strategies can be put in place to reduce the influence of these challenges on your output.

Up to you. You can either share your own challenges here or keep them private. Either way, a bit of work on them may well result in a more rounded and deeper development as you as a writer. I hope so, anyway. 

Silly and irrelevant question, just for the smile: Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest, but duck if you throw a revolver at him?

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