How I write

One of the things I find so difficult about writing a novel is that you have to have a plan. Even if you don’t think you are planning anything, then you have to remember that you have planned to write a novel. And even that thought can upset some kind of delicate balance in your mind. Things are different with a plan.

Surely, though, you would think that there must be some planning going on, even in a short article. Even then you are deciding to write about a particular topic. Not really. Not for me anyway. I tend to start, write, do more writing. See if I can find a strand of an idea in there and throw away the other stuff.

For example… And this is absolutely true… Last week’s short story about Amber started off as an article about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. I didn’t decide at one point, to shelve the Gladwell article and start writing fiction. The Gladwell stuff went in the edit. I don’t think there is any connection between the book and the short story even. As far as I can objectively tell the two are separate. I think the story had more to do with the Laura Marling album I was listening to at the time.

I got a bit stuck on stuff to write about the Gladwell book and so I noodled off onto something else. I’m guessing other people don’t do the same, but I don’t really know. Perhaps I am an outlier after all?

The book is interesting in that it talks about how you have to work hard (more than 10,000 hours work before you become truly proficient in anything). It also talks about how society, timing and luck are very important to your likely success. In many ways, it is the opposite of a self-help book. Too many books offer the promise of “how to succeed in 14 and a half steps” this book says, “to succeed you need to work like crazy, for ages, and even then it’s not likely to happen”. It is a bit of a downer, I guess. Not because that’s depressing, it isn’t. It’s bound to be really hard to be commercially successful, otherwise it would be devalued and everyone would be doing it and then it wouldn’t exist. Successful by that rationale means being surprisingly more successful than others. It’s only because you have lots more money than people that your large bank balance means anything – just ask somebody in Zimbabwe what they think.

The depressing thing is that this is what is seen as successful. Being a good and decent person is success. Being happy is success. Being rich means something else.

In Gladwell’s book he talks about outliers and at the beginning he talks about a town in the United States where people are the least likely to have heart disease. It’s not that they eat better than people in other places nearby. It’s not that they do more exercise. It is that they are less stressed. Working too hard is stressful, so is working too little (somebody is always after you for something). Most people know each other, most people check in on each other and see that they are okay. Most people learn to live with each other. They live in a community rather than near a community like most people do today. It’s no surprise that we’re all looking for books on how to be successful. It’s just a shame that so few people get a chance to discover what success really means.

Wow that was lots different than what I wrote last time about Gladwell. Maybe this is me just trying to justify why I haven’t finished the novel yet. I mean, maybe I don’t have to finish the novel to succeed. Yeah, right.

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