The self-deprecation. It has to stop. I’ve always shrugged about it – after all, it’s not a big problem being humble, right? – but my wife made a good point the other day which brought a new perspective. If you read something which constantly undercuts itself, why would you continue reading it?

It’s pretty insulting to anyone who’s actually taken the time to read anything. And, heck, if you like something you continue to read it, and nothing I can do as a writer could insult a reader more than repeatedly telling them they should be reading something else. It’s my job to write, not to tell people what to read.

Why do I do it? Partly because I don’t want to be perceived as taking myself too seriously, as believing in my own worth or the value of what I’m saying too much. I’m keenly aware that there are professional philosophers who have facts and grounded theories where I have conjecture and gut instinct. But where does anyone start?

A lot of it is a way of pre-deflecting any potential criticism, the ‘I knew it was crap anyway so you saying it’s crap can’t hurt me’ approach. The idiot approach. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about writing as I gear up for November’s novelfest, and one of the biggest (and, think about it, obvious) points made is that you have to love your work.

Because if you’re not interested why will the reader be? If you can’t stand this scene then why are you writing it? I’ve often (and am struggling in some of my stuff now) found that things are going too slow, that I have an idea but I’m not getting to it, because all the scene-setting and prep work is in the way. I’m not writing anything interesting.

Taking this on and understanding that often I might just have to write through this boring rubbish to get to where the story really kicks off is vital. I don’t have to use all of my first draft, in fact I would hope and expect that the final draft is almost entirely different to those first words. Because I want to get on, and I can improve later.

If I’m driving for purity there’s no other way to get there than to find the form of what I’m trying to write and then go about improving the look of it. Like the sculpture again, knocking out the rough shape of the piece is a necessary and unavoidable process. Carving the most beautiful toe is a useless way to spend time if the rest of the statue doesn’t exist.

My self-deprecating was one coping mechanism for getting through this, a sort of ‘I know, but I’m aware, and I’ll go back and improve, honest’. When it comes to this blog, of course, the whole point is not to go back and improve but to spout it straight out, which occasionally has only exacerbated how much I’ve underplayed my own ambitions.

I can’t afford to play down anything I put down, because I’m far too sensitive and my inner committee is far too strong and always looking for a foothold to launch the ‘Never write anything again you imperfect fool!’ assault. But vitally I can’t afford to play anything down because I have such high hopes for it all.

I’ve got to believe that what I’m writing is important. Important to say, important that people read, important to explore and express. I have to believe that the novel I’ll be writing this November is interesting and moving and affecting, that people will read it and feel something, something strong. Otherwise what’s the point?

Whether I get to that position at the first draft or the thirty-first draft is not the point – the point is that I beleive in the idea and the potential power of the story, and that it’s important enough to dedicate hours and hours and hours of my time to it. There’s so much I want to express but unless I believe in it all I’ll do is throw out meaningless nothing.

The trap I fall into so often is close to just putting something down, but far less positive. By putting something down I know I’m moving closer to the truth I want to express, but what I get trapped into is putting my efforts in the wrong place, attempting to create something simple and devoid of the power I originally envisioned in an attempt to do it all easily.

Easy. Easy is the death of effort in my case, it’s the opposite of important and it’s where I’ve found myself bailing out as I yearned to stop writing what was easy and start putting in the effort to get close to writing what was difficult, what was heartfelt, what was honest. It’s so hard to be honest when you’re thinking so much about not being important.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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