Sunday 27 March 2011

Writing is hard, right? Teenage Kicks at Random House

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." - Thomas Mann
This is so true. Every word must be the right word, the only one that in combination with all the other right words, sentences and paragraphs creates a chain that leads all the way from page one to ‘the end’ in an inevitable, flawless jigsaw, where the ending isn’t suspected but gives that satisfied of course when it is reached. At least…. that is the plan.
And some days, it flows, and all is right in my world. Others, not so much. And those are the days I’ve been having lately.
Last Tuesday I was lucky enough to attend the Reading Agency’s Teenage Kicks at Random House in London. Led by Bucks this year through High Wycombe Headspace and Children’s Reading Partners, authors Malorie Blackman, Bali Rai and Jenny Downham were there to inspire and answer questions. They were wonderful, warm and approachable, and generous with their responses.
Bali, Malorie & Jenny
One question they were asked is: what is the hardest thing about writing? And since I’ve been finding it hard going myself lately, my ears instantly perked up.
Answering the tough questions
For Malorie Blackman, the hardest thing is reworking. The most fun is the first draft, just getting the story out. But after that? She admits to a perfectionist streak. She prints it out, goes through it again and again, makes changes and prints it again. This happens six or seven times before she lets her editor see it. She finds the dedication to get through this is hard, as by then she just wants to get on to the next thing.
Jenny Downham never plans. She writes much like a stream of consciousness for weeks and weeks. Months can go by before she knows where she is going: so for her, the hardest thing is going down the wrong path.
Bali Rai said his hardest thing is much like Malorie’s. He also has trouble keeping other ideas out of his head. Always while writing, he is thinking of other things, and getting excited about stuff he hasn’t written more so than what he is working on. Keeping those things separate is difficult. Though he also said he doesn’t find any of it particularly hard hard, because writing was his hobby before he started getting paid for it. He feels privileged to do it, and enjoys it most of the time: apart from being plagued by too many ideas. Can you have too many ideas?
Through the evening you could see they all had the joy: that feeling you can only get from creating characters and the world they inhabit from nothing but imagination and desire. And they reminded me why I put myself through it.
Sharing the joy!
Writing isn’t easy. But it is so worth it.
And what did I think of the Reading Agency’s Teenage Kicks at Random House?
As thirteen year old Katherine summed up when asked what she thought of the evening: it was awesome.
Katherine meets her hero


  1. I wish I knew why writing was so hard. But it just is. But why do I love it? I just do.

  2. Teri you lucky thing - 3 fabulous fabulous writers to spend the evening with - wow!
    Writing is hard for writers because it matters so much. I've found the more I learn about the craft of writing, the more I read good writing, the harder it is to write my own.
    Much to think about...

  3. I SO relate to where Marjorie's coming from. So much so I want to scream gaaaaaaargh! and ask why we do this to ourselves, and then I remember those days of pure unadulterated bliss and joy when the words just flow and it's like you're in your own personal and somewhat divine parallel dimension.
    Great post, Teri and lucky you being able to attend the event!

  4. 'They all had the joy' - says it all really. When Alexander McCall Smith was being interviewed at the Hay Festival his face lit up when he was talking about his characters. He was giggling and could barely get his words out when he was talking about Bertie from 44 Scotland Street. Maybe this is what keeps us going. Because when we get it right, it's magic. Although, I'm not sure Martin Amiss giggles!

  5. Writing is hard because it's easy - i.e. anyone can do it. Because of that, a "real" writer has to be turning out work that is a quantum leap ahead of what a non-writer can produce. And BOY do we agonise about that!

  6. This sounds like a great evening! And to read what Bali Rai said about keeping other ideas out of his head. It's not just me!! I was worried I just wasn't focussed enough but maybe it's a good thing?!
    Thanks for the write up Teri :)

  7. Great post, Teri! And here you were saying you didn't take notes! I can't believe Malorie doesn't enjoy reworking. I find getting the first draft out a most horrific experience once the first false dawn of excitement that you're writing a new novel is over.

  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone! It was a great evening - also fantastic to see so many teenagers interested and on the edge of their seats.
    Candy, I wasn't taking notes, but when I'm REALLY listening... you know those moments... it stays with me.

  9. I wrote a post about this a while back, trying to come up with the one big 'con' to writing and the one big 'pro' for me. Of course there are tons of both, and I identify most with Malorie's dread of the revision. Ugh. it makes me think of having teeth pulled. I'm going to tackle revisions in May for a book I finished in November. I left it 'cooling' because I was so close to it. Now, armed with a t-shirt that says 'Kill Your Darlings' and absence making the heart grow fonder, I'm hoping it won't be that painful!

  10. Having spent the past two and a half hours typing and deleting and scratching my head and making more tea and typing and swearing and typing and printing and reading and tutting and screwing up paper, reading this post made me smile Teri, so thank you for that! Having been forced to accept that tonight was just one of those nights when the words won't flow and every sentence is hard, it was nice to be reminded that I'm not alone. I'm sure we'll all be there tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, sitting down to try again, because as Bali Rai said, it's not hard hard, and we do it because we love it after all!

  11. Writing is not for wimps! Neither is publishing, which is why you have to get joy from the process of creating and seeing the finished product!

  12. Lucky girl, Teri - great post! So good to hear how even the greats have to wrestle with their work sometimes. Makes the good bits even better though doesn't it?


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