Good grief, it’s been a year.
And what a f***ing year – I’m inclined to agree with the Facebook meme that suggests unplugging 2016, leaving it for a few minutes then plugging it in again. I knew my thirties would be when the deaths began, but so many of my childhood memories in so little time – although it confirmed my suspicion that the only thing I appreciated about Prince was his genderfucking image. I never could get on with the music.
And then there was Brexit, and I could write an entire post about that in itself. Reading Facebook on my phone this morning, without the insulating effect of Social Fixer, exposed me to all the real-time misery of yesterday’s disappointment for the Remainers. Thankfully, due to having kicked a number of contentious arseholes off my friends list in the last few months, I only got a small dose of obnoxious cackling by the Leave lot and no gratuitous racism at all. It’s blindingly obvious to me that the thing we really need to fix this is for some political party in the UK to really start engaging with the working class – I can only hope that the “Bregretters” (whose br-eakfast this morning was undoubtedly br-eggs, br-acon and br-oken sobbing) actually take from their experience of doing something stupid that voting *does* make a difference and don’t do it again in the next general election.
But the post I was going to write is something different; connected to what’s happening in my country, but not just cultural observation. It’s been a really hellish year for me; the reason there’s been no traffic on this blog is because I’ve spent most of it fighting the UK’s social security system. Like many disability benefit claimants I was found “fit for work” and have been trying to hold my mental and physical health together while coping with the fallout from that. I’m still here, and at present in the process of reapplying for the disability benefits based on the deeply unsurprising fact that all the stress I’ve been through has made me worse, but it’s been one hell of an experience and I’ve got very little in the way of inner resources right now.
Just the potential of light at the end of the tunnel, however, has triggered off that part of me which is always looking for the next step. I’m genuinely broken at the moment, barely capable of staying awake for six hours at a time and lacking the focus to concentrate on anything demanding, but I’m still trying to see where to get to. I always am. Feeling like I’ve got a purpose gives me hope.
And this is where the link I mentioned comes in. I realised a few months ago that a lot of the reason I’ve barely done any creative writing since I transitioned has to do with why I write. Before transition, it was almost always about exorcising personal demons; if I read back through the fiction I wrote over the years I can trace the development of my own identity and my relationship with it. Just before and during the time when I realised I was trans, I had an explosive few months of nonstop creating, most of which involved female characters who had really messed-up relationships with themselves. No mystery where that came from.
But then I transitioned, and solved that problem. Life is a hell of a lot less demanding in terms of dealing with my own identity now. So all of a sudden I don’t have a demon to exorcise, and I’ve found myself looking at a blank page and asking “but why?”. Why bother when all I’m doing is entertaining myself? Why bother when there’s no meaning to it? I always have to have a purpose.
And it’s true enough that part of good writing is to entertain. But it’s also about communicating; reaching people and touching them. Right now I’m living in a world where people need to be reached and touched in a huge number of ways, at least a couple of which I might well be able to achieve. And there’s no point in false modesty: I already know I have good enough writing skills to do that if I put my mind to it.
It took a while to filter through and click, but I realised recently that I’m so used to being driven by passion in my writing that I’ve never really learnt how to approach it from the bottom up. I’ve been relying on the 1% inspiration and omitting the 99% perspiration. And as soon as I figured that out I realised I already had a superb role model for how to do it the other way in the shape of John Ayliff, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing a flat some time ago. John was the model of a very old-fashioned and British sort of discipline; even at weekends he would Get Up, Go For A Walk, Sit Down and Write Words. And over the time we lived together I watched a debut novel go from a glossy new concept to a beaten-up draft, to a stack of manila envelopes and thence to acceptance and publication. More accurately, I peered at this process from behind the nearest door, struck with a sort of superstitious awe – how was he doing it? Where did all that stuff come from?
Well, Felix, he was sitting down and writing words, that’s where. For someone this intelligent I can be astonishingly dense at times. John is not alone, either – apparently there’s a well-known author (whose name at present escapes me) who has decorated his writing room with a poster in the much-overused “KEEP CALM” style. It says “SIT DOWN and WRITE BOOKS”. I think it’s very possible I should get one.
So I’ve identified my step zero, then. Learn how to write fiction by starting at the individual lego bricks, rather than at the picture of the pretty castle. As I said I’m a mess at the moment, and I’m going to be starting with things that are not destined to see any sort of formal light of day, but hopefully they’ll entertain a few people and on the way I can relearn my writing process better.
And then maybe, some time in the future, I’ll actually be able to say things that will reach people in the way they need, and have enough reach that those people hear it when they need it.