Wine is good: Sheep, binge drinking, and the landed gentry.

I have noted, with my usual disdain, naturally, the glut of writing advice splattered all over the cyber-pavement these days, like the minefield of vomit and dog shit that adorns Edinburgh’s footpaths of a Saturday and Sunday morning. Unlike the aftermath of the Scottish capital’s propensity for binge drinking, however, there is no delicately-trod path between the mounds of offending faecal matter and puddles of carrot chunks, but rather, a well-worn trail, as of the stampede of some great herd, the passing of countless fucking sheep (read into that what you will) through the regurgitant pools of what will (and will not) turn you into a good writer.

Of course, as with any artistic calling, there are always going to be only a select few who wear the black wool, while the rest of the flock, desperate to be the next [insert name of famous and/or talented literati here], follow each other around in the white wool of the masses, bleating and tramping the muck of advice all over everyone’s nice clean carpets.

Personally, I couldn’t really be fucked with the whole world of writing advice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve never been given any, and it’s not like I haven’t taken a throatful of it to heart. And, I have to say, I certainly get a kick out of reading the Terrible-Minded Penmonkey’s advice – though that’s more to do with his amusingly expletive writing than the advice – and I’m not saying I wouldn’t spend a semester or two in front of a bunch of adoring, doe-eyed first year uni students, dispensing… well… not dispensing advice, as much as engendering discussion and independent thought – but all of that has more to do with fuelling my writerly ego than anything else – more on that shortly.

The problem I have with writing advice, is that most of it is a bunch of recycled, hackneyed nonsense, that anyone with half a brain has already worked out for themselves – and if they don’t have at least that half a brain, and haven’t worked out at least most of it, don’t worry, they were never going to be a writer anyway.

The only bit of writing advice, when it comes down to it, that sticks indelibly in my skull, is this: pull your finger out, sit on the fucking chair, and don’t stop writing. Ever.

Easier said than done, sure, but it’s not exactly fucking rocket science is it? Well, you wouldn’t think so, but people will persist in being idiots, in asking the stupid fucking questions. As Ursula Le Guin put it, upon being asked how to become a writer, [paraphrasing] “you don’t ask how to become a guitarist do you? You get a bloody guitar and you practice. So get a fucking pen and a bit of paper and write.”

Read, write, learn your craft. That’s the mantra of the advice givers. Okay, sure, why not? If you are not a reader, chances are, you don’t want to be a writer. If that is not the case, stop now. You. Are. Not. A. Writer. As for the rest, well, stick to the pull your finger out bit above. It’s trial and error, it’s a personal journey, and as long as you keep working, you’ll work it out. Chuck Wendig (the afore mentioned penmonkey) has his own mantra: I am a writer, I am done fucking around. Excellent advice. All you need. If it’s not, if you need someone to tell you how to do it… all I can say is good luck, please try not to give the rest of us a bad name.

Disclaimer: I studied creative writing at university, so feel free to take all this “you can work it out” stuff with a fist full of salt.

But back to the point, what would probably benefit all (and would-be) writers, more than this ubiquitous litany of 101 ways not to suck, is a good dose of therapy. Let’s face it, we’re all pretty much fucked in the head… or as the delightful Salome Jones put it “all good writers are broken.” I’d maintain that all writers are broken, bad writers are just more broken – they’re just as fucked in the head, but they’ve the fact that they’re crap to contend with as well. Really, what hope do they have?

The problem as I see it – and really, who wouldn’t be a bit broken, under the circumstances – is that writing is a delicate balance of severe self-doubt and rampant egotism. If you don’t have the ego, why do you want to put your writing out in the world? Honestly. If it’s for the good of humanity, you’re in the wrong field – though I’d maintain that you’re just as much, if not more, the egotist, thinking your writing will do the species any good. But that’s what politics and philanthropy are for. Note: I didn’t say that’s what politics does, but that is what it’s for.

Without the ego, without knowing you’re good enough to spout nonsense that the world will swallow as the truth (or a truth at least), you. Are. Not. A. Writer. On the other hand, without the tempering influence of self-doubt, well, you might very quickly find yourself less of a writer than a fucking wanker.

Of course, sometimes a  writer can’t be blamed for turning into an egotistical tosser. We’re all human after all, and when a writer is good enough, they get praised and idolised and worshipped and awarded for so long that, well, eventually it’s going to go to their head. Just look at Frank Miller. He was pretty much the god of comics forever. Sorry Alan Moore, I know, we’ll discuss your eminence at a later date… over a cup of tea. It was bound to get to Frank in the long run. He’s just a man.

Sure, you could consider other such gods as Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis, and while Warren seems like a dark and sarcastic cunt (in the most lovable, cuddly way of course), and Grant is possibly not of this world… literally… they both seem like reasonably well-adjusted gentlemen. Yes, in fact, the recent turn in Frank Miller might well be down to the fact that he’s a fucking bigot. But enough of hassling poor Frank, he’s written some of the best comics of all time, and he can’t help it if he’s a fucking hate-monger, it’s probably his parent’s fault.

I feel compelled to say, slightly tangentially – and this has nothing to do with my increasing disappointment with Marvel Comics’ output… no really, this time I’m serious – I am slightly concerned about their current “Marvel Architects” structure. They seem to be building their entire universe on the foundation of ideas of a few select writers. Not that these guys aren’t good enough to be some of the select few, or even the select few, and they are superstars and all that… and I know, Marvel is a business, so they’re more about the fat-ass, dirty dollar than the production of story-telling excellence. But apart from the fact that this whole approach places a disturbing limitation on their creative gene pool, being a Marvel Architect, a titled (read: landed-fucking-gentry) orchestrator of the hero fantasies of nearly a full half of global geekdom (and many more besides), is probably like having a bicycle pump stuck up the arse of your ego, with Axel Alonso pumping furiously and whispering sales figures softly in your ear. One can only hope that in their (near-certain) state of inflated self-importance, they don’t chuck a Frank, and think it’s suddenly ok to publish inflammatory, religio-racist bigotry disguised as comic books.

Ok, ok, I’m sorry Frank, I’ll stop it now. Dickhead.

None of this is to say that we don’t need a good bit of ego stroking. I’ll stand up as the prime example of what happens when your self-doubt outweighs your God-damn-I’m-good. It’s a fine line. Maybe writing advice helps you sort out your internal harmony… I fucking doubt it, but maybe. There is a plethora of ways, no doubt, that you can work this one out.

Wine is good. Two glasses, and it’s all furious typing, fuck-I’m-funny, and triumphant cock-crowing, swearing at half your characters, and making the love to other half. Two and a half to three glasses, however, and the river of ideas breaks its banks, and you watch it all flood away to soak into the dry, sandy soil of a literary (and probably literal) hangover. The reservoir of confidence runs dry. Cue self-doubt. Cue self-loathing. Cue self-medication. Cue vicious-fucking-circle. Of course, if you find a way to fill that reservoir often enough, you can get as plastered as you bloody well like, and it’s all good. Take Warren Ellis.

It’s a hard thing to manage. I’m not sure I know how. I’d still be wallowing in doubtful self-pity if it weren’t for chance (for which, like the tree-hugger I am at heart – if not in practice, I’ll thank the universe) and the gentle, insistent fondling of my ego (for which the better part of credit must go to the devil in Ms. Jones). But despite the recent damming of my river of ideas, the gradual increase of my damn-I’m-good-not-to-mention-fucking-funny, induced (as any of you unfortunate enough to have been cornered in some sorry social network when I’m in my cups will know) by frequent libation, I remain cognizant of how easy it is to turn into a huge, self-stimulated, dick. And quite frankly (no, nothing to do with you Miller, you self-absorbed maniac), I’d rather stay in the tortuous world of self-doubt and writer’s block than turn into a literary masturbator.

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~ by Gethin A. Lynes on November 16th, 2011.

4 Responses to “Wine is good: Sheep, binge drinking, and the landed gentry.”

  1. Ok, so I’ve wanted to comment on your last few pieces, but I’ve been busy & I’ve liked too many different aspects of the posts. So I’ve shrunk from engaging. I’ll just say here two things.

    1. Yes, exactly. You’re spot on.

    &

    2. I laughed a lot while reading this. Thank you.

  2. In a city of resplendent beauty, you notice only the dog shit? Is that unfair comment..Just walked home through the Newtown at dusk. Didnae notice any poo. Nerry a one.

    • Ah Steve, ever the antagonist to my protagonist. I have made nae claim, you’ll find, to have noticed only the poo.
      To say nothing of the fact that I also mentioned (and so clearly have noticed)the vomit, the respledent beauty of Auld Reekie (which I am wont to champion at any and every opportunity) is merely irrelevant to the current discussion.
      I have nae doubt that in your stroll through the little world of Newtown, with its gated gardens and ornate, lofty ceilings that you didnae, in fact, notice any poo. I am equally sure that there were probably no poos present that just happened to escape your notice.
      I note that you did not claim to have not seen any vomit though. I note, also, that your perambulation was conducted at dusk, and midweek, not in the early hours of a Saturday or Sunday morning – at which time you are certainly more likely to have to traverse a gauntlet of regurgitant. In the Newtown, perhaps not the poo though. If you were to undertake your rambling in the neighbourhood of Easter Rd, or the arse end of Broughton by the Tescos, I defy you to do so with nerry a sight of a poo.

  3. […] know—or you would if you had read my past rant about sheep and stuff— I don’t generally hold much with writing advice—because, you know, I’m better than […]

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