Why I nearly gave up writing
When I was 9, my parents gave me a battered old Royal typewriter because they realised that I enjoyed writing. What this meant in reality was: I enjoyed coming up with ideas for stories and writing them down. For many years after, whenever anyone asked me what it was I wanted to do with my life, my assured and possibly over-zealous response was: I want to be a writer.
And so, for the greater part of my teenage years, I spent a great deal of my time churning out stories, poems and plays, all the while clinging to the romantic ideal of wanting to be a writer. Of course, nearly everything I wrote was, to a certain extent, rubbish – but I had the naïve belief that if I continued, I would get better and would one day be able to say: I am a writer.
There are two things significant about this: one, because I wrote a lot, I was already a writer; two, because my aspiration was over-simplified and not properly articulated, I was unable to develop as a writer until much later.
You see, in the beginning, I used to think that being a writer meant finishing pieces of writing. For a long while, I was a writer. I wrote things. I completed them. The joy was not in the writing, but in the completing. To be able to say “I finished a story” was more important than the process itself. The destination, as it were, was more of an incentive than the journey. And when I was finished, I would show off my completed product with a misplaced sense of pride: Look what I have written.
And then, after studying English at University and reading a great deal, I realised that I had approached it all from the wrong angle. I no longer wished to simply write, I wanted to write well.
That is when things began to change. From then on, finishing was not the priority – writing something that had merit, recognised by others as being good writing, was more important. Being more aware of the process and of my audience became something that demanded my attention. Quality over quantity now mattered. Thus it was that I spent many an hour painstakingly rewriting pieces so that they had more of a literary quality, with improved structure and well-rounded and developed characters, and cohesive themes and well-integrated motifs and …
It was impossible to finish anything.
Every time I began writing, I would revisit what I had already written and painstakingly go over every word with the fervor of a newly qualified English teacher, until everything was just right, perfect, polished. This meant I amassed many unfinished but well-written snippets. The internal critic took over.
The awful ‘this is not good enough’-syndrome prevented my ever finishing what I began. I was too busy rewriting the little that I had written the day before, and making tentative attempts to complete the next paragraph before over-analysing and re-writing that the following day. This process exhausted me and made writing more of a chore. I lost my incentive to finish because nothing was ever good enough.
Not only did the critic in me take over, but he began comparing my works to those of established successful writers and the gap between what I was producing and what they had published seemed too far to bridge.
So, for four years, I stopped writing completely.
Then, after deciding to sell the house in which I grew up, I found the only copy of a story I had written on my typewriter many years before. I remember reading to see if it was any good. It wasn’t and it was. But it did rekindle an important aspect of writing that I had completely forgotten: I realised that I had begun writing all those years ago, not because I wanted to be a writer, but because I had something to say. Writing was a means of expressing what I had to share with the world.
It was a short story called The Pebble Champion, and was written shortly after the death of my mother. Although not autobiographical, it was my attempt to convey the thoughts of a grieving teenager after news of a death and before the gradual acceptance of it. There were no books in our school library that dealt with grief in a way that I could relate to, and I remembered that that was reason for my writing The Pebble Champion. I wanted to capture what it felt like to be numb and somehow frozen in time – where the present is all that matters, the past is too painful to remember, and the future has no relevance. I wanted to capture what it feels like immediately after losing a parent.
The realisation that writing was about having something so say made me revisit my other pieces of writing, and gradually I began writing again – this time not worrying particularly about quality or quantity. The Pebble Champion was reborn as a novel. I decided to turn off the inner critic, and instead focus on letting the story finish itself. I accepted that whatever I completed was simply a first draft, or second, or third.
Once the book was written, I focused my attention on crafting – on editing, shaping, rewriting, playing with language – getting what I had said just right. This was the most difficult stage of the process and made the writing of the story seem comparatively easy. It was also the most enjoyable part. It meant I could delete aspects, reconstruct sentences and mould what I have written until it was able to convey what I wanted to say, not perfectly, but effectively. It meant I no longer needed to put energy into what I wanted to say but how I wished to say it. And, honestly, it is this how- process that was/is the most satisfying.
I decided to make my main character gay and not to make that the issue of the book. There are loads of coming-out/coming-of-age stories where the protagonists agonize over their homosexuality and it becomes the focus of the narrative. Chris, my main character, does have to deal with coming out, but for him that is not the issue. Dealing with the death of his mother and the collapse of his world is way more important.
I completed the novel in 1999, and it took 13 years and countless rejections before being published by a small British publishing company, Wilkinson House.
So now I can say: I am a writer. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is I have discovered that the joy of writing does not lie in finishing a piece or having it critically acclaimed. For me, the pleasure comes from crafting what you say until you say it just right.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A.D. Pritchard is an author, poet and playwright.
His poetry has appeared in magazines, anthologies and websites worldwide since 2000. In 2005, he was made Poet of the Month by the then London Poet’s Letter Society, and was invited to read at the Poet’s Cafe in Covent Garden. His video poem ‘Like So’ was an official selection at the 2013 Visible Verse Festival in Vancouver, Canada. ‘Advancing Backwards’ is his first collection.
His plays, Round Here, Torn Jeans and Genius were published by New Theatre Publications in 1999 after winning festivals at schools in Cape Town in 1993, 1994 and 1995. ‘Genius’ won the Young Farmer’s Club Regional One Act Play Festival in Wales, and was later performed at the Brecon Theatre in 2000. Thirteen years later, it was again staged in Wales, this time at the Theatre Hafren in Newtown.
Alan has also written a number of teacher resources, including activity books for young readers, books on how to teach Macbeth and resources covering spelling and peer and self-assessment.
- Alan’s official website is:
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- Click this link to watch a promo video for ‘Advancing Backwards’:
- Click here for more information or to purchase ‘The Pebble Champion’