I've been without a computer for the last week or so, since the machine decided it no longer wanted to start. But it kept telling me it wanted to – if only I'd select the right operating system from the list provided so it could automatically repair whatever was wrong with it. Unfortunately the list it presented me with was blank – something that made me think the fault might be somewhat terminal! Thankfully, as you can tell, it wasn't and here I am a week later, still kicking and screaming.
However, the computer's breakdown gave me a little time to think about things. For a start it gave me a chance to be grateful that the breakdown occurred a week after I published A Bitter Brew and not a week before! It also gave me a chance to get back to the basics of writing. At which point I discovered that my fingers have forgotten how to hold a pen!
I know. It sounds ridiculous. But it's actually true. I've been typing for so long that the actual physical act of writing with pen and paper is alien to my hand. And the script that flows from it is less than pretty. Not that it was pretty before, but things have definitely gone downhill! For those of you who think I'm kidding but equally don't write with pen and paper, all I can suggest is that you try it for yourself. It is actually quite shocking as you sit there with cramped fingers trying to remember which way the pen goes to link to the next letter!
That in turn set me to thinking about some of the other odd effects writing – either with pens and paper or computer – have had on my world. The downsides. And here I'm not talking about the traditional downsides of being an author – poverty, an ever decreasing circle of friends, a never ending need to shout from the rooftops that no one is listening to you, followed by alcoholism, death and a pauper's grave! No here I'm thinking of the ones that no one normally talks about.
One of them is what people think is shyness and embarrassment. The absolute aversion I've developed to telling people in the off-line world that I'm a writer. But it's not because I'm ashamed of what I do, or because I'm shy. It's because it inevitably leads to two questions, neither of which I know how to answer, nor want to try.
The first is –“where do you get your ideas from?” I hate this question, because I have absolutely no idea. They just come. I write and they flow. More than that I can't tell you. And if you ask me this question face to face I'm just going to have to think of some clever answer, because let's face it – “I don't know” sounds terrible!
The other question of course is that perennial favourite – “have you written anything I know?” I hate this question because the answer is mostly – no. Of course I haven't. A lot of people read what I write and some of you say nice things about it for which I'm eternally grateful. But that doesn't make me Stephen King. On top of which I only write in a couple of genres and there are hundreds of others that people read. So it's really quite unlikely that any particular person would have read my books. But saying that just makes me feel like a failure.
Another of the unexpected consequences of spending so much time writing these past few years is that I've become a grammar Nazi! I don't know when it happened exactly. And I loathe being that person. But still it's there. And the inner grammar Nazi reveals itself at the most unexpected times. For example there's a song on the radio I listen to quite often. And every time I hear it a part of me cringes as they sing part of a line “… gets me overwhelmed.” I usually end up yelling at the car radio that it should be “… leaves me overwhelmed.” As you can guess this particular song is not good for road safety in my case! And I'm already in the process of writing up the legal argument for the day that the inevitable happens! I'm not sure that anybody has ever before cited dangerous song lyrics leading to a car crash as the grounds for a civil action!
In fact the pain of hearing this line annoys me so greatly that many times I've considered writing the boy band in question a letter demanding that they fix it. (Of course they're quite safe at this stage since my fingers can't hold a pen and my computer has only just come back to life! Also I understand that they've broken up – in fear perhaps of my scathing note and legal action!)
Reading has also become problematic over the years. I find it hard to slip into someone else's prose these days – not because there's anything wrong with it, but because I've become so used to my own style and in the back of my mind there's always this little voice saying; “well I wouldn't have written it that way”. These days whenever I do any critiquing for fellow authors I have to constantly check myself as to whether I'm suggesting a change because it's good for the work or because it fits my style.
Google has become a nightmare. Yes it is my friend. But sometimes you can have too many friends! The problem is that whenever I write something and I touch on a topic I'm not familiar with, whether it's gun handling, the Ninth Legion or brewing ale, I have to go and research it online to make sure I've got it right. And the amount of research I can end up doing for a single scene or even a sentence in a book, is mind blowing. It can take longer than writing the actual book! And the amount of material I download is frightening. (Maybe that's what killed my computer!)
And then there's stress. Yes I know, who can lie around all day typing a few words, and somehow discover stress?! It seems unlikely. But it's real. All day I'm constantly wondering – will people like my latest book? Will they read it? What about typos? What if I run out of ideas? (I don't know where they come from after all so I can't tell how many might be left!) And will my cat finally claw my face off in my sleep?! (Yes that one's my own personal demon, but still it's not a nice way to finally close your eyes!)
Anyway, for those of you wanting to embark on this journey of writing, I thought I'd share some of the unexpected perils you may find along the way.
Cheers, and good luck, Greg.