September 24th, 2011

just me

Writing about writing... recursive much?

I'm going to take a break from the pulp writing today (Black Rat should start tomorrow I think) just to bare my soul about the act of writing itself, how I feel about it and why I have such a hard time believing in my own ability or accepting the praise and compliments of others.

I never wanted to be a writer originally*, I wanted to be an artist. I used to spend all my time drawing and would go through reams and reams of paper. I would copy things out of my comic books, draw the craziness out of my imagination. I got pretty good, I thought, and my friends and family all seemed to appreciate my artwork. I learned a lot, pretty rapidly and there was little I enjoyed more all through primary school. It didn't hurt that my dad had kinda stepped aside from his artistic side to go the mathematic route. I was good at maths and science but that wasn't something I wanted to do. Doing something different was the extra push I needed to commit to being creative. Not that I resent anything about my dad's choices. I am fiercely proud to have had an intelligent educator as a father. That dad had been a teacher was a massive benefit growing up and my mum's no slouch either. Best of all they, and my grandparents, were all massively supportive and encouraging.

That all changed once I got to Secondary School. I finally had an art teacher, something I'd not had before. The problem was that the art teachers at secondary school were extremely traditional, very arts and craftsy and they just did not 'get' me or what I was doing at all. When someone's all still-life and basket weaving, you're in a different world altogether when you're talking about Roger Dean, Tim White, Jim Burns or  Rodney Matthews. I had a struggle even when I was referencing Rene Magritte or Roy Lichtenstein as well.

I didn't do particularly well in art, even though I loved it. Peculiarly though, in 'Design & Communication', in which I was using the same skills and many of the same influences (my final project was inspired by Roger Dean's experiments in architecture) I did amazingly well. Something that surprised the crap out of me.

Despite all the discouragement from secondary school I stuck it out, thanks to the D&C praise and the support of everyone except the teachers and somehow managed to bluff them into letting me take art at A level. That was much better and I was built up all over again. Hippyish, indulgent and non-judgemental tutors who encouraged me again and made me believe in myself. That was just a build up to the knock-down though.

After college it was a Foundation year of art to build up a portfolio, ostensibly to go to university. That was time for a second round of crushing indifference and criticism. These tutors weren't indulgent or interested and didn't give a fuck what you were interested in or what you wanted to do. They wanted you to do what they wanted, precisely, at least when they weren't showing you Maplethorpe pictures of swollen testes in wooden cuffs.

It was grinding and disheartening but I gritted my teeth and I stuck it out, I did what I wanted to do and damn the consequences but that wears you the fuck out when everyone's telling you that you're wrong, your crap, it kills the joy you might have otherwise felt in what you're doing inch by bloody inch.

Then it came time to interview for universities, degrees or HNDs and I travelled all over the country wherever there were illustration or other courses that seemed to fit. Tutor after tutor was an arrogant prick, not the good kind of tutor, not the good kind of tutor. Arrogant, condescending, stuck in their own rut. The couple of places I could bring myself to apply to rejected me and the only course I would have really liked to do was in a terrifying part of Salford. I'll make sacrifices, but that was too much and the tutor there wasn't encouraging, the course and the students were (bless 'em).

That was that, my desire and self-belief to make art died that year and I've barely touched a brush, a pencil or a pen since around 1996.

They ground the love of art, of drawing out of me. Killed it and all because I spent so many years and so much effort trying to better myself at it, to learn, to find places that could help me. They didn't, they stamped any desire to do art out of me entirely.

There's always been something else I've been good at too, spinning yarns. I had better lick with teachers in English though and I always single out Mr Kettle for some special love. He's dead now, but he was the best English teacher, the best teacher full-stop, I ever had. Encouraging, enthusiastic, if you were into something he'd take the time to learn a little about it and would show a genuine interest in what you liked.

I've always told stories, since I was a kid, reading to other kids and naturally that lead into role-playing games which is where most of my writing and energy has gone. The thing about roleplaying is that it's a cooperative story. You can constantly bounce things off each other, the actions and behaviours of the characters all have a genuine, different person behind them. You have instant feedback while you're running a game and when you're writing a game you're creating a context, not actually telling a story. In a lot of ways its a 'cowards' way of telling a story, you don't have to put that much of your own creative energy 'on the line'. Gaming and gaming writing is something I can be confident of for the most part.

Fiction writing, however, isn't something I've done a lot of - at least not professionaly or semi-professionally - until recently.


Because I'm fucking scared to do so. To put something out that's unalloyed me, that's all my creativity, my words, my mind is terrifying. I've got confidence in my writing abilities but because of my experiences with art and having my love of that annihilated I am incredibly hesitant to put my words out there through sheer terror at the prospect of having my love of words similiarly crushed out of me.

It's crippled my ability to take positive comment and feedback and it's made any negative feedback utterly devastating, far out of proportion with how negative those comments might be. My brain simply refuses to process nice things that are said about my work and is all too ready to latch on to an even slightly negative comment.

It's not like I haven't taken knocks. I've been on a promise for full time RPG work several times and it's never materialised. I've come in for some heavy criticism from some rather horrible fanboys on more than one system, had judgement passed on me and my corpus of work when it comes to licensing and these are all setbacks but with RPGs a lot of it is down to the reader's interpretation and what they put into it. That shields you.

With fiction writing, you don't have that mental shield to hide behind. It's all you and there's nowhere for your ego to hide.

I know I'm annoying people who are trying to say nice things and to be encouraging, but I wanted to go some way to explain why. I've had my love for one creative art form stamped out of me with extreme prejudice and I really don't want the same thing to happen with writing.

*I wanted to be a lumberjack...