Adding up the scribbles

I hadn’t written a word for weeks.  Granted, there were a few scribblings here and there: jottings on the back of a shopping list; scrawled phrases on a post-it; the odd page or two of disjointed notes.  Not real writing.  So I told myself, and I didn’t enjoy the telling.

Then I gathered them all together.  I began to type them up, expand them, string them together.

Um, I still haven’t finished.  The scribbles add up, you see.  They are the writing, quite as much as the hours spent at the desk.  Probably more so, because they aren’t punctuated by long periods of staring into space and reading other people’s words.

And although I’d already learnt that the scribbles add up to something bigger, I was fortunate enough to receive validation from elsewhere in the same week.  Mother’s Milk Books have awarded one of my pieces a Commended in their recent competition.  Cue much rejoicing!

I tell you this because it illustrates the point beautifully.  You see, I remember when I wrote the beginnings of that piece, and it wasn’t at my desk or even in the house.  I was tramping the fields in my wellies, watching the crows wheeling overhead and thinking about circles.  I’ve learnt to keep a tattered notebook and a pencil in my coat pocket on these walks, and I kept stopping and adding another phrase, another image.  What they were going to become I wasn’t sure, but I kept scribbling all the same.  (By the way, it’s always a pencil, never a pen.  Pencils don’t run out or leak in your pocket.)

And those images became a piece I was proud of, a piece that someone else enjoyed.  They were real writing, after all.

Yes, we need time to mould the jottings and the scribblings into their final form, but we can always be writing, wherever we are.  Mud optional.

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Typos, punctuation and grammar: a can of worms

How long will you keep reading after you spot the first error in a piece of writing?  Yes, I know I’m opening a real can of worms here, but I’m interested to hear what you think and feel about typos, misplaced apostrophes and the like.  (I know you’ll be kind and measured in your responses; I’m not going to rant and neither are you!  And please: if you spot a mistake – won’t that be just typical – do tell me, but gently.  Think about the extra hours I’ve spent making sure I haven’t made any real howlers in this particular post.)

The thing is, the creative part of me wants to feel that we should be able to see beyond the little mistakes in following what might be seen as arbitrary rules.  (Why shouldn’t I spell arbitry like that, since that’s how many people pronounce it?  Why does it matter whether or not I put an apostrophe in “that’s“?)

Oh, but the creative rebel is always shouted down by the stickler for accuracy in grammar, spelling and punctuation.  She’ll get very twitchy after the first couple of errors.  Somehow, it does matter.  (I realised I had something of an obsession when my then-six-year-old stopped reading Mr Men books because he didn’t like the way they were written.  The apple definitely stuck close to the tree there!)

I’m not saying that the stickler is necessarily right in her inability to see past a mistake.  It’s all very personal, I think, and the norms and conventions are always evolving.  The evolution seems to be happening very fast in this online age, and maybe I’m just an old fart who can’t keep up.  Maybe I need to let my creative rebel free and go with the flow.

So tell me – are you more forgiving of mistakes than I am?  What, if anything, does that say about each of us as writers?

[Writer ducks behind a wall and throws the open can of worms into the open street.]

They might not understand (and that’s ok)

You’re sitting in a cafe with a friend, catching up on all the news.  She asks what you’ve been up to, and you mention writing.  She looks blank.  You tell her of your two recently-published articles, and after a bemused pause, she asks, “Can you make money doing that, or is it just…”  She trails off, leaving you to wonder what she would have completed her thought with.

“Just…a hobby?”

“Just…a waste of time?”

“Just…something to do while you look for a proper job?”

Or is it just something she doesn’t understand?

Would you be defensive in that situation, justifying yourself and explaining the writer’s life in great detail?  Would you find yourself curling up inside and thinking, she’s right.  I’m wasting time.  I should stop playing around and get a real job.  I’m no good at this anyway?  Would you get angry and flounce out, vowing never to associate with such a Philistine again?

Or would you stop and think about it?

Do you understand every one of her decisions?  Do you really ‘get’ what she spends her time doing?  Does working in a bank / horseracing / collecting toy pigs (or whatever it is that she loves doing) make your heart sing in the same way it does hers?  And if it doesn’t, why would you expect her to understand your need to write?

Many people won’t understand.  And that’s ok.  If we all wanted to be writers, the world would be lacking an awful lot of plumbers, actors, farmers and a lot more besides.

When they don’t understand, write anyway.  There will be others who do understand.  Write for them, write for you, but write.

PS. In case you were wondering how I responded (because you really weren’t fooled into believing this was a hypothetical situation, were you – although the pig-collecting etc was made up), I simply said, “Yes, you can make money from it,” and moved on to something else.  We’re still friends.