This is the second of three Highly Commended entries to the This Itch of Writing 500th Postiversary Competition. I like this piece because it made me laugh, in a rueful, recognising sort of way, but also because it its own blog-sized way it's doesn't shirk the big questions.
Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by literary ambition. I aim for the prose quality of Anne Tyler, the themes of Tolstoy and hope I’ll produce it at the speed of Dickens. Today is a good day. I’m happy to be someone trying her best with an English GCSE, a recordable IQ and no one else to do the washing.
Writers are usually driven to achieve something: beautiful prose, well-developed theme, good story, traditional publication or simply length.
"Write what you know." "Write something each day- a small amount will do." "Create a bad first draft." The best advice encourages us to acknowledge our limitations. Is this possible while reaching beyond them? Or are Humility and Ambition mutually exclusive?
We can aim for the almost impossible and accept we’ll miss for a long time (even if we ask advice and emulate the greats). The chances are we’ll never succeed.
But perhaps in the process, we’ll achieve something else. Columbus found the West Indies, looking for India.
Emma recommends poetry courses to improve our prose. I wonder if we should also go to Art School to learn to experiment and prize originality above efficiency. After a term of collage or sculpture, we’d try that scene in the second person, write our synopsis as a news broadcast or our whole WIP backwards. And with freedom to get our work very wrong, we might find a way to get something right. Like Dark Matter and the Universe, the things the reader never sees - viewpoints that didn’t work, paragraphs we threw out and the wait for inspiration - shape the work they can.
No artist can perfectly replicate the big things like Truth and Beauty as they occur naturally. But, being mortals, we often prefer to see ‘through a glass darkly’. So we go to the country to read a book, travel abroad to visit art galleries and surrounded by people, watch films about fictional characters. Perhaps a writer’s struggle and other people’s pleasure in a near miss tell us as much about Humanity as the work itself.
I’m going to read ‘Ladder of Years’ again- pull apart some of Anne Tyler’s sentences.
Sophie Beal has been writing seriously for the last 5 ½ years. Her first novel is about three Glasgow doctors with suppressed desires and different world-views. She's just started her search for an agent.