I mean really talk, snuggle in a bit closer to the screen because I don’t want everyone to hear this, it’s kinda shameful. I wouldn’t mention it at all but it’s also kinda relevant.
I used to be a ‘perfect proofer’. Typos leapt off the page, grammatical errors made me physically unwell. I’d have to stop reading a book completely if I found more than one mistake, it was just too painful. I ended up proofreading, writing and editing for everyone I knew, it was the only way to survive the agony. I happily made beer money charging a pound a time to write ambulance accident reports for people. My proudest moment was getting Bugsy off a charge of impaling his vehicle on a scaffolding pole, by using big words that the scrambled egg brigade didn’t understand. (He had impaled the ambulance on scaffolding though, I saw him do it.)
Eventually I drifted into copy editing for a living. That was when I decided to have a go at writing, how hard could it be? I was trawling through some terrible stuff and these people called themselves writers.
Guess what? It was easy. I turned my life into a series of humorous articles and people liked them and asked for more. I sent a spot of travelling whimsy to the Rough Guides and they published it! Hey presto, I was a real writer. There were compliments, a reporter friend told me, “Anyone can learn to write but humour takes talent,” and I wore that comment like a medallion. Yeah, some of us have talent.
I’d join the occasional writers’ forum and consider the opinions. Whenever the pros and cons of things like writing courses and support groups cropped up I‘d silently agree with the anti camp. “Writers are born, not made,” I’d scoff internally, while sneering at all the sad little egos who felt the need to waste their time discussing it at all.
Then I got sick. It took months, almost a year, to recover. Except that I didn’t. I’d had a recurrence of the ME that had first hit me twenty years earlier. That time I’d recovered almost completely, with just a tendency to tire easily, an unaccountable horror of cinemas and a tendency to topple over in shopping malls. With this new relapse though, I lost a lot more neurological functions. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t read and I couldn’t write. I lost my vision when tired and my hearing if assaulted by more than one source of sound. Music was torture and coherent thought was impossible.
I worked hard at remaking the neural pathways that I needed to function, putting one leg in front of the other etc, and several years later I manage ok…although picking my battles has meant that I still can’t abide music or cinemas.
The point of all this is not to elicit sympathy, everyone has crap in their lives, it’s to tell you about a writer who can’t easily read. Or write. I have no sense of patterns now, not even a simple Sudoku, and I can no longer spell. I have gone from being the scoffer to being the struggler and it has been a helpful journey.
My beloved beta readers knew me before. They became fans of my stuff when it came easily and I resolutely still use them. The question is always, “Is it as good as it was?” And they tell me truthfully when my writing feels forced, makes no sense or needs to be started again after a sleep, you know, like a bit of a support group.
Why tell you this? Well, I’m still reading on forums that some writers are better than others. That no-one who needs a course is a real writer; alternatively that no-one who hasn’t come up through the ranks of journalism should be taken seriously because of mere unprofessional talent. I have left all those places where writers contemplate their navels and spend time on one-upmanship. The writing is the thing. If someone likes your work…you changed a little moment of another life. It makes no difference at all how you got there, and whether you just had to Google ‘contemplate’ because you went pattern-blind again and couldn’t see if it was spelled right.