After a fortnight’s break from this ‘feature’, I’m back with more ‘Stuff I Used To Do But Don’t Do Any More’.
It’s perhaps appropriate, after a two-week hiatus from the series, that this post is about how I don’t write any more. Although to be honest I’ve disappeared from this blog multiple times before (for longer than two weeks) and in any case, I have actually posted a few things on here in the last two weeks, just not a post about ‘stuff I used to do’.
Maybe I should add ‘writing about stuff I used to do’ to the list.
Or is that just ridiculous?
I think it probably is, but in the context of other stuff I’ve considered appropriate material for this blog, it’s perhaps not all that ridiculous. After all, I did once write this post…
However, this is a post about how I don’t write any more ‘in general’. Which might in itself seem ridiculous given that I’m a few posts shy of my 300th post in two years on this very blog. But in many ways it is true. Aside from this blog, I don’t really write all that much and yet I hold on to the pipe-dream that one day I will be a real writer. You know, one who gets paid.
Ok before my comments section gets filled with bile, I appreciate that a lot of you reading this are fellow bloggers who don’t get paid for your writing any more than I do for mine. I’m obviously not suggesting that you aren’t real writers because obviously you all are and I enjoy reading your myriad contributions to the blogosphere.
Don’t fill my comments section up with angry rebuttals.
Fill it up, instead, with sycophantic praise for my witty and wonderful wordplay.
My point is that I don’t get paid for being a writer, I get paid for being a ‘sort of’ teacher who doesn’t actually teach and instead sits in an office failing to complete paperwork about students with special educational needs.
I quite like my job (despite making it sound entirely unrewarding in the previous paragraph) but I’d rather be paid to write stuff.
And like a teenager on a TV talent show, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do (the difference between them and me though is that I’m now old enough for that statement to vaguely mean something).
Well I’m not sure it’s all I’ve ever wanted. I’ve wanted other stuff too. Indeed, my desire to be obscenely wealthy is entirely unrelated to my desire to be a writer. If I could become immensely rich through my current profession, I’d be happy enough and equally if I could make enough to live my current lifestyle through writing I’d be completely content.
Obviously if I could become a multimillionaire through my ability to string a few sentences together in a vaguely entertaining way, I’d be happiest of all.
But writing for me is not just about the money, or the current lack thereof. I do actually enjoy the process of producing a story or a poem (or whatever the hell this is that I’m writing now).
It’s nice to be creative and I’m not overly talented in other art-forms but in this I’ve always felt that maybe I was a bit.
Talented enough to write a best-seller?
Well given that some of the most successful novels of recent years are absolute crap, I’d say so.
Talented enough to write a literary classic? Maybe less so.
But I think I might be talented enough to one day write something that is good enough for a literary agent to peruse not dismiss. Maybe even good enough for that vague interest to turn into a publishing deal which might make me enough money to upgrade to ‘Speedy Boarding’ the next time I fly EasyJet.
I’m certainly talented enough to hold on to that pipe-dream anyway.
But I’m increasingly aware that, unless things change dramatically, it will only ever be a pipe-dream, because, talented or not, I do actually need to write something in order for it to be published.
And aside from content for this blog, I just don’t do that at the moment.
But I’m not sure I can really claim that I’ve ever written prolifically.
I’ve always had it listed as a hobby on my CV (the out-of-date CV that has been the tenuous premise for this series of posts) but I think it mostly has been listed as an aspirational idea. I’d like to write short stories and novels in my spare time, but I lack the discipline to ever do so regularly.
Like most things, my writing aspirations date back to my school days. In school you are expected, from time to time, to write stories. And I willingly obliged.
I always enjoyed reading, (as I explained in this epic post) so naturally writing my own stories was the natural progression.
It was definitely one of my favourite things to do in primary school and I must have had pretty good feedback from my teachers for me to have enjoyed it so much, because I was not overly blessed with confidence at that age.
Then, in my final year of primary school, two things happened, which consolidated my self-assurance as a writer. The first was that I wrote a school assembly.
I’m not sure how familiar the idea of school assemblies will be to the less British of my readers, but I’d imagine it’s relatively familiar to anyone who grew up in the UK education system. It was, essentially, a gathering of the whole school, once a week (or possibly more often than that, I forget now) in the mornings, before lessons, where some singing would happen and some moral message would be imparted by the head teacher to the students. But each week a different class would take their turn to deliver part, or sometimes all, of the assembly. Normally the class teacher would put something together and harangue the more vocal students into volunteering to read, but my teacher decided to let us have a go at writing the message.
I don’t think many of my classmates took the task as seriously as I did, but I had a few competitors nonetheless.
I wrote a short play about the perils of littering. It was as bad as you might imagine the work of a moralising 10/11-year-old to be, but mine was the effort that got chosen and my classmates eagerly acted it out for me in front of the whole school. It went down quite well, all things considered, and the head teacher referred to me as a ‘budding Shakespeare’ which I was not hugely impressed with at the time but which I now understand to be a compliment of the highest order.
The second thing that happened that year was even bigger and cemented my lifelong ambition to one day become a celebrated author. I entered a national writing competition (by national I mean Wales rather than the whole of the UK). I wrote a short story call ‘Greenacre Jam and The Sacred Scissors’. It was an unashamed ‘rip off’ of Indiana Jones, but I came second in the 11s and under category. According to the letter informing me of my success, there were 2,000 entrants (although that may have included the entrants of the other categories too).
Still there must have been quite a few hundred competitors in my category and I came second. Which is quite impressive when you think about it. The only thing that took the shine off it a bit, was that the girl who came first was only eight years old. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth really, to come second, beat loads of other people your age and lose out to someone who is three years your junior.
Still, I won the princely sum of £40, which was presented to me by some local radio personality that no-one reading this will ever have heard of. I did get to meet Thomas Keneally who wrote Shindler’s Ark (the novel that inspired Shindler’s List) at the launch of the following years’ competition a few months later. Obviously as I was eleven and the film had not yet been made, I was not in the least bit interested in meeting Thomas Keneally, but years later I can appreciate that it was pretty cool actually.
Secondary school followed on from that triumph and my English teachers never appreciated my talents as much as I felt they should. I never enjoyed any more competition success either (and I entered a few).
Still I always felt I would probably be a writer one day.
Then I left school under a cloud, gave up on life for a few years (though I did read voraciously in that time) and forgot about being a writer. Or forgot about trying to be one anyway. I still thought I’d like to do it one day I just did nothing at all to make it a reality.
I did write the occasional poem, I even explored the idea of performance poetry briefly, but then realised that it wasn’t as good a way to meet girls as I thought it might have been – though that did spark my interest in stand-up comedy, something that germinated for a long time and is a story for another post.
Really I didn’t write anything much between the ages of 18 and 23.
But then I moved to Paris.
I loved Paris, it was exciting and a chance to reinvent myself.
Which I failed to do in any meaningful way.
But I did rediscover writing for pleasure in quite a big way.
Because I was in Paris and all my friends and family were back home.
And they needed to know how awesome Paris was (whether they realised it or not)
So I started writing these really long emails home and I’d send them to anyone whose email address I had.
And people started writing back and telling me how much they enjoyed them.
Which only encouraged me, so I kept on writing them for the duration of my time there.
It was only as my time in Paris was coming to an end that I discovered the world of blogging and realised that my emails would have made quite a good basis for a blog. Maybe I’d have continued that blog and instead of a nearly two-year-old blog I’d have a nearly twelve-year-old blog instead.
I did try starting a blog after I left Paris but I felt that ‘not living in Paris anymore’ rather let it down and until this one, I never managed to maintain one for more than a few months.
While I was in Paris, I wrote other stuff too.
For a couple of years my friend Andrew and I wrote surrealist satirical stories about a Magic Penguin. A few months back I intimated that I might revive some of those for this blog. I haven’t as yet but I’m still planning to when I get the opportunity – I feel the era of Brexit and Trump is well suited to a Magic Penguin revival.
But after leaving Paris, in 2006, until starting this blog in 2015 I wrote very little.
Except stuff for my stand-up comedy days which were intermittently between 2008 and 2012.
And my novel of course.
Because, yes, I have once attempted and successfully completed the first draft of a novel.
Actually I did edit too. But not thoroughly.
I guess that adds some credibility to the idea that I might have what it takes to be a writer.
I can’t exactly remember when I started writing it, but I think it was some time in 2010 and I finished it early 2012. It was during a period of time when I had a lot of evenings and weekends working in a boarding house at the posh school that employed Mrs Proclaims. In return for us both giving up this time we got to live rent-free. It was a good deal at the time (it paid for our wedding and helped towards the deposit for our current abode). But it was really boring. There was nothing to do but sit in a small office and occasionally wander around the house to make sure that the over privileged brats were behaving, which they always were, even when they thought that they weren’t. There was a computer with an interminably slow internet connection so what else could I do but write during that time?
And write I did.
Until I produced the minimum requirement to claim I’d written a novel.
It’s not great.
I’m sure I could do better.
I did send it off to a few literary agents, but only four (which is not enough really) because I didn’t actually think it was good enough to get published.
Having said that, a few friends and relatives have read it and tell me it’s pretty good. And they aren’t the kinds of friends and relatives who would tell me it was good if they didn’t think it was (they’d never say it was bad but they’d have been significantly more non-committal than they were) and I think there are plenty of worse things that have been published.
It’s called ‘Jogging Along’ and I self-published it on Smashwords in the end because I thought it had enough merit for people to be able to read it for free if they so choose, but I’d never be able to make any money off it.
I’m proud of the fact I finished it, but a few years on from having written it, I’d be genuinely disappointed if it’s the best thing I ever write.
To date, of course, it is, because aside from this blog, I haven’t written anything at all.
I do genuinely love writing stuff for this blog, even if I do have the odd six-week sabbatical when life gets in the way. I think ‘James Proclaims’ is going to be a part of my life for some time to come, but it would be nice to have another crack at writing a novel.
At the moment I blame my lack of progress in this endeavour on ‘never having enough time’ but even though I am busy, I do recognise that is a feeble excuse really.
Then again it’s also the excuse I’m currently using for the inadequate amount of exercise I currently partake in, the reason I’m not learning any new languages and why I haven’t managed to read a novel since August.
It is not the reason (or not the only reason) I don’t do stand-up comedy any more though – tune in for that post in a few weeks to see the real reason why I’m not a beloved house-hold name.