Sunday, April 16, 2017


A little while ago I sat down at the laptop and wrote a couple of hundred words - the beginning of a new short story. Then I shut down the file without saving because it didn't feel right, effectively deleting what I'd just written.

I seem to be going through a weird phase at the minute where everything I write seems like it's derivative of something else I've already written. As if I'm unconsciously plagiarising myself. I feel like a copy of a copy. A ghost of a ghost.

I know this won't last, but it's...unsettling.

I suspect it's an aspect of the beginning of a minor change in direction. It's happened before and it'll no doubt happen again. Art is funny like that: it takes you where it wants to go, and all you can do is hang on and hope you survive the ride.

1 comment:

David Surface said...

Hi, Gary. I believe I know what you mean. And at the risk of offering you some advice that you probably already know, I hope you don't mind humoring me and letting me offer it anyway:

(1) Change your writing materials/tools. Stupid as this may sound, it often works. If you're writing on a computer, switch to pen and paper (or vice versa). Or use a smaller notebook. Peter Taylor, the great Southern author talked about how he was writing on his back in a hammock and had to fold his notebook in half to keep it from bending, so he only had 4 inches from left to right, and that utterly changed the stories he was writing.

(2) Read something new. And by "new" I mean something outside of your current/recent reading patterns or habits. For example, I was reading short horror fiction more or less exclusively (and learning a lot from it), but then I read 'Wish You Were Here' by Graham Swift, and (later) 'The Pier Falls' by Mark Haddon, and it felt like they opened all the doors and windows and let in the sunlight and fresh air––in other words, they made me want to write. Not because they're the greatest books of all time (although they are pretty damn great), or because they're "better" than what I was reading, but just because they were NEW and they put my head into a space where it felt like new things were possible. (You know what I mean.) I can't say what those books might be for you, but they're out there. Just grab something weird and a little outside of your comfort/familiarity zone and see what it does for you.

(3) Try some automatic writing. It's not exactly "stream of consciousness" writing (although it's certainly related..) Just get some paper and a pen or pencil, pick a simple starting point (a personal memory, a person, anything), set a timer if you like (try one or two minutes to start out with), then start writing, and (here's the important part) DO NOT STOP writing until you've reached the end of your allotted time period. Again, DO NOT STOP; don't let your pen or pencil stop moving on the paper, even if you feel that some of what's coming out is junk, keep moving and don't stop. When the alarm goes off, you will have something interesting and alive to work with. Also, try writing the entire story this way––target incidents, scenes, moments in your head and use them as the starting points for further automatic writing sessions. Keep doing that until the first draft of the story is finished. (I've been doing this and, at the risk of sounding like some kind of evangelical nut, it really does works wonders.)

Okay, I'll shut up now. I hope you don't mind me rattling on like this. I just admire you and the work you do, and it pains me to think of you not enjoying yourself at something you do so damn well.

Anyway, hope at least some of this is helpful. Best wishes.