On Numbers

I started writing, really writing this story exactly one week ago.

It began its life a few weeks earlier, in a thick, squared notebook I found on sale in a Paperchase shop on Berwick Street. It was an impromptu shopping session, like most stationery shopping sessions tend to be, at least in my life. All in all, nothing too surpsing about it. Except for the fact that twenty minutes later, as I sat on the train on my way home, I got the notebook out of its plastic wrapping, dug through my bag for a pen, and actually started writing.

I began by outlining a number of scenes and chapters. Mostly bullet pointed, short phrases, their brief flow interrupted at times by a paragraph or two detailing an arbitrary scene. This went on for a number of days, on other trains and ocassionally bent over my coffee table, to the ever renewed astonishment of my darling kitten, who had never witnessed the act of writing before.

All in all, I was pleased with this process. I didn’t take it, or myself, too seriously, which I think may just be the trick with me and processes in general. And gradually the story grew.

A week ago I started writing it. Really writing it this time, typing it in a more thought out way in my Ulysses app, a more fleshed out, organized version of it. 

It’s been, well, interesting.

Interesting and hard, and just a little bit frightening. But, I’m finding, frightening is a little overrated.

Especially since, drawing the line at the end of this first week, I have something. A bunch of somethings, actually.

So I think that maybe I’ll be doing regular Numbers posts here from now on. Perhaps not weekly, but every once in a while, to pat myself on the back for achieving things and to kick myself when I slack.

This week was a good one, so the numbers are good too. I’ll use bullet points, in the vein of the Paperchase notebook which started it all.

December 17th – December 23rd

  • Draft no: 1
  • Chapters drafted: 1 (meh), 2, 3, 4, 5 (half way there)
  • Words written: 13,039
  • Total word count: 13,039

OK OK, brag over. Back to writing.

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On Others

I went to a writing meetup yesterday.

We sat at a long, festively decorated table in the middle of a restaurant in Oxford Circus, a dozen or so of us and our wordy screens and notepads.

It was my first time joining this particular group, so when the hostess met me at the door I mumbled something about an online meetup, a large table and people with laptops. I had already forgotten the name they went by on the site I’d found them on, a week or so earlier. 

“You’re a writer,” she offered cheerfully, easily connecting the dots between my lack of verbal coherence, my blood-shot eyes and the supposed realities of the one thing in the world I knew I was not: a writer.

I followed her to the table, where a handful of people were already tapping away at their keyboards. 

If there is one golden rule on which all these meetups are built, then it’s this:

If you arrive late, you sit down and write.

You don’t make a fuss, you don’t shake hands, you don’t sigh, grunt or cough. You don’t stir people’s creative juices with things as trite as hellos and howareyous.

It works in more ways than you know.

For the writing busy bees, who have had the decency to plan their commute ahead of time and are now already deeply engulfed in their drafts and re-drafts.

But also for you.

Especially if you happen to be, like me, somewhat inept in the ways of social interractions. Then it’s comforting to know that lingering around the restaurant for a few minutes past the appointed time may mean that you don’t even have to say hello to anybody when you eventually go in. That in this particular scenario, your native inhibitions are not only not frowned upon, but encouraged. 

But regardless of how reassuring this prospect sounds, there is one circumstance in which it’s simply not acceptable to be that antisocial. And that’s when you join a group for the first time.

Believe it or not, the second golden rule of writing meetups is this:

When you join a group for the first time, you need to at least say hello.

Quite outrageous, I know. But such is the way of life.

So because I was a newbie at last night’s meetup, I couldn’t take advantage of the extraordinary, first golden rule.

Instead, I actually had to arrive a few minutes ahead of time, so that I could say hello and shake a few hands.

It took some courage, but I survived. 

And then I finally, finally I sat down to write. 

Remember how I spent the last few hundred words or so rambling about my anxieties around saying hello to people?

Well. Those anxieties are nothing compared to the ones I have around sitting among said people, each tapping away at their soon to be bestsellers. While I stare into the blank screen of my Ulysses app, where the cursor blinks and blinks and blinks but no words magically appear, not even one. For two hours.

It wasn’t that bad though. Not last night at least.

I even managed to flesh out the summaries for a handful of, I think, chapters. It’s not real writing, I know.  They’re half-baked, bullet-pointy phrases, but they form a sort of almost coherent thought, and that’s more than nothing, I think. There’s also something extraodinary in the reality of fleshed-out, somewhat coherent thoughts, coming out of a meeting such as this: of strangers huddled up in a little bubble for an hour of two, for the sole purpose of putting their words in order.

After the writing session, we lingered in a coffee shop for a bit, to talk about said words.

As we went around the table, each admitting to or boasting about what we’re working on, it really hit me how different these people’s stories are from mine. How clear they seem to be in their minds, how easily they apply themselves to be summarised in seven words or less. While my own story is still volatile, still figuring out its own shape, the direction in which it’s heading and the shortcuts it’s willing to take to get there.

And I wonder.

Is this because my story is young? (Which, let’s be honest, it isn’t. I’ve been visiting and revisiting it in my mind, and occasionally on paper, for years.)

Or is it because I see stories as something more elusive to begin with? And because I see myself as being driven by the story, to wherever it wants to take me, rather than me holding the reins tightly in my grip and calling the shots?

Is it because they’re writers and I’m not?

It seems that today is a day of questions. That’s not a bad thing in itself, I don’t think. But the questions aren’t easy ones, either.

As I try to make sense of them in my own, personal writing bubble, I can’t help thinking though. Of all these people’s stories and the many ways in which they grow roots and branches all over London, and what a wonderful, miraculous thing that is.

Even just for that, it was worth summoning up the courage to say hello.

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On What The Story Is. Supposedly.

The reason I’m here, writing this, is because I’m trying to document my getting-into-writing process.

But the truth is that I’m not entirely new to writing.

In fact, during the last few years or so I’ve been writing constantly. Even more, I’ve pretty much been writing the same story over and over and again.

Of course, it hasn’t quite been the traditional writing process.

That is, the writing has mostly been going on in my head.

I’ve just been telling and retelling myself the same story over the years, adding to it and tweaking it along the way. It’s grown into this thing that I carry with me everywhere I go. I may not know its words, its actual words, nor the way I can get them to flow in pretty, orderly sentences. But I know plenty of other things about it. 

I know, for instance, how it makes me feel.

I know, roughly, what it’s about.

I don’t know if I can write it. But I know that I’d like to try.

Now, of course that I’ll be documenting how the story evolves as I write it from now onwards, but what I wanted to mention today is that, although the story has mostly been written in my mind so far, it’s already undergone plenty of important, sometimes shattering changes.

And so I’ll say this.

My story began by being about a woman. It soon became the story of her daughter. It derailed for an iteration or two to be the story of their cat. And now it’s the story of their country.

What I like about the madness of the above paragraph is the way in which is frightens me and at the same time brings me comfort.

Stories aren’t written in stone. Not even when they are indeed written, and not just a tangle of ideas residing in a meaty part of someone’s brain.

Stories can and will change.

Some will change a little and some will change a lot. Some changes will be definitive and some will be fleeting, some will work and some won’t. Some changes will be very hard to make. Because, as cheesy as this sounds, change in general, and change in writing in particular, is often hard and frightening.

And so I am a little afraid. Of thinking that I know what my story is, and discovering it to be something entirely different. Of finding that I don’t actually know what it is at all.

So I guess that today I wanted to document the fear. And also the faint, brilliant excitement in brings along. For freedom. For the unknown.

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On What I Am Not

I am many things, you see. A talker, a walker, a forgetter. A reader, a thinker, a drinker of reheated coffee.

I am many things, but I am not a writer.

OK, maybe I am.

After all, I am writing these very words you are reading, and what is a writer if not someone who writes words for other people to read?

Also, I happen to like stationery.

No, you don’t get it.

I happen to really like stationery. Notebooks and pens, cards and envelopes, whatever bleeds ink or has once been a tree one can now scribble on with an ink bleeder – I. live. for. that. stuff.

I go to Foyles sometimes just to smell their sample notebooks. And that’s really something, you know. People sometimes write really bad words in those notebooks with the sample pens.

But that’s OK, I like words too.

I mean, take hierarchy for instance. And this is just a random one that someone threw at me in a meeting the other day. Hierarchy. How cool is this word? I mean, isn’t it just brilliant, doesn’t it just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Isn’t it crazy that I haven’t seen it tattooed on anybody’s back yet?

I digress though.

Despite some of the above things indicating otherwise, I am not a writer.

I have never written anything of any consequence and I very likely never will.

I probably do have, like so many of us doing most of our writing on people’s Facebook walls these days, at least one story inside me. But that’s where it stays. Inside, safe from strangers’ scrutiny. Safe from my scrutiny.

And despite not being a writer, despite not being a writer at all, I started this page to document what I am instead.

Because it feels to me that one of the many little, inconsequencial stories inside me is about how I’m anything but a writer. But also about how I could probably be one. If I tried.

So this is me, trying.

I don’t know anything about anything, I have no gameplan and no secret weapons.

I do have loads of stationery though. And I type reasonably fast. So that’s as good a place to start as any, right?

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