People sometimes ask me how I write a feature and I always find it very difficult to answer. Some think I must apply logic and use extensive notes and then plan out how the feature will start, meander and end. Well, it doesn’t really work like that. I just sort of do it.
Sure, I’ll have some overview in my head, but it is far from a fully fleshed out one. Usually, there will just be a few key points floating around in the grey matter that I’ll attempt to turn into words. That’s how this missive started. At the moment, I’ve no idea whether this will be a lengthy tirade or just a short thing.
The moments before this paragraph was started, and there were precisely five seconds between the last paragraph at this one, were spent thinking of possible next paragraphs. I had an idea in my head and while I sit here typing, the washing machine of my mind continues to churn. The words just sort of fall out via the medium of my fingers. I’m not consciously thinking of what comes next, it just flows.
The flow is something I rarely analyse as it just baffles me. I’m no word smith really – I rarely sit back and spend time carefully restructuring or adding in a fancy word to replace a bland one. I don’t understand it, but I’m very glad that I have it. It’s something I can do. Like songwriters who can actually write songs. That’s an incredible skill and not necessarily one you can learn by reading a book.
Yet it’s reading books that really fired up my creative brain. I was always into reading. I’ve just taken time out to re-read The BFG by Roald Dahl. That was a very interesting experience – he was one hell of a writer. He got children to contemplate words like Snozzcumber and Woopsy splunkers, but also confronts the infant reader with concepts as hideous as war and human atrocities against each other. Sure, he often goes a bit far – it is untrue that humans are the only animal that kills its own kind – but the point is that he gets children to consider the wider world, despite the story being a rather far-fetched one in which Giants cross the land either blowing dreams or eating you. It’s sheer genius.
It wasn’t just that either. I absorbed car books and magazines at a ridiculous level, as I may have already mentioned at some point in the past. Really, this was training. I don’t need to think about what a car magazine feature should be like, because it is imprinted on my brain. That can cause problems. If I try and break out of that known model, I do stumble a bit and actually have to scratch my head, drink more tea and (once the tea is safely out of the way) stroke my beard in a very knowledgeable manner.
I s’pose in some ways I’m a reluctant creative type. I don’t really think of myself as creative, but I am. After all, I can sit here at a computer at gone half ten on a Friday night and churn out this sort of drivel. That must be a skill, surely?
I guess I’m just writing out my internal dialogue. The problem I have is that while I can type very quickly indeed (about 80wpm), my brain seems to only work at that speed. Ask me to write down my thoughts and I’ll get cracking immediately. Ask me to my face and my brain struggles to act quickly enough. It’s one reason I hate public speaking. My brain is too slow.
I’ve allowed myself the rare treat of drifting very far from the point. My intent at the start of this blog post was to discuss how the creative process can get utterly sidelined by illness. I’ve had something which I thought was flu but was probably just a heavy cold. It was an absolute rotter of a cold though, causing three nights of near-sleeplessness (so this is what parenting feels like), fever and aches and pains. I’ve had better weeks. Still, I just about managed to churn out the required work but what a struggle it was. After writing the first news story, it took two hours for my brain to recover sufficiently to write another. It was a very odd feeling. I was trying to lay the words out on the page but it just wasn’t happening. It was quite scary to be honest.
Happily, I got the next two stories written that afternoon with a slightly better flow, and even managed to construct a little blog post that night. It’s not nice having your skills effectively withdrawn like that though.
Whether this gives you any more insight into how I work is highly doubtful. As I’ve said, I can’t really analyse it myself. Are writers special? Well, I tend to think not – I’ve only been one full-time for six years and I’m the first to admit that there are people out there who do far better than I do. The key thing is, I type as if I’m telling someone something. There’s no interruption, so it’s all a bit one-sided, but that means I have to try and preempt any queries. Pretty much anyone can hold a conversation, so it follows that pretty much anyone could tell someone something using the written word. Evidence from forums suggests that this is indeed the case. I’ve seen some forum posts that have held me absolutely spell-bound. I’ve seen many that have queried why these people are not being paid to create that sort of material.
I’m not just being some sort of linguistic hippy when I say there’s a writer in every one of us. But I like words, wear sandles and have a long beard, so perhaps I am.