More Nano-nonsense – or Nanonsense, if you will – abounds on Facebook, and today people are talking about the need for a title. ‘I must have a title!’ they cry, ‘or I don’t know what I’m writing!’ Now I know everyone has their own process but as far as I’m concerned that’s putting the cart before the horse. For me the title comes at some point while I’m writing – during the planning stage, after a chapter or two; maybe even later than that. Sure, it’s a good thing to have a working title, even if it’s only ‘Novel 2019’ or, taking a leaf out of Friends, ‘The One with the Fake Monica’ or whatever – because it helps to have a title to refer to even if you’re only referring to it in your own mind. But having to have a title in order to know what you’re writing seems silly to me.
But it gets sillier, because there are people Out There who also need a cover before they can begin. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about a cover for any of my novels – as far as I’m concerned that’s for my publishers to consider. Then again I’m not interested in self-publishing – and even if I was, the whole process fills me with, to quote Blackadder, ‘a due sense of exhaustion and dread.’ Exhausted dread and creativity do not make good bedfellows.
Some problems, however, I can totally get on board with. ‘My first draft is garbage, why do I bother?’ is the cry of every writer – at least every writer who does not suffer from terminal egomania. Of course your first draft is garbage – every first draft is garbage. What you have to remember when you read a published book and compare it with your draft, is that the published book went through x number of edits, was tossed back and forth between editor and author, revised, stamped on, buried in soft peat for several millennia, dug up and thoroughly redrafted before finally, just as the author was losing the will to live, making it into print. If we could see these author’s first drafts it would give us hope I’m sure.
But there’s an uncomfortable truth here – an elephant in the writers room, if you will – which is that not everyone who wants to write has talent. As an occasional leader of writing workshops, I am all in favour of people expressing themselves; I wouldn’t dream of telling one of my students that they have no talent. For one thing, I might be wrong – how many great authors were told this at one time or another in their lives? – and for another, it goes against my professional ethics. Besides, it doesn’t make good business sense: my approach has always been that if you have talent, it will come out – and if at the end of the process you discover that you have no gift for writing, you have gained self-knowledge – something which is in itself invaluable.
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again – if you want to be a writer, write. There’s no other way.
PS I’ve found out what Save the Cat Beats are. And now I really have lost the will to live.