I know I’ve blogged about this before but the more time I spend on Facebook writers’ groups the more it strikes me that there’s an entire industry out there devoted to (supposedly) making you a better writer. Every week I come across more courses, workshops, talks, lectures, books and videos than I can count; every week I hear of programmes and apps and other things I don’t even know how to categorise which claim to help you to edit or plot or download a cover for your novel or publish or market it. Armies of readers both alpha and beta (and I’ve only just discovered the difference) wait to invade your text and pull it to pieces. And that’s not counting all the Nano-based gimmicks such as stars and certificates, crystals and word-count validations and I don’t know what else. Call me arrogant, but I don’t feel the need for a single one of them. It makes me wonder how the likes of Jane Austen or James Joyce managed to pen a single word without the help of Scrivener or the ever-incomprehensible Save the Cat Beats (OK having read that summary I understand what it is but why is it called that? What does it have to do with cats and why are they saved?
When I started writing I did everything by hand, including editing, and the final draft was then typed up. There was no choice of fonts, no way of putting things in bold or italics (just underlining for emphasis) and copies could only be made with carbon or by using a photocopier. And I never did any courses because I figured (again, call me arrogant if you will) that I was my own best teacher. I still maintain that if you want to write, you need to do two things: write as much as you can, and read as much as you can. Read whatever you like, read good writing and bad writing and try to figure out the difference. Take a notebook everywhere you go and work out how to describe what you see and hear; figure out how to transcribe dialogue and how to convey your own thoughts and feelings.
I’m not saying all these courses and apps are worthless. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never used them and even if I wanted to I can’t afford it. But it does make you wonder. Give me the traditional route any day and you can save your own cat…
I have already mentioned my successes with Paul McKenna’s book on sleep. When someone lent me a copy I was initially resistant, knowing him only as a TV and stage hypnotist and not wishing to subject myself to any form of ‘mind control’ but the techniques he suggests are rather different from what I expected. First, they are fairly commonsensical; things such as go to bed when you’re tired and switch off the TV an hour before bed (a custom more honoured in the breach in my case, though I do occasionally do it: the other night I turned the TV off and instead of watching the zillionth episode of Episodes got my keyboard out and laid down some groovy vibes.) Then there are techniques based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and others based on visualisation; in fact there’s a whole spread so that if some don’t work for you, others might. Since I got this book about a year ago my sleep has improved enormously. It’s not perfect but if I’m awake in the middle of the night I have a range of techniques to help myself, and I don’t normally have any trouble getting to sleep.
So, following the success of this volume I thought I’d try his book on getting rich. Again I was a little wary, having read so many ‘get rich’ manuals that were set in a very different universe from mine, but here I found a lot that resonated with me. Again he builds on techniques to eliminate negative habits (I was astounded how much of my attitude towards money is based on pity for the poor and resentment of the rich – more on this later) and to get rid of poor thinking habits, ie to visualise yourself having the things you want. An important part of the mix here is to think of riches as involving far more than money; in fact he re-defines wealth as ‘living your best life’ and quotes Rockefeller who, in his eighties and struggling to get around, when offered an electric wheelchair said he’d rather have the money. So often the rich are – or seem to be, since I don’t know any personally – in a prison of their own making, sometimes a literal prison with gates and searchlights and guard dogs. As George Bernard Shaw’s Millionaire says, ‘a man as rich as I am cannot afford anything.’
So far I’m entirely with McKenna in this vision. But he spoils it for me in two ways; one is by quoting people like Donald Trump and Philip Green (the book was published before either was discredited but I’d still struggle to see them as positive role models) and the second is by being a manual on how to be a good capitalist. McKenna’s model for making money is first and last a business model, and here’s where it all falls down for me, not only because I don’t believe in capitalism but also because I’ve never been able to sell myself in any kind of business arena, no matter how I tried. That’s one reason I’ve never been tempted by self-publishing, because the hard work is in the marketing and this is something at which I am utterly crap.
As far as the ‘pity’ and ‘resentment’ go, by trying a couple of his exercises I discovered that my approach to wealth was almost totally governed by these unhelpful emotions. This does not imply that I need to abandon my socialist views, nor that I should admire billionaires and regard the poor as responsible for their own condition; it just means that these emotions were blocking my own understanding of how I might progress. Here’s one exercise from the book to try:
Picture the wealthiest person you can think of who is also someone you admire. Picture that person with all the possibilities they have in their life. Put that picture in a large box. In one small corner of the box, imagine yourself as you are now. Then practise switching the images in your mind, so that you become the big picture and the other person shrinks to where you are.
Rinse and repeat.