Category Archives: my magnum hopeless

The Selfish Genius

I’m becoming obsessed by this theme right now.  I wake in the early dawn and try to figure it out: what is the best way to live if you have an all-consuming talent?  I am not content with the traditional models of ‘selfish genius’ which dictate that in order to follow your inner voice you have to ignore everything – and more crucially everyone – else.  This is what male writers have traditionally done; and recently women are going there too: there’s a whole plethora of articles exhorting women writers to be selfish, to put themselves first, to ignore the children and carve out writing time.

Now, this needs a little deconstruction in the context of households where women have traditionally put themselves last.  We were conditioned to ignore our own needs, or at best put them on the back burner.  When everyone else’s needs have been satisfied, then it’s your turn.  Trouble is, that turn never arrives; you catch your breath for a moment  before realising, like poor old Barbara in The Royle Family, that having cooked, served and eaten Christmas dinner you are now faced with a kitchen full of washing-up.  I have to admit when I watched this episode I had an overwhelming urge to kick Jim out of his chair and into some good quality rubber gloves (sorry a bit of Withnail got in there by mistake)  (oh no, another bit!)

Deep breath.  So, in that context yes, it is entirely in order that Barbara should boot Jim into the kitchen to do his bit while she goes upstairs to write something sensational.  However it’s not only in the carving out of time that the selfish genius rears its head.  Write what you know is the advice – and it’s good advice – the trouble is that you also end up writing who you know.  Literary history is littered with friends of the writer who have recognised themselves in print and decided that since the passages can’t be deleted, they’ll delete the friendship instead.  This is not to mention the wives, ex-wives, lovers and partners of authors who can find themselves writ large in two hundred sizzling pages.  Not unnaturally, these people feel betrayed.

And of course the third thing that writers always do is steal.

So here’s the thing: how does one become a great writer without being a total sh*t?

That’s not a rhetorical question.  I actually want to know.

Kirk out

PS: what do you think of the title?  It came to me in the night and I thought it was pure ge…

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Evolving a Theory of Genius

And a propos of my last post, who should they be discussing on the radio this morning but  the mathematician Gauss:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Friedrich_Gauss

He was a child prodigy who had taught himself to read and write by age three and whose gift for mathematics was reportedly discovered by a teacher, who on trying to keep a class busy by asking them to add up all the numbers between one and a hundred (one plus two plus three etc) was astonished by Gauss immediately producing the answer: he had figured out a short-cut and reasoned rather than calculating.  He then got a scholarship courtesy of a local duke.  So far, so encouraging, but as an adult he seems to have become every bit as obsessive and sociopathic as other geniuses and reportedly,  when told that his wife was dying, asked ‘Can’t she wait?’  This idea that genius demands total concentration; one hundred per cent dedication to the exclusion of all else, is deep in our psyche – and I want to question it.  I simply don’t accept that being a genius equals being an arse.  I am performing my own Gaussian calculations here:

genius ≠ arsedom is my first conclusion.

The programme went on to discuss the old infinite monkey argument.  Gauss, when asked if his ability was innate or the result of hard work, replied that it was the latter plus concentration.  Now, I am entirely on board with the idea that hard work is necessary to genius: the latest version of this being the ‘thousand hours’ theory; the idea that practising anything for ten thousand hours will make you an expert.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712

Well maybe, but have you ever tried to practise something when your heart wasn’t in it?  Did you take piano lessons as a child and hate them?  Surely if Gauss’s life proves anything it’s that the ability was there right from the start, way before he started to work on it.

So I think it all comes down to the inspiration-versus-perspiration question.  It has been suggested that genius is 9% perspiration to 1% inspiration: I’d put it around 75/25 but the principle holds true.  It is entirely possible that were I to practise music for 35 hours a week I would be thoroughly proficient within a year.  I would also be climbing up the wall because, much as I love my guitar, I just don’t wanna.  It is not in me to do this.  Whereas writing for 35 hours a week, busting my gut trying to produce something worthwhile and not getting paid for it – is.

So, to summarise my calculations:

genius ≠ being an arse

10,000 hours ≠ genius

genius = 25% inspiration + 75% perspiration

So there you have it.  Now go forth and multiply.

(In a good way.)

And here’s the programme:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09gbnfj

Kirk out

 

 

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Genius? That’ll Be Everything You’ve Got, Madam

The current model of Genius At Work may be in flux but the go-to setting is the same as it has always been: a man in a study with a virtual Do Not Disturb sign on the door; family creeping around and No Interruptions Whatsoever.  Genius works odd hours and cannot be relied upon.  It won’t be awake in time to take the children to school or make their sandwiches.

If this genius has to balance writing with paid work he will come in, pour a glass, have some food and devote the rest of the evening (and weekend) to Art.  There are people who can do this: C P Snow was one, holding down a career first as a barrister, then as an academic and finally as a politician whilst writing a bunch of novels about – well, about being a barrister, academic and politician.

But I’ve never been able to do this, part of the reason being that unlike Snow, I don’t have clean clothes unless I wash them or food to eat unless I cook it (or at least wash up after it).  I don’t have a clean floor unless I vacuum it, or an organised environment unless I tidy.  Plus, I have children – and children interrupt.  It is inevitable.

Until they were teenagers I had no time to write: I was too busy earning a living and educating them at home.  Apart from a few snatched minutes morning and evening my only writing time was a couple of days away twice a year: it wasn’t nearly enough, and yet looking back it’s hard to see how I could have done anything differently.  It’s no good having children if you’re going to ignore them.

So what to do?

I would like to suggest a different model of genius.  I don’t deny that writing – or any art – takes time and concentration.  But I think it would benefit male artists as well as their partners to share in the domestic tasks – the reason being that doing the cleaning or washing up is very grounding.  To put it epigrammatically:

Every woman has to stop writing to put the tea on.  That is her tragedy.

No man does: that is his.

I suggest that historically, women go mad when they can’t write, and men do when they can.  This is due to a lack of balance.  Everyone needs to pitch in – and then we’ll get the work done.

I can feel Snow scoffing at this idea.  But then he had a housekeeper and a wife…

Kirk out

PS I don’t wish to give the impression that I am married to someone who doesn’t pitch in.  That is not the case

 

 

 

 

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NaNo

A pinch and a punch for the first of the month.  That’s what we used to say at school – and today, as well as being the first Wednesday it’s also the first actual day of the month; which means it’s time to link to the Insecure Writers Support Group:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com

November is the month of NaNo, of course: nothing to do with nano-technology (unless you write a particular kind of Lilliputian sci-fi) but National Novel Writing Month, a time when just about every writer I know goes into purdah in order to complete their latest project.  The idea is to write during the month of November an entire novel totalling no fewer than 50,000 words.  (If you’re wondering what 50K looks like, it’s a short novel: the average length is 80-100K.  But it’s still a huge achievement.)  And this month we are asked by the IWSG whether previously we have completed our NaNo projects (yes, nearly every time) and whether any of them have gone on to be published (no).

I’m not doing NaNo as such this year; I have, however, begun an epic poem along the lines of Wordsworth’s Prelude, telling in iambic pentameter the story of my life and poetry.  It’s epic in terms of length rather than subject, and I have no idea how long it will turn out to be, but we shall see.  It’s very hard to rhyme a poem of that length, so I have contented myself with blank verse, just the odd highlighted part in rhyming verse.  I’m finding it very helpful.

So that’s me.  If you’re doing NaNo I wish you all the best.  Let me know how you get on.

Kirk out

 

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Work is a Seven-Letter Word

One of the best cartoons ever about work is Dilbert:

It’s a somewhat less benign version of W1A, the recent BBC series taking the piss out of itself by itself.  I recently had an epiphany about this where it struck me that Theresa May is exactly like the character on W1A who has been promoted beyond her abilities, has no clue what she’s doing and goes around saying ‘Yes, exactly yes.  The fact is, this has to not happen.’  W1A is a terrific series which may come in for some more detailed sitcom analysis on this blog – but today we’re talking about work.  W-O-R-K, work.  A t-shirt I’ve seen on sale proclaims ‘You don’t hate Mondays, you hate capitalism:’

No automatic alt text available. and it’s probably true: most people work because they must; because without the money that work provides they wouldn’t be able to do the things they most enjoy.  Like eating, for example, or wearing clothes.  Some people dream of a time when they don’t have to work; a time spent like sitting by a pool with a martini or working on your garden. But for most people work and non-work are clearly defined.  Even if, like a teacher, say, you take work home with you, you know when you’re doing it and when you’re spending time on leisure.  (Yeah, I know, ‘leisure?’)

But when you are a self-employed writer with very few (if any) actual funded projects on the go, you have to define both your hours of work and what actually constitutes work.  For example, I am about to go to my weekly reading group where we read and discuss short stories and poems.  Is this work?  On the whole I think it is, since it introduces me to new authors and sharpens my critical faculties.  But often when working I can appear to be doing nothing at all: staring into space, chewing my pen or doodling on my pad. Then again, if I’m on Facebook, is that work?  On the whole, I’d say no – it’s a distraction.  But occasionally I can see stories that give me ideas, or join an argument which helps me to hone the expression of my thoughts.  So it isn’t always worthless.

And how many hours should I do?  At the moment I’m doing about five or six hours a day.  But to me, six focused hours are as good as ten unfocused hours: as critics of the ‘long hours’ culture have pointed out, more time does not equal greater productivity.

And what about this blog post?  Does that count as work?

Kirk out

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What Sort of Time Do You Call This?

The day begins at 5 am with sleeplessness and goes on until you give in and call it a – well, a day because now that it’s got to 6.15 there is Absolutely No Point in trying to doze off any more.  Fortunately I don’t have an arduous day – or at least, no more arduous than usual, just work and visiting relatives.  Relatively easy, ho ho.  But as anyone knows who has ever had a rough night, sleep or the lack of it can cast a pall over the most joyous of lives, and if you have problems which on a normal day can be kept under control, on a day like today they run riot.  It’s like a wet playtime in school.

So: I won’t burden you with all the problems I’m facing on a daily basis as I have blogged about these before; but it would have been nice if ‘Newsjack’ had appreciated my sketch enough to broadcast it.  It would have given me a little lift; instead of feeling that nothing ever goes right, I’d feel that one small thing had at least been achieved.

If any of you have ever suffered problems which just seem to go on and on; which get better one day only to get worse the next: which seem in fact to get better to give you false hopes only in order to dash them on the rocks, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

*Sigh*

Apologies for the downer today.  And now, to cheer you up, here’s the sketch I wrote – which I and OH both thought was funny:

Theresa May’s Leadership

 

‘GAME OF DRONES’

 

ATMOS:                             CAFÉ

F/X:                                      BACKGROUND CHATTER, CLINK OF CUPS, HISS OF COFFEE-MAKER ETC

 

JOURNALIST 1:       I give up.  My paper wants an editorial on the current political climate but I don’t understand politics any more.  Nothing makes any sense

 

JOURNALIST 2:       It’s easy.  You have to stop seeing it as politics

 

J1:                               You mean –

 

 

J2:                               Just think of it as popular culture.  Everything’s dumbed down these days, right?

 

J1:                               I guess…

 

J2:                               So take the Great Repeal Bill: it’s just like Game of Thrones.

 

J1:                               Taking us back to medieval times, you mean?

 

J2:                               Exactly.  Repealing every piece of legislation since Henry the Eighth

 

J1:                               Or Sixth

 

J2:                               Or Henry the Fourth part one

 

J1:                               OK – I get that.  But Theresa May is just inexplicable

 

J2:                               No, no – she’s just like that robot in Futurama

 

J1:                               Bender?  The one who bends girders?

 

J2:                               Exactly.  She’s bending the Tories up and down…

 

J1:                               Right and left…

 

J2:                               …over to Northern Ireland…

 

J1:                               …up the Magic Money Tree…

 

J2:                               You’re getting it

 

J1:                               But what about the leadership challengers?

 

J2:                               Well – you know the cat in Dilbert?

 

J1:                               Catbert?  The evil genius?  What about him?

 

J2:                               Isn’t it obvious?  That’s Jacob Rees-Moggy!  All he does is sleep in a corner of the House of Commons watching with one eye open and awaiting his chance.

 

J1:                               That’s brilliant.  I totally understand politics now.  There’s just one thing I don’t get

 

J2:                               What’s that?

 

J1:                               How do you explain Boris Johnson?

 

J2:                               There’s no explanation for Boris Johnson.

END

Kirk out

 

 

 

What sort of time do you call this?

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The Horror! The Horror!

What a grizzly and unpleasant occupation writing is!  How many other jobs could you have where you go to work, slave for six solid hours and come home feeling that you’ve sweated blood and achieved nothing?  True, today – my first day back after a break – I did write a few spoof headlines for ‘Newsjack’ (they’re looking for contributions) but then I discovered that I’d missed the deadline for my headlines so now I have to scan the real headlines so that I can make more spoof headlines ahead of the deadline.  It’s making lines in my forehead…

Contenders for next week include the Trump ‘wall’ story latest and the ongoing Brexit saga.  Watch this space…

I find it difficult working in the library because of the other people coming and going and because I don’t have a space that is mine.  Unreasonably I regard the table at the far end as my space and get irritated if someone else bags it first: it’s also quite limiting that you only get three hours a day up to a total of seven a week on the computers.  But when I work from home, is it any better?  I get distracted by phone calls; I go in the kitchen to make a drink and end up loading the dishwasher.  It’s hopeless.  And when people say to me, as they sometimes do, how wonderful it must be to have a creative gift etc etc, I want to jump up and down and scream and say, ‘have you any idea what hell you go through to produce even the minutest piece of perfect prose?’  As Michael Caine used to say to people, if you wanted to do it, you’d be doing it.  If you really wanted to be an actor you’d be out there doing it; working in rep, am-dram, street theatre – whatever, just so you could act.  So if you want to be a writer, write.  After all it costs next to nothing: what could prevent you?

Anyway, even though I got entangled once more in the impenetrable thicket that is my novel, the day wasn’t entirely wasted.  After all, at the end of it I got to write this blog post…

Kirk out

 

 

 

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