I have read Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas thirty or forty times. My record time for a read through is cover to cover in about two hours. Two hundred and four pages divided by one hundred and twenty minutes equals around about a page every thirty seconds or so. It is not about skimming the pages for acid sharp sentences or chunks of gonzo chocolate chips amongst the cookie dough of prose. Thompson does not compel you as a reader so much as threaten. You do not read Fear and Loathing so much as you are dragged through it. Every time I read the book I could feel my brain gasping for air.
As soon as I began thinking about being be a writer, it was the end of reading as I once knew it. Reading now, I look at Vonnegut in the same way a carpenter looks at trees. Reading Palahniuk is like conducting an autopsy. Hemmingway is like learning a new language.
And reading Thompson, well, that is like the kid who always looked up at the stars figuring out how to launch a rocket into space.
The best wisdom I can give based on my own experience is that when you begin to read differently, you begin to write differently. It is not about emulating the greats or finding a rigid set of rules to follow, it is about knowing where those rules can be bent, broken, or otherwise disregarded entirely.
When you read great writing and figure out not only why you are on the verge of tears but how, then it is inspiring. When you read bad writing, it can be pretty inspiring too. If this can get published then sure as hell I can too!
Writing is about habits and goals, I am constantly assured. So I promised myself that when I was a proper writer I would buy myself Thompson and Steadman's The Curse of Lono limited edition, signed by the pair. That would be proof I was a writer. That edition of The Curse of Lono costs around $800 or £500. Two hundred and five pages. I will finish each page in around thirty seconds and it will cost me about four dollars a page.
It'll be worth every penny, cent, pound or dollar but first, I have to be a proper writer.
I will try and tell you a little of what I do know and a little of what I don't.
Most of what I do know is about being a beginner.
I do not write every day but I wish I could and know I should. "Sit down to write something for five minutes every day" is good advice. Invariably you will more often than not write for more than five minutes but it makes the task of writing seem much less insurmountable. And if nothing else, the beast will have been fed.
Revision is necessary. When discussing the nature of film editing with a European film director whose name I forget, he told me that he thought about what he could add to the film, with what he took away via the editing process. Whilst Hollywood post production is about supplementing a movie with special effects, he thought about how he could make the most of his movie by removing the excess scrud of film.
I think about writing in much the same way.
Revision and editing is about discovering the meaning of my writing. It is about me finding the core of what I am trying to convey to a reader and then amplifying. Does this passage support what I am trying to say? No? Then tweak it, or cut it. I am a writer who revels in the revision. It is hard to call any of my pieces finished, "Building Butterflies" included.
Rejection is part of the process. Rejection is every writer's woe.
This is my best work and it isn't good enough. Maybe I am not a writer at all. Maybe I should quit.
In my experience, I just had to look at the rejection logically. Did I carefully prepare every piece of work I sent out? No, not as well as I should have. In my then unpublished rush to be accepted for publication, I have sent out pieces which were not finished, or rather not as good as they could be. Rejection can be a way of realizing your work isn't all it can be.
That said, rejection can also be a sign you have just sent your work to the wrong people.
As with any art form, subjectivity is king. If you have made your piece all it can be, then there will be an editor who will fall in love with it.
"Building Butterflies" was rejected four times before being accepted by Glimmer Train.
I hear the most important thing a writer needs to have is self belief.
Sending out "Building Butterflies" for a fifth time, heart definitely in sink, I was ready for another rejection, but then an email arrived with the magical words, "‘Building Butterflies' wins first place in the Short Story Award for New Writers competition."
That $800 copy of The Curse Of Lono will be in the post by the time you read this.