just plain rambling

Do you write?

Do you write?

Fiction? Poetry? Blog posts?

Witty and perceptive Facebook updates?

I like to write, whether it be crafting machine instructions into a piece of working code, or crafting words into a piece of working prose. And like many readers, I’ve always wanted to write the next Narnia series, or Harry Potter, or any other piece of fiction I’ve loved.

But fiction writing has always eluded me. Any attempt I’ve made has gotten mired in details: research, brainstorms, crafting elaborate character sketches. Somehow I never actually get very far with, you know, writing.

Part of the the problem is the process of writing fiction: you really need to start with short stories. I don’t like (most) short stories. I once forced myself to read them for months, to familiarize myself with the genre, and maybe even learn to like it. It didn’t work, and that string of literary one-night-stands is at least partly to blame for my current reading funk.

Another problem is an obsessive perfectionism, or perhaps a better word would be “achievementism”. The knowledge that I’m not going to write a best seller holds me back from doing anything at all. Even though I tell my daughters, again and again, that nobody comes to something new already knowing how to do it: you need to learn; it takes practise.

(Hands-up anyone who is actually capable of taking their own advice.)

So half-finished projects sit in Google docs: research about Lady Jane Grey and Les Filles du Roi. Brainstorms and character sketches about a little girl who can open doors that nobody else can see.

But then, I know I’m not going to be the next Bloggess, and yet here I am. There’s many a half-written blog post that has fallen victim to the same self-esteem issues, but obviously some of it gets to see the light of day.

And you know, it has occurred to me more than once that maybe I should stop worrying all that much about fiction. What’s wrong with blogging? Or non-fiction for that matter? I enjoy it, and it exercises the word-monster in my brain that demands a good romp every once in a while.

Then, the other day, a friend sent me a short story she plans to submit to a writing contest. And somewhere in the middle of writing back to her, a flood of questions inundated my brain: where does the protagonist live? What is her relationship like with her daughter? What is her husband’s name? What do they do for a living? They became real people, and I wanted to know ALL about them. So I pelted my friend with questions, and envied her being the one who gets to answer them.


I originally wrote this post last week, and it’s been languishing in my drafts folder, waiting for an ending. But damned if I could think of anything. So I took to Facebook, and definitely considered Rémi’s suggestion:


But instead, I think I may steal the ending from the ending of The Uncommon Reader; or, in effect, give the last words to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (sorry Rémi):

But one mustn’t talk about it, or it will never get written.


  1. Oh can I relate. I have all these unfinished WIPs in my Google Drive that are crying out for me to come play, and yet… I don’t. I have done some writing lately, five or ten minutes here or there, but wow… I find it exhausting now.

    My favorite piece of advice is that Writing is a muscle. When we use it, it gets stronger. Be it blog post, Facebook update, journal, or fiction/non-fiction writing, you are using the damned muscle. Eventually something will click. I’m hoping soon, for me. 🙂

    have you read any of Natalie Goldberg’s stuff? She is very motivating.

    1. Hey Caroline. You have a really good point. I’ve been looking at the time spent on Facebook as a failure to write anything more substantial (and let’s face it – FB can be a time sucker) but there is at least some “toning” going on there too. Times like now, while I wait for SK to get out, don’t really lend themselves to real writing, but FB is doable.

      I’m not familiar with Natalie Goldberg, but I’ll be sure to look her up. Thanks!

  2. I. Could. Have. Written. That. Post.

    I’d so love to write fiction but am just hamstrung when it comes to plot ideas etc. I HATE short stories.

    It’s weird that I’m okay with writing non-fiction (well, my blogs and work stuff!) but hate reading non-fiction. I just feel that fiction is more ‘authentic’ or legitimate or something!

    1. Thanks Deb 🙂

      I enjoy some non-fiction. It depends. I think it basically has to read like (good) fiction :). Some of the Lady Jane Gray stuff, for example, was RIVETING.

      As for fiction being authentic/legitimate, I think maybe non-fiction can (or at least frequently does) get away with not being written in an interesting way, it gets it’s “legitimacy” from the underlying facts. Fiction has to actually engage the reader. Also? One of my favourite writing quotes: “the difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction has to be believable.”

  3. I so, so identify with this post. As Deb said, I could have written it. It’s just so hard to push yourself to do something when you know it’s going to be shitty, at least in the first draft, don’t you think? Were you there when Tudor gave her talk to your book club? I found what she said about the successful writers just being the ones who were willing to work away at it, again and again, to be really inspiring. Not that I’m doing anything more :).

    I used to feel like I could never be considered a “real” writer unless I wrote fiction, even though it did not come naturally to me at all and felt so uncomfortable. Now I find I can celebrate a good blog post, or a good essay, and run with that. I’m even thinking of a book plan – instead of a novel, a series of essays on a particular topic. That’s good writing, too…right?

    1. That sounds like an excellent idea, Lynn! And I’m pretty sure I read somewhere (probably on the internet, so it must be true) that non-fiction readership is on the rise. Yeah, I don’t know where we get this idea about what constitutes “real” writing. FWIW, a couple of things that I have found helpful recently are re-“reading” (in audio-book form this time) Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. Particularly the chapter on perfectionism. It’s been particularly helpful, I think, as an audio-book because I listen to it in the car, where it’s inconvenient/dangerous/illegal to skim & skip bits, I’m quite certain I would never have re-read it in the same degree of detail if I had option to skim.

    2. PS. Another thing I read recently was the author’s notes in the back of Code Name Verity – YA historical fiction set in England & France in WWII. The author talks about how many of the scenes/events were based on real stories. Seems like a no brainer, right? But my first thought was “that’s *allowed*??”. I mean, of course it’s allowed, but I didn’t feel like *I* was allowed to write something that I’d “stolen” from real life. Argh.

  4. It’s funny that Alice Munro was pushed into writing a novel even though she felt more comfortable with short stories, and then look what happened for her! I’d say write what feels right for you.

    And thanks for the questions on my story. Your comments made it better 🙂

    1. Hey Finola. Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been tied in knots ever since then, afraid that my over-enthusiasm might be interpreted as criticism. It’s a great story, otherwise I would never have found the characters so engaging to begin with :). Again, sorry for the late reply. Now I’m SURE there was something fishy going on with my blog, because I watched this post for a week, wondering if you’d read it :).

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