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Fish fingers and custard

I’m a bit of a Johnny-Come-Lately to the world of Doctor Who. I remember as a kid watching it with Grandfather but I never bothered with the reboot until I got Netflix last year. The Australian selection of TV options was limited, to put it politely, so Doctor Who it was. I rather liked it. I must have I’ve watched all the available seasons twice.

There’s something about earlier series in the reboot that stimulate the imagination of the person watching it. The writing is sharp, the acting rather excellent and, all-in-all, it’s an enjoyable hour of TV. Later seasons in the reboot can be best described as god-awful-rubbish, but I still watched them.

So why I have jumped topic from depression to Doctor Who. I haven’t really. What I want to talk about is allowing yourself to be rubbish, to let your imagination go wherever it wants to and bugger the consequences.

Perfectionism is a bane of a lot of creative people. It prevents us from experimenting. It prevents us from writing just because we can.

What if what I write is garbage? What if it is crap? What if I was supposed to be a nuclear physicist and I was supposed to discover something sciencey? What if I’ve wasted the knowledge to cure AIDS with talking about Fish Fingers and Custard?

Imagination is both a gift and a curse. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. Building worlds inside your head, spending countless hours sitting in front of computer, typing until your fingers are callused. The days and weeks, the months of editing your own world to make it tighter, stronger, better, more fluid.

I’ve been asked a lot where I get the ideas for the stories I toy with. It’s a question that always throws me. I don’t get my ideas.

They get me.

When I’m writing I am not here. Physically it’s my fingers typing away, my body growing numb from the waist down as I type the scenes in front of me, but I’m not here. I’m there. Literally. I sort of hover about and have a nap and when I wake up there’s a new scene, a new chapter.

Characters have taken off on their own and rewritten where I thought they were heading. The storyline, the characters, all of it comes to me. Sometimes I think it would be easier if it was me. If there was a cool little internal programme that spat out fully realised and completed storylines, but that’s not how it works. At least it’s not how I work.

I dream. I hear things. I see images in the mirror. I can be walking down a road and see a pond, or a flower, or a lake and all of a sudden the character’s voice is chattering away to me, telling me their story, showing me snippets. I don’t really do much when I write expect type and try to capture as much of what I can ‘see’ as possible.

I don’t know how other writers work. They may struggle for ideas. They may sweat and curse; stay up all night chasing an elusive thread or dance in joy as moonlight pronounces them Supreme Ruler of all their Kingdoms. But for me, most of what I do, is just there.

When I was in my early 20’s I outlined a ‘beachbuster’ novel. You may or may not remember those big, summer, blockbuster novels written by people like Sidney Sheldon, Barbara Taylor-Smith, Danielle Steel, Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins. Exotic locations, self made millionaires with a secret. Sex, drugs, revenge, betrayal. Those books had it all. A lot of them have been turned into mini-series in the 80’s. They were fun. The first “adult” book I read was a Wilbur Smith book. It took my 8 months. I can still remember the description of the bomb hidden in the coconut the terrorist took on the plane.

The second grown-up book I read was Master of the Game. A very apt title for a work that was probably one of Sidney Sheldon’s best books. From there on I was hooked on the books in my Mother’s bookcase. So many exciting adventures. So many fabulous, strong, female characters. I still love them and I still have Master of the Game on my book shelf.

But back to my early 20’s. I had a character arrive. A sassy, smart, before her time character named Tiger Rose. In a series of images that flashed before me I saw her as a young child, homeless, pregnant, taken in by a ‘kind old lady’ who was Madam/Bootlegger/Gun Runner. The child, small and fragile who grew to be a powerhouse in her own right. The child’s Father, sour and hard with another family and a secret he’d kill to keep. Tiger’s first husband, a bootlegger, African American, his assassination and the almost death of her second child. A third husband who provided safety. A fashion empire spanning the globe, and a ghost from her past returning to threaten all she held dear.

I have the outline somewhere. All the computers, all the files, all the half-written stories, and I’ve kept Tiger Rose as some sort of hommage to the young writer who used to dream big. One of these days I will get around to writing Tiger Rose. Who knows, it may even be a mini-series one day.

The point to this waffling post is it doesn’t matter where your ideas come from. If you don’t use them, if you don’t give yourself permission to try, to be rubbish, to write nonsense and be a disaster, the idea will never be anything other than a thought. No matter if they come from your own hard work, or appear to come from the skies.

One of my 3 “2017 Life Challenges” is to write my first novel. I’m still not particularly sure what it will be. I’m feeling a bit of pressure not having something ready to go but pressure never killed anyone. Well, I guess it would have if the pressure was a 30 ton boulder sitting on your chest but you get my point.

I do give myself permission to write rubbish if that is what it takes. I give myself permission to be long winded, to write flabby nonsense and even to screw up the grammar. I give myself permission to do whatever it takes to complete it. If I expect to spit out a best seller I’m being ridiculous. Even the biggest of best sellers took time to be born.

Comparing your first draft to the polished, professionally edited best seller at the top of the list is the quickest way I know to derail even attempting it. And I do know that, because I do it all the time.

A bad draft is not the end of a dream. It’s the first step. If fearing the draft is the excuse you use to prevent you from writing – and I do – then like me you’re not even trying to be fair to yourself. Trust me, I know what it’s like to hobble the horse before it’s even moved out of the stable. Be fair to both yourself and writing.

After all if someone can decide to have a character crave fish fingers and custard – something most of us what have edited out as ridiculous – and turn it into a cult success then you sort of have to admit; the only thing standing in your way, is you.

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