I very nearly didn’t get to post a blog this week, because I almost died of shame. Shame is a very poor thing to die of: possibly better than getting run over by the bus to Limerick, but not great, all the same.
My shame stemmed from a journal I wrote, when I was learning how to write. This journal has lived in the locker beside my bed for months, possibly even years. I was forced to excavate this journal the other day due to a series of incidents involving the wrong restaurant, a motorised scooter, new bed linen, and unemployment. You know, the usual reasons for clearing out your drawers.
Anyway, This All Resulted In Me Thinking A Thought
The journal itself is beautiful. Hard-backed, with a picture of Shakespeare on the front. It has a ribbon bookmark and the paper is silky-smooth to the touch. Writing on it feels like piping exquisitely tiny icing onto a cake.
I obviously had extremely lofty ideas for this journal, or else I would not have purchased a hardback notebook with a picture of Shakespeare on the front. I believe I chose it because I thought writing on silky-smooth paper with yer man on the front would make the contents of my head simultaneously lofty and Shakespearian.
Well, it didn’t.
The reason it’s been lurking, unread, for ten years or so, is because I suspected that problems lay within. That it could not be disposed of without care. That I might need to go through it with a scalpel, in order to sever each and every page from its bindings and fling them on the fire.
I was right. Reading it was more nauseating than reading Twilight fan fiction. More embarrassing than an Irish daytime TV show. More painful than having the soles of your feet branded with the text of every sex scene from Fifty Shades Of Grey.
Here are some painful examples, which I most probably thought were quite cool at the time.
1. “If a chain of events was kicked off by a series of white lies to justify the latest Kit-Kat complex, then I’m just plain lucky”
(I have no idea what a Kit-Kat complex is. Do you? Do 4 of them come together? Can they be nibbled around the edges?)
2. “I chewed some cow and then had a mouth-disappearingly addictive crème caramel”
(Can we all just take a moment to be thankful I never became a restaurant critic?)
3. “So we, Greek chorus, muster up our energy for our country and to partake in the triumph of our country’s wit”
(Repetition of ‘country’ aside, I’m pretty sure this sentence breaks international grammar laws.)
4. “I was talking to her about how much I qualify my qualifications”
(Whoever she was, I’m pretty sure she’s no longer talking to me.)
5. “Call up the troops, chin and helmet up, find the troops, start at the beginning”
(So I called them but couldn’t find them… or was it that they didn’t recognise me with my helmet up? Where was my chin? Should I have found the troops before I called them? My head hurts.)
6. “Under pressure the words galvanised themselves into structural battle lines and it all came out to make sense”
(Unlike this sentence. More pressure required. Hypergravity perhaps.)
7. “a place rich in history of the best kind, subversive in its time, but grown fat over years of proximity to abundance”
(I don’t remember putting in for Arsehole Of The Year Award. Not since I grew out of my 20s, anyway.)
8. “This is getting very chronological and pappy”
(A chronological journal. Wow. What’s next? An orange orange?)
9. “And yet I deleted so many things that used to be so important even in knowing that they existed”
(And yet I kept this. Why? WHY????)
10. “Or the middle ground that’s been in existence for however long people had words and music to put them to or forget through”
(I don’t know about you, but I had to lie down after I read this.)
11. “the rain hit all the windows flat like a bullet”
(Yes. Because bullets are renowned for their flatness. Ask any meteorologist)
And that was all from just one month. From this we can agree the following:
- It is possible to make the passive voice sound diseased
- Overwrought, overwritten prose is the best way of obscuring any meaning whatsoever from text
- We’re never more stupid than when we’re trying to be clever
Even though none of this stuff was for public consumption, it looks like I was trying to write in code. Now even I can’t even understand that code. It’s probably just as well.
Accounts of funny things which actually happened were also devoid of entertainment value. They read like one of those letters you got back in school or college from that one person you most definitely never wanted to get a letter from. At the time I thought they were some of the best writing in the journal.
But writing so badly taught me several things. It taught me that I was not ready to publish. It taught me it was best I didn’t write about myself, and that I had a long way to go before I could even contemplate starting a blog. I’m very grateful that I learned this in the privacy of a journal, instead of in the public domain.
The last entry in this blogawful crime against paper was a rundown of some character and plot ideas for the first novel I would come to write. It seems as soon as I started that, the nonsense stopped. Would the novel have happened without getting the nonsense out first, though?
There Is A Point In Here Somewhere
I’ve come to believe that in order to be the best writer you can be, you need to be terrible first. The measure of a good writer might be the stuff you never see.
If I’ve found my voice now, it’s because I spent years writing in the wrong one. Blogging can be a good way to do this, but I’m not sure it’s always the best way to learn how to write. Perhaps we need to be nearing the finish line before we publish what’s in our heads.
The internet can be very unforgiving, and if I had published the contents of that journal online, I don’t think I’d be writing today. Because I’d be dead of the shame. Or possibly keeping an eye out for the Limerick bus.