Taking Inspiration from Famous Writers
Earlier this week I read a fascinating article about Ian Fleming’s wartime mistress Maud Russell, a fashionable society hostess, who was seventeen years his senior. The bulk of the article is made up of excerpts from her personal diary, which was written during WW II; and one of the things that struck a chord with me is how often she mentions that Fleming is tired. At the time Fleming worked for the Admiralty in the Intelligence Corp, was involved in a multitude of meetings with top-rank officials and undoubtedly feeling the pressures of war.
Russell writes of Fleming, ‘He is worn out almost every time I see him and wants to talk about cottages, seashores, Tahiti, long naked holidays on coral islands and marriage.’ The marriage was never going to be to Russell, she having refused him on the grounds of their age difference sometime after her husband died.
Although Ian Fleming had vastly different financial circumstances than me, and could, no doubt, survive without taking a ‘proper job’, at some point shortly after the war, he committed himself to becoming an author. Previously a journalist, it may have been a natural progression, but I like to believe that his wartime occupation and perpetual weariness made him seek a more personally rewarding lifestyle. As we all know, he took what he’d experienced while working for Naval Intelligence to create one of the most endearing and long lasting fictional spies – James Bond.
People often ask, ‘When did you decide to become a writer?’ and I never have a definitive answer because I’ve enjoyed the process of creating stories all of my life. Perhaps Ian Fleming didn’t have an answer to this question either, but I take a lot of inspiration from his resolve to stop being ‘worn out’ and pursue his passion.
As Fleming said, ‘Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes,’ otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.’
Writing is an adventure. Writing is a huge personal challenge and as great a feat as climbing Mount Everest. To complete the first draft of a novel takes no less tenacity than climbing to the summit of the highest mountain. The only difference is that the mountaineer undertakes physical training while the writer battles emotional demons. The climber’s failures are short lived, yet often accompanied by heaps of praise stating how hard they’d tried, while the writer’s failures are inscribed in indelible reviews as harsh critiques. Most everyone has an opinion of the writer’s work.
To discover that famous, highly esteemed writers also found the process a personal test of willpower, yet kept writing despite setbacks, is inspirational. If they can do it, then so can I. A blank sheet of paper, a mountain, they both need conquering.
Ernest Hemingway said it all with, ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’
I’m glad he put it this way, that he shared how writing is created from hard labour and not easily set upon the page by the muse sprinkling fairy dust. (I wish!)
The author Thomas Mann said, ‘A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’
I love this quote. On so many occasions, when I’ve mentioned that I’m a writer, the person I’m in conversation with has replied, ‘I thought I’d write a book once I’ve retired.’ Or, ‘write a book over the weekend’, ‘knock up a novel or two’, or, ‘play around with that myself.’ All I can say is, ‘Go for it!’
Here’s a great one from Cyril Connolly, ‘Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.’
This is so true! When I last went to the Winchester Writer’s Festival, half of the lecturers (agents and publishers) were saying how they wanted novels that were ‘bang on trend’ while the other half were saying ‘it has to be unique, don’t regurgitate what’s already out there.’ By the end of the day I didn’t know whether I was supposed to be writing ‘Harry Potter meets Fifty Shades,’ or sticking to my guns and scribbling away about an immortal who doesn’t do much apart from deal with the difficulties of outliving everyone he knows – oh, and being press-ganged into joining a spurious government agency who might wish to experiment on him. I decided to write for myself and created Being Richard.
I think I’ll round off with a favourite quote from Mark Twain, ‘My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water.’
I’ve been told, time and time again, that my books aren’t ‘literary’ (if anyone knows exactly what that means, please send the answer on a postcard – thank you!) but that they are ‘a great read,’ ‘a page-turner,’ and ‘a terrific read – when are you publishing the next one?’ I think I’ll stick to writing water, so excuse me while I go and scribble down some Adam’s ale.
If you have a favourite quote that keeps you going, let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.