Writers, Remember: You are not Michelangelo!

At the risk of sounding smug, I must say, it’s very good, sometimes, to live so near to the UK’s ‘Second City’. Last week I went to another great Birmingham Book Festival event: writer and actor (not ‘actress’ – she was very clear about that!) Stella Duffy ‘in conversation’ with local writer, Polly Wright.  

Stella’s written 12 novels (and 40 short stories and 8 plays) so she knows what she’s talking about and she’s a lively and entertaining speaker.  

She started by saying, “I’m not Carol and I’m not Maureen.” Now, I’m sure you know who Carol Ann Duffy is but do you know Maureen Duffy? I didn’t. Apparently she’s a great writer, so that’s someone else I need to read!  

Stella was promoting her new historical novel, ‘Theodora’ (“actress, empress, whore”), which took her five years to write. Apparently in a recession, there’s always a boom in historical fiction, as we all like to ‘escape’ to a time when things weren’t quite so tough!

It sounded great: she read a passage from the book in which Theodora’s father is attacked and killed by the bear that he cares for – and it was in the present tense (Stella: “I usually write in the past tense but sometimes it’s necessary to write a scene in the present tense, to give it more immediacy.”).

However, ‘Theodora’ is only out in hardback at the moment, so I bought a copy of ‘The Room of Lost Things’ instead (great title) and I’ve added it to the leaning tower of Pisa of books-waiting-to-be-read, at the side of my bed!  

Going to see a published writer talk about their work is always inspiring and I usually pick up some ‘tips’.  Here are some from Stella:

1. Reward yourself when you write. Eg: Tell yourself, when you’ve written 1000 words, you can have that glass of wine!

2. Writing a first draft of anything is like building a table. It’s just a plank of wood and four legs. You add the elaborate bits (and do the real writing), in drafts two, three, four, five…..  

3. Like a lot of writers, Stella Duffy doesn’t really like writing but she likes ‘having written’ (hear, hear to that!)

4. You’ve always got time to write – you just don’t think you have.

5. Remember, writers, we’re not Michelangelo! When he was sculpting, he had to order and buy a slab of expensive marble, just to start work. And God help him if he got it wrong. As writers, if we make a mistake, it’s only paper. Just throw it away – and start again.

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6 Responses to Writers, Remember: You are not Michelangelo!

  1. Nora Weston says:

    Hi! Your post is very interesting and the tips from Stella are great. I especailly liked #4!
    So many “would-be” writers give up way too soon due to not being able to carve out time to write.

    • Nora
      thanks for your comment. I hope you’ll come back over the next couple of weeks and leave more, as I’m ‘launching’ a little competition later today with a bundle of new writing books up for grabs. Everyone who leaves a comment on the blog up until 15th December will be entered into the free prize draw!
      best wishes

  2. Marian Dwyer says:

    Thank you for this Helen, I’m always irritated with myself when I hear of these interesting events happening and I miss them – so grateful for the feedback, I really enjoy authors talking about their books, to me it gives the book another dimension.

    • Marian
      thanks for your comment. I will try to remember to ‘flag’ up any events like this in future, so you’ve got fair warning if you want to go along! Apparently the Birmingham Book Festival is going to have a ‘mini festival’ in Spring 2011, so there should be some more to go along to then, if not before!
      See you soon! Helen

  3. stelladuffy says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it Helen, I had a great time too.
    your readers here might like these ‘tips’ too … as always, it pretty much just boils down to Get On With It!
    all best,

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