A Little Drop of Blood
There’s no real reason why I should be anyway. It’s not as if I’ve scaled the dizzying heights of Broadway or Hollywood or been buried in Poet’s Corner or anything.
Still, I’ve been writing and thinking about writing for most of my life so you could be forgiven for thinking I might have something to offer.
Some little thing…
But I don’t, not really.
As far as I’m concerned, this is no bad thing. I sometimes feel there is quite a bit too much writing advice abroad in the world as it is. Everybody-and-his-Cousin-who-Once-Wrote-a-Birthday-Card seems happy to dispense their version of the ‘Writing-Meaning-of-Life’ with enough earnestness to fill a small bath.
I treat writing advice in much the same way as I see if pasta is cooked. I tend to throw writing advice at myself and see if it sticks. If it does, it’s good. I will pretty-much listen to anyone who has anything to say about writing but, if I find I can’t use what they’re telling me, it will just slide off me and onto the floor. The few bits of advice that actually stick will be left in place until they are crusty on my T-shirt and utterly irremovable.
But back to little old me, writing and writing. Surely I must have something to offer, something of my own.
Okay then, I do.
In order to extract this piece of writing advice from my reluctant self, I have had to invent a scenario:
I’m eighty-five years old and I’m dying. Not next week or tomorrow, I’m dying right now. There I am, fastened into my deathbed by my far-too-tight sheets, which I am too weak to put even a ripple in. I have just finished doing my own rather croaky version of ‘My Way’ (complete with extra verse about being allergic to cats) and now I am at peace with the world and ready to shuffle off my mortal um_ thingie. (I’m dying, what do you expect, accurate quotes?)
There is a tiny tap on the door and a girl peers in. She might be twenty or twenty two. I’ve never seen her before in my life. She approaches my death bed quite tentatively. I might, after all, be contagious.
“I’m sorry to bother you, on your death-bed and all…”
“S’all right. ‘Judge Judy’ is finished.”
“I just wondered if I could_”
“Speeeeeak, my time is short!”
“Jesus, you scared me.”
“Sorry. What is it that you want?”
“I’ve admired your writing,”
“Gosh, where have you been all my life?”
“Oh yes, ‘The J-Seat’ was a fine radio play and ‘The Moon Cut Like a Sickle’ was instrumental in stopping me from my street-racing ways.”
“Nice to hear, ta very much.”
“I just wondered…”
“Anything. (coughs) Anything.”
“I wondered if you had just one piece of writing advice to offer an up-and-coming nubile young writer, what would it be?”
“Nah, I got nothing. Writing advice is like pasta_”
“I know that one, I’ve read your ‘Collected Blog Posts’.
“Yes. There must be something else.”
“There must be.”
“Leave me alone, I’m dying here.”
“All right then. Give me a sip of that Lucozade. Thanks. Listen, if there was one piece of advice I feel I could add to the lexicon of writing advice… it would be this;”
The Little Drop of Blood
Everything you write. No matter how big or small. Prick your finger and squeeze a little drop of your own blood into it.
“That is, indeed, it.”
“It’s a Metaphor, right?”
“Do with it what you will.”
“…I like how you underlined the title and all.”
“Could you, you know, expand on it a little, perhaps?”
“I’m dying here.”
“So, what, there’s someplace else you need to be?”
“… point taken.”
To Expand a Little
For years I wrote like it was a technical exercise. I plotted stories and created characters and chucked a bit of fancy-pants dialogue in and thought it was fine. But there was nothing of myself in there and this showed in the hollowness of the end-product. Somewhere along the line, I seem to have learned that a piece of writing will struggle to be any good unless you insert at least the tiniest piece of your very ‘being’ inside it. The great trick with doing this is that this ‘drop of blood’ is at its most potent when it can’t be seen by the reader. It needs to be like some herb or spice going into a stew, totally assimilated, never to be seen again, but still flavouring everything.
“Wow, long speech.”
“Could you possibly repeat it one more time so that I can scribble it down for posterity?”
“Mr Armstrong? Mr Armstrong?