I am delighted to be joined by J.D Dixon today with a fab guest post. James’s debut novel The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle is out today. Happy publication day! And now I will hand you over to the man himself.
What I Write About When I’m Writing
I get asked from time to time: ‘why do you write?’
I struggle to answer, as I’m sure many writers do. There is no particular choice to become a writer. There is no eureka moment when you know it is what you have to do, no sudden yearning to see your words in print- just a quiet pull that was there before you noticed it, and which will be there long after you have taken it for granted. This is how I would describe my desire to be a writer- or rather, my desire to write (there is a difference).
I know this might sound ambiguous, ineffable. Nearly meaningless. And I don’t like it because generally I favour clarity of thought over any such muddled talk of feelings and yens. But for many writers it is nonetheless the truth. Or at least the closest rationale we have for deciding to tell stories for a living.
And so: I am asked why I write, and all I can offer is a slight shrug, and all that slight shrug has to offer is ambiguity. But, take it or leave it, this is my truth. It is the why of my writing.
But I am also often asked: ‘what inspires you? what do you want your writing to achieve?’ And to questions like these I have concrete truths. And these truths help me to explain the why: when there are so many things to say, I might ask, how can you expect me to stay quiet? And in these truths I am able to find more of a driving force behind my work than my original slight shrug.
I hope, I hope.
There is a great deal of anger- undirected or misdirected, now appropriated for the purpose of storytelling. There is the shared feeling that we are oppressed every day by everything around us, unable to let go. There is depression. There is hilarity, both heartfelt and sometimes quite manic. And there is an overwhelming reverence for the world, undercut only by a similarly large amount of scorn for everything in that world. This is what drives my creative process and this is what I write about when I’m writing, and I doubt that I’m alone- many writers, and indeed readers, use literature to get to the bottom of such issues.
Because, really, this is where fiction is at its most powerful. And to pull it off there are a few tricks to bear in mind. As I said, I dislike ambiguity. When I sit down to plan a novel I cannot have any ambiguity of purpose. When I am fleshing it out day by day I need a strong guiding element. I tried going without- writing by the seat of my pants, as one interviewer recently called it- and the resulting manuscripts were duds. They were not worth printing. They meandered, they struggled to find focus, they made no statement. Worse: they were lazy.
Put ambiguity out of your mind. Take two things in its place. First, clarity and a sense of purpose. Second, a mission statement- an overarching goal and a well mapped path to follow.
Before I even begin the first paragraph of a piece of prose I need to know the ending. In detail. I draft the full thing, scene by scene, over probably a dozen pages. Naturally, the details will change over time. Scenes will be moved or deleted and new scenes will take their place. I might have an idea for a new bit-part character, and I’ll slot them in. But I’ll slot them into my existing plan, and everything else will stay on track. This way I don’t have to worry about anything: is the story holding a reader’s attention; is there a point to it all; do characters’ reactions line up, and do they all act accordingly with the narrative? But mostly: have I managed to harness the depression, the hilarity, the reverence and irreverence that I want my writing to be about? If there is any doubt to these, I will usually have caught and changed it by the time I start writing. And so when I do begin that first chapter I can just enjoy writing in the freedom of knowledge that everything is according to plan.
I try never to be too precious about writing as art. I think of it more as a craft, and there is often a lot of graft involved. Bear this in mind, put aside a couple of hours every single day, hold those little and large emotions front and centre, and hack away at the plan. Hit your wordcount, cross scenes off your list, and watch it come together. There is a lot of joy to be had in this process.
I did all of these things with The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle. I wrote the first draft very quickly, but it had a solid backbone. I had several pages of notes on the various issues raised in the narrative- the desperation of homelessness, the depression of living without hope, the rage of being cast out of society without care or reason- and I had the synopsis written in advance. So as I sat down to write I didn’t have to think too much about anything. I could just refer back to my original aims, my original character plan, my original driving motives, and the rest just flowed.
So, writers: if anybody ever asks you ‘why do you write?’ you wave your plan in their face and tell them: I don’t know, nobody really does, but it’s all coming together. And readers: you will know they are telling the truth.
Thank you for taking the time to write this wonderful guest post James!
So, what is The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle about? Here is the blurb…
In a Scotland beset with depression, Willem is one victim among many. He loses his job, his mother dies and he is forced out of the flat they shared. Seeing no other option, he takes to the streets of Edinburgh, where he soon learns the cruelty felt outside the confines of his comfortable life. Stories from his past are interwoven with his current strife as he tries to figure out the nature of this new world and the indignities it brings. Determined to live freely, he leaves Edinburgh, hiking into the Scottish Highlands to seek solitude, peace and an unhampered, pure vision of life at nature’s breast.
The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle is at once a lyrical, haunting novel and a set piece in the rage of an oppressed, forgotten community. J. D. Dixon’s sparse, brutal language captures the energy and isolation of desperation, uniting despondency and untrammelled anger in the person of his protagonist.
Sounds good, right? You can purchase your copy HERE.
Connect with J.D Dixon on Twitter at @James_D_Dixon