In the How I Write series, our Crime Cymru authors share their insights into the writing process. This week, Dylan H Jones tackles the burning question of Barry and how to banish – or at least tame – your inner fear as a writer.
Banishing Your Personal Barry. Tips for the doubting writer by Dylan H Jones
Hey Barry, bugger off!
It’s a refrain I’ve been muttering frequently of late, sometimes out loud, much to the confusion of my fellow coffee shop remote workers. Maybe it’s that time of year; all that forced optimism and the cackling of self-help gurus littering my newsfeeds with their warmed up, self-satisfied leftovers. Or maybe it’s just me, but Barry’s been bugging the heck out of me lately, what with his negativity, general apathy, and lack of sympathy for the cause.
As the title promises, there will be some writing advice further down the article. But here’s the thing about writing tips, they’re like shaving truffles onto your pasta: too few, and you wondered why you paid the price, too many and that Cacio e Pepe becomes harder to stomach with each bite. Take these tips for what they are; shavings of wisdom that I’ve gained from publishing three successful crime novels and a career spent in advertising. The advice is probably best suited for new writers, but hopefully the more seasoned scribes will gain something of worth. But by now you’re probably asking yourselves, “Who the hell is Barry?”
Barry is the rogue shadow on the wall, the leaden footsteps behind you on a dark street, the fingernails scratching at your basement door.
Barry’s a troll. Barry doesn’t care much for good manners. He turns up when he wants, uninvited, coughing up his opinions like a virus, spreading his personal brand of propaganda. Barry is the original fake news, the font of all misinformation where common sense and objectivity go to die. If Barry were on Facebook, you’d unfriend him in a second.
Why Barry? Barry was our school bully. You know the type: doughy of form, pimples on the back of his neck, face set to default “scowl” mode, unsure of what to make of his adolescent awkwardness. Not that I was that bothered by Barry, or more correctly, he was less bothered with me. I barely registered as a blip on his radar, but I knew plenty who did, and who suffered accordingly. Sometimes in the school playground, just as in life, keeping your head down, nose to the grindstone, gets you through the worst. Sometimes, however, it’s eyes forward, shoulders back, face down the enemy, and Damn the Torpedoes.
Here are the times I tolerate Barry.
When he says:
“That’s a cliche.”
“That sentence makes no sense.”
“Too many words.”
“That’s not a description, it’s a travelogue.”
“Kill your darlings.”
“Eliminate those exclamation marks!”
“Execute those adverbs, quickly!”
Here are times I’m compelled to tell Barry to bugger off (or a more colorful phrase).
When he insists:
“That’ll never get published.”
“Think you’re the next Stephen King? Joke’s on you, buddy.”
“Too many books out there. What worth are you adding to the world other than more words?”
“It’s junk. Give it up, mate.”
“Hey! Here’s another, better book idea. Ditch what you’re writing and go work on this instead.”
Of course, Barry terrorizes his way into my thoughts when I’m at my most vulnerable. At four in the morning when I’m wide awake and struggling with a particularly gnarly chapter; when I’m trying to write myself out of the corner I just blindly wrote myself into; when my characters wander off to do their own thing and I’m trying to corral them like a lonely sheepdog. Barry’s nothing if not an equal opportunity offender.
When you’re a writer, doubts come with the territory. Doubts plague your thoughts. You carry doubts around by the wheelbarrow full. How you deal with them is your personal choice. And that, for me, comes down to a choice between JOY and FEAR.
I do think the best writing comes from a place of agitation where you’re seeking, fearful even. Imagine Nabokov’s anxiety as he wrote the opening line: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” That took some insane courage, giving fear the middle finger and writing prose so mesmerizing he seduced the reader into seeing Humbert Humbert’s outrageous and criminal point of view. Few of us out there are Nabokov’s, but we strive to conquer that fear every day we sit to write. There’s only way through that fear. Trust in the process. Trust in yourself. Trust the joy will come. Don’t trust Barry.
Of course, it’s never not that prescriptive or easy, and as I said, writing tips are truffle shavings; take what you can stomach and leave the rest on the side of the plate. As writers, we all approach our work differently, all of us wrestling with our own ‘Barry’. For my writing process, naming those negative thoughts seems to work. Maybe a different approach works for you, but take solace in that you’re not alone. Writers are a ragtag bunch of worriers and doubters, we worry about making the right narrative choice, we doubt our ability to get onto the page the tumult of prose thundering in our heads: and in our heads, that prose is never more perfect or alive.
What makes those of us who write every day different from those who one day dream of becoming writers comes down to this one thing; conquering fear. Your first draft will suck, always. That’s okay. No one else will ever see that draft, probably not even your fourth or fifth draft. Just write, put it on the page, then revise, revise, revise.
Looking back, the title of this article, ‘Banishing Your Personal Barry‘, was maybe misleading. Barry won’t tolerate banishment, at least not forever, but at least I now know how to tame him, when to ignore
him and when to listen to him, be, because amidst all that bluster and bravado there’s sometimes a glimmer of wisdom. Don’t get me wrong, Barry’s still a snot-nosed little troll, but at least he’s my troll.
Dylan H. Jones is the best-selling author of the Tudor Manx Mysteries, set on the Welsh island of Anglesey.
His latest book, “Unfollowed”, a standalone thriller set in Oakland, California will be published by Bloodhound Books this July. Get Dylan’s full rap sheet at www.dylanjonesauthor.com.