Performance Anxiety - A guest blog by Graham Storrs
Graham Storrs is a science fiction writer living in rural Queensland. A former research scientist, IT consultant and award-winning software designer, he now lives and writes on a quiet mountain top with his wife, Christine, an Airedale terrier and a Tonkinese cat. His published non-fiction includes three children's science books, over a hundred magazine articles, and more than thirty academic papers and book chapters, in the fields of artificial intelligence, psychology, and human-computer interaction. In recent years he has published over twenty short stories in magazines and anthologies. His time travel thriller, Timesplash, and its sequel, True Path, are published by Pan Macmillan's Momentum imprint.
I've published Graham's work both in Eighth Day Genesis and Sidekicks!. Coming halfway through NaNoWriMo, I think this post is especially timely.
by Graham Storrs
Here's something no-one ever told me about being a writer: it's like being an improv comedian.
When I sit down with my laptop and stare at that empty page, I hear a hush come over the audience. I can't see them but they're out there, waiting to be entertained. A sentence forms in my mind. No, that's no good. I need something better, something that will really grab them. Another one comes, and another. Yes, that's the one. I start typing and the words begin to flow. I know roughly what I want to say, of course, but it's the words that matter, the exact words, the precise delivery.
Writing is a performance. It doesn't happen in real time – thank the gods – but that's how it feels. I'm a jazz musician, a concert pianist improvising a cadenza, a pavement artist, taking requests.
Which is a bit weird, when you think about it. A novelist will write a first draft, revise it until it's fit to be seen, hand it out to alpha then beta readers, amending it as the feedback comes in, constantly polishing it until a "final" draft is ready. Then that draft goes to an editor and hundreds more changes are negotiated before a publishable work goes off to be formatted, packaged and offered for sale to the public.
Yet, there it is. For me, however much planning and preparation I've done before I begin to write, that very first draft is where all the magic happens, where the story finds its voice and where the characters come alive. It is the only time in the whole process of making a book that the story unfolds from beginning to end, fresh and new, takes its first breath, climbs to its feet, looks the world in the eye, and sings.
That terrible first draft is where writers like me need to wrestle inspiration out of the ether and nail it down on the page, giving it everything we've got until the whole massive structure is complete. And this performance, which takes months and sometimes years, is done with nothing to guide us other than the million words we've written beforehand, when we were learning our craft.
And it better be good.
You can find more of Graham's thoughts and musings at his blog, grahamstorrs.cantalibre.com/