Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Creating isn't normal reality...

When I was doing a post-graduate jewellery course at the Royal College of Art, we all cared too much. Most of us spent our time straining to produce the ultimate piece of jewellery; something so ground-breaking and fabulous no one had ever seen its like before. This had a curiously stultifying effect on the students. One girl only produced six pieces in the three-year course. To get a degree, a modest nine were required, so the technician made up three designs for her.

Later, when working as a self-employed jeweller, and turning out the equivalent of a degree show every three months, I realized we'd been on the wrong tack. What we should have been doing was creating a body of work; making lots of things, including mistakes, then at the end of each term assessing what worked and what didn't, and moving on from there.

If you look at all of a writer's books, or an exhibition of a designer's work, there will be some things you love, others you don't. Mary Renault has written books I will reread for the rest of my life, and others (some of her early work) I've read once. Lalique was a genius, but a few of his pieces do nothing for me at all. And this is fine; fine for them, and for the rest of us too. Few mistakes are fatal. Let's all take risks, get things wrong, and care less about it. We're more likely to get it right in the end.

I have Jerry Cleaver’s Rules of the Page copied to the notes of each book I write. Here they are:
  • Creating isn't normal reality. 
  • You will make a mess. 
  • You must write badly first. 
  • Mistakes lead to discovery. 
  • Letting yourself be bad is the best way to become good. 
  • Everything can be fixed. 
  • The less you care, the better you write. 
  • Everything that happens is OK. 
  • Progress is never even. 
  • It will get good again—always. 
  • Keep writing no matter how awful it feels. 


  1. That's great advice. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Your experience in the graduate jewellery course reminds me of another rule: Great is the enemy of Good.

    Of course, its opposite (Good is the enemy of Great) is also true. Wisdom comes in knowing which one to apply in any given situation.

  3. Bot, I just know not to go after the Ultimate.

    Katherine, Jerry Cleaver gets the credit. Writing this reminded me to order his book.

  4. Julie Cohen posted a picture of her desk some time ago. There was a posy-it note that said "Write Crap". I think it's the same message, better to write crap than not write at all - you can edit crap, you can't edit a void.

  5. Yes, and often when you reread it it's better than you thought...

  6. Sometimes it's better than you thought - and sometimes it's even worse. But that doesn't matter - if it was fun to write at the time. If we allow words to play when we're not looking, they gradually allow themselves to be moulded into something readable!

  7. Thanks for this post, Lexi. I found it very heartening and reassuring. It's generated some great comments too.

    I often write my first thoughts on an idea and accept it's just a rough draft. It's in re-reading it later on that I'll gain more clarity about what I was trying to say.

    When I began blogging a few years ago I found the discipline of producing regular content felt almost painful. I disliked having content out there that wasn't "perfect" in my eyes. However, after a while I got used to just writing and posting. My blogs improved over time (in my opinion) and my confidence improved with them.

    I stopped blogging a couple of years later and haven't written regularly since. Most of my better thinking I tend to write in emails these days.

    This summer I began a new blog and although I have only posted two or three times so far, my confidence is returning gradually.

    Your blog has helped.

    Thanks again :-)

  8. Thank you lovely Lexi for reminding me that writing is a life-long, long-term learning experience and the worst I can do is to stop!! So I won't! LOL!! Yay! take care

  9. Perhaps like many who follow your blog, Lexi, I have been tapping away in every spare moment until finally I wrote 'The End'. At one stage I thought I should not start a new chapter until I had perfected the previous one, and that had its benefits. The drawback was that I hardly moved on at all.

    Now that it is at the stage of being uploaded to the Kindle previewer, I am noticing still more improvements which I wish I'd made - is there no end to perfecting?

    How timely then for me to read your blog tonight.

  10. You know, Jo, I like your post. The bit I like most is the idea of words playing while we're not looking. I hope yours play nicely with one another. I'm never sure what mine get up to.

    As for my characters - well they definitely have a life of their own.

  11. I LOVE YOU because I have been officially obsessing for months on my current WIP/novel in pursuit of perfection ~the perfect piece~ you might say.

    Your post just about brought me to tears because of the sudden epiphany that accompanied it and what you were getting at. I've allowed the less stellar reviews of my other novels to infiltrate my psyche. Sure, I have numerous four and five star reviews, but those aren't the ones that follow me around and stick in my mind.

    I'm free because of your post.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    You ARE amazing and wise and truly talented.

  12. Jo - writing is sometimes fun and sometimes work. Emma Darwin says she prides herself that readers can't distinguish between parts of her books that were easy to write, and those she struggled over.

    Luke - I find too that writing helps clarify my thoughts. And blogging is a bit like conversation, which no one expects to be perfect.

    Kitty - I won't stop till I'm stopped :o)

    Anna - there is no end to perfecting. We have to accept that and move on, and I speak as an inveterate niggler and tweaker myself.

    Katherine - having taken a peek at your US books and their rankings, you are clearly pleasing your readers and are on the right track. Congratulations! I'm sure your WIP will be a big success.

  13. Dearest Lexi,

    Thank you for the encouragement!


    Katherine Owen

  14. Really great advice, Lexi. Hope you don't mind if I use the list of rules in my next blog? I think they are relevant to so many of us and remembering them will go a long way to actually putting the words on paper without worrying about whether or not they are crap - until the editing stage, that is.

  15. Feel free, Mary.

    I've just started reading Jerry Cleaver's book, and it's rather good.

  16. There you go again, being infuriatingly right.

    I suppose I should just get back to making my daily quota of literary mistakes. It's more difficult than it sounds.

  17. Keep going Alan - I'm looking forward to reading The Baer Boys. And if in doubt put in more jokes, which will please at least one of your readers :o)

  18. Nope, I'm giving the main character a social disease and seriously considering killing off the Prince of Denmark even though he has no part in the story.

    But the dog will be fine. Not going to mess with the dog.

  19. Huh. Shakespeare got in first re demise of Prince of Denmark. (And I like the jokes in Hamelet and feel a few more would have been all to the good.)

    No dogs in Shakespeare. I don't think he liked them.