Saturday, June 23, 2018

Getting Through the Rough Times by Victoria Chatham

For writers, writing is usually a compunction, something they have to do, like breathing. Even before I really knew what I was doing, I wrote.

Yes, I’ve joked about my writing with crayons on the wall not being appreciated by my family (for obvious reasons) but making my mark by writing something, somewhere has, for me, always been a tangible expression, like prehistoric handprints on the wall of a cave, of my being here, on this planet, now. The now has shifted considerably over the years from childish drawings and weirdly shaped letters, to short stories about ponies and dogs, to prize-winning essays at school and onwards and upwards.

image courtesy of Shutterstock
Writing, as an art, was something I took up when I learned calligraphy. It came out of an art class where we were encouraged to illuminate the capital letter of our first name or surname. I chose V for Victoria, not H for Hammond as I was then. I liked the look of the letter V, and very early on also liked the fact that Victory and Valor both began with V. They seemed strong words to me then as they do now.

Combining the art of writing with the craft of it was something that came a lot later. Although I loved English classes, both literature and grammar, writing in my family was a serious business. It had to impart knowledge and instruction and, consequently, fiction and fun writing didn’t enter much into my education. However, at age thirteen I read a book whose title now escapes me although I can see the cover clearly. Anyone who remembers Douglas Fairbanks, or maybe Douglas Fairbanks jnr., would recognize the look of the handsome pirate wearing a bandanna, an open-neck shirt and swinging from a rope on some ship or another. If you’ll pardon the nautical pun, it opened up a whole new horizon for me.

I wrote short stories which friends enjoyed and encouraged me to 'send to a publisher.' I showed one short story to a well-respected children's book editor who suggested I submit it to a long defunct UK short story magazine called The Argosy. It was rejected but I persevered. After all, I had many more stories to write. However, my family was far less enthusiastic than my friends so I kept writing mainly for myself. When I started writing novels, erroneously thinking writing chapters would be like writing one short story after another, I very quickly found a whole new world within the writing world. 

But getting stuck in the writing is also part of a writer's life. It happened to me more often than not in the early days but books like Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg helped a great deal. 'How To' books from the Library were replaced with Google searches for ideas to jumpstart my work all over again. Tools like doodling with words and going for walks, listening to music, or washing the floor all got tested.

So, what does keep me going when the words won’t come, or won’t come in the way or order that I want them to? My best tried and true trick is to stop writing. I return to my favorite books, the ones that have left vivid impressions over the years and have had me sobbing my socks off or laughing out loud. My favorite go-to read is Georgette Heyer’s Frederica. I know that when I’m done reading it, I’ll go back to my writing with more energy and enthusiasm and then everything seems to flow again.

Victoria Chatham

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