On writing

I read an article the other day (exactly where I read it completely escapes me, hence the lack of a handy link directing you toward it so you can read for yourself) which posited that the blog is dead. It’s dead because the new generation of net-users are more content with writing short-burst statements about their lives and opinions on places like Twitter or Facebook. Nobody, it seems, has the patience any more to actually sit down and write.

“What a load of rubbish,” I thought. “People will always love rambling on about themselves. The blog isn’t dead!” And then it occurred to me that I don’t seem to be updating on here half as much as I used to be, but I’m perfectly happy to post opinions/funny comments/general inanities on Twitter and Facebook while avoiding writing anything longer than 30 words.


I have an excuse: I write for a living. I write all day long, in fact. If I’m not writing a feature or an advertorial or a film review or a book review or a DVD review or an interview then I’m answering emails, writing up invoices, sub-editing copy or, in the rare times I actually feel like being creative, trying to work on a novel (ha ha ha ha ha ha). Typing is all I do; and so typing up a blog entry, particularly when I’ve been sitting at a desk all day and my wrists are getting sore, isn’t always what I want to do. I’d rather read a book or watch TV or just collapse into bed. Which makes me paranoid, actually. You hear people saying that the thing that makes a ‘writer’ a ‘writer’ is that they can’t stop writing – they write all the time, in much the same way that an artist draws all the time. But if I can’t even summon the energy to write a blog of my personal thoughts… well, clearly I am not a writer.

Although I could just be someone who can’t stand staring at a screen for more than 12 hours a day. I’ll try to keep this in perspective.

What really undermines my confidence about this whole ‘writing’ lark, at which I am very lucky enough to be able to make some kind of a living, is when you read an article or a book or an opinion piece which makes you want to crawl away and never look at a keyboard again because it’s just so damned good. I stopped reading Vanity Fair many years ago because the quality of the writing was so phenomenal (even if every issue did spend much of its time trying to beat the crap out of George Bush, which was a noble endeavour, true, but became very wearying). Today I am taking a second look at my ‘novel’ (ha ha ha ha ha ha) and considering jacking it all in. The reason? I just finished Kate Griffin’s follow-up to A Madness of Angels – the soon to be released The Midnight Mayor – and found it so brain-freezingly brilliant it made me wonder why people like me even want to write when there are people out there doing it so much better.

There’s talent and there’s talent. There are authors who can spin a good yarn, keep you entertained, conjure up a hackneyed and yet perfectly enjoyable plot and leave you wanting more – JK Rowling would probably be a good example. But then there are writers who can write. Kate Griffin (or Catherine Webb, her real name) doesn’t just come up with a decent plot – she comes up with brilliant characters, colourful language and a sense of place that took my breath away when I first discovered it. I think it was when I read her description in The Midnight Mayor of London’s Barbican as ‘a space-time vortex’  (because it IS, oh my god, it IS) that I realised I’m never going to be a writer. As I said, there’s talent and there’s talent.

She’s got it. I don’t even have the willpower to write a blog entry.

I think I know why everybody’s deserting their blogs and spending time on Twitter. It’s because on Twitter, at least, you can pretend you’re a better writer than anybody else. Chances are – as long as you’ve spelt your update correctly – you’re right, too.



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11 responses to “On writing

  1. Nynke

    What gloom!

    I’m not a writer (although I’m looking forward to finally finishing my PhD thesis, I rarely feel like publishing anything longer than a facebook status update), but it seems to me that if you feel like telling a particular story, you should go right ahead and do it!

    Who cares if it’s not world literature? Write it first, worry later – it will be unique because it’s yours, and it might turn out to be quite good, even if it needs lots of editing. Jane Austen needed lots of editing too, after all. Good luck!

  2. Lerxst


    You can write. The reason why I first made a point of visiting this blog was because I enjoyed your columns in SFX, and I’m still here because I continue to enjoy your writing. There’s an intelligence and a wit that comes through. Granted, there’s a heck of a difference between a blog, a column and a novel. Some people can be great short story writers but never crack the longer form. Whether you have a novel in you, I have no idea. But I doubt many authors sit there, reading their own developing work, thinking ‘this is wonderful’. It’s only natural to be self-critical.

    As it is, I know what you mean about reading something and being blown away by it; I get a similar feeling seeing the work of certain professional photographers. It is easy to be disheartened, and I’ve been there, but I try to use them as something to aspire to – a target to aim at. I may never be that good but by trying, I will at least, hopefully, get better. Even if you think that’s tosh, what I would say is don’t give up – and if you do ever finish your novel, you have one guaranteed sale here (though I want a signed first edition :-)).

  3. Claire

    I thoroughly enjoy your writing – you should keep going!

  4. As you said there’s talent and there is… talent. But all that doesn’t invalidate people’s dreams.

    We are our most dangerous enemies, because we are the ones who can destroy our dreams before they even get formed.

    I love the fact I can read brilliant authors, but also just normal people who need to write, even if their writing is not as brilliant.

    I have this dream of writing something, someday. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, and I don’t have the illusion I’ll ever be as good as Terry Pratchett, but I want to do it anyways. Maybe just for myself, but maybe for more people to read and enjoy.

    Writing, as you told me yourself, is a kind of a muscle you have to keep developing and exercising. No matter what you write.

    So I keep dreaming, keep writing, and try to forget comparing myself to others. Because I’m me, I’m not Terry Pratchett, and won’t ever become him (nor want, please!).

    I’ll be waiting to read the manuscript. 🙂

  5. Derek Landy


    Jane, Jane, Jane. Whatever shall we do with you?

    If I stopped writing just because I read something by Clive Barker, or Neil Gaiman, or Philip Pullman, or Joe Abercrombie, or Warren Ellis, or Joe R Lansdale, or Elmore Leonard, or Garth Ennis, or Joe Hill, or Andrew Vachss, or Louise Renninson, or Mark Millar, or Cormac McCarthy, or Carl Hiasson, or Colin Bateman, that was funnier/better/wittier/more visceral (tick as appropriate) that anything I could ever do, I’d never write ANYTHING.

    There’s a lesson in there. Somewhere. About something. Just you think about it.

  6. Derek Landy

    Of course, it would help immeasurably if there were some kind of “edit” feature to this blog, so one could fix one’s embarrassing spelling mistakes. Jayne.

  7. Ruud V

    …I completely agree with the above statements, and would like to ad that I prefer reading about Jayne’s World in a letter, and not in a telegram…

  8. Matt

    Jayne you’ve got a writing style – out of the SFX crew your column has been the one I enjoy reading because of the voice you create. I can’t comment on the novel but you do know how to tell a story as this blog has shown on many occasions. Good luck

  9. this catherine webb… is she the rilly rilly young one? if so, i interviewed her years ago when i was in training… oh jeez. but i agree with what you’ve said in your first few pars. i’ve more or less abandoned my blog, which makes me so sad when i think about it. i also have noticed a decline (??) in my reading – i find i can only read bursts of a page (maybe even a par or two before i have to put the book down. is this because of facebook, or because i write for a kids’ mag???

    • jaynenelson

      Yes, she is. She wrote a kids’ book and then graduated onto adult books under the name Kate Griffin.
      And it’s because Future work you so hard. 🙂

      • i hope it’s that and not that i’ve lost my passion for books 😦 before my english degree i always had my nose in a book (fnar). in fact it’s all i did between the ages of 7 and 11 (apart from eat and sleep, and go to school).

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