This may appear to be a clichéd piece of writing about writing: it is. For that I apologise, those pieces are often extremely annoying, but bear with me, I have a point.
Scrolling through my inbox this afternoon, I happened upon an email that I had been sent inviting me to a talk given by the novelist, short story writer, and investigative journalist, Rob Magnuson Smith. Admittedly, I ummed and ahhed about attending; I had had a long day, I had a lot of work to be getting on with and the weather wasn’t looking too pretty either. On the other hand, as a person ever on the quest for self-improvement, I also felt I should heed my father’s advice to never let any opportunity slide. Eventually I made up my mind to go – the balance was tipped by the promise of free wine – and I’m glad I did.
Rob looked every inch the writer, dressed in an oversized, grey suit and casually holding a glass of red wine; he looked clever and arty and interesting. After sampling rather a lot of the nibbles on offer, I settled down to listen to his reading of one of his short stories and some excerpts from his new novel Scorper, which were reassuringly good, judging by the fact that he actually managed to make me laugh.
So, in contrast to the last time I entered into the unknown for a spot-o-self-improvement/enlightenment, I actually felt Rob’s talk was worthwhile enough for me to pluck up the courage to ask him a question about writing. And in order to make him think about his answer, I asked him the most open-ended question I could think of: what, out of everything you have discovered, would be your top tip for a young writer?
His response? Well, as I failed to bring my high-tech recording equipment with me to the talk or dig out my notebook in front of his face and make him really uncomfortable, I will summarise his response as follows:
Don’t let the naysayers crush your passion for writing. You don’t need life experience to write, because writing is a life-long career. So do it, write. And read.
I cannot be sure if it was the talk or the wine, but I came away with a more positive attitude than when I arrived, which is an achievement in itself. Please don’t embarrass me, I’m not going to tell you to reach for the stars and climb every mountain high. I’m also not going to say something ridiculous like Rob’s talk changed my life, because it didn’t. However, it did give me another author’s work to dip into, about five cheese straws and a welcome break from staring at the computer screen. So go for it, surprise yourself by suppressing your raging cynicism and see what happens.