I don’t always take notes when I’m reading. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s pretty rare these days. I’m more likely to take a photo of a passage I like and put it on Instagram with a linear tilt shift filter over the salient point (hashtag ‘relatable’).
Having said that, I was listening to Eddie Izzard‘s book recently and took a whole two notes of things he said in it.
I have been a follower of the Izzard since my mum bought Definite Article on video some time in the late 90s. I committed the show to memory (alongside Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and to this day can still quote large chunks verbatim. In fact, after finishing Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens, I re-watched Definite Article and discovered that some of the best jokes in the manuscript I am currently working on come directly from there.
Anyway, the notes I noted down from his book (not for further plagiarism, but because they struck a chord), were things that relate to writing. I thought I would share them here, and if you find them interesting or #relatable I strongly advise you to check out the book.
Note 1, On Narrative
“Real life is a lot of boring things, with occasional spikes of interest.”
The context to this was the fact that Izzard regards himself as quite a boring person. It took 50 years of plugging away at comedy and acting and other stuff before there were enough interesting strands in his life to weave together a narrative for an autobiography.
For me, it reflects the limitations of the adage ‘write what you know’ very succinctly.
I make a concerted effort to make things up, because a lot of what I know is pretty dull.
My life is two hours a day commuting to and from work on foot and by bus. It is trying and failing to eat healthily and take enough exercise. It is conversations about DIY and what to do about the garden, it is marathoning TV shows everyone else already watched months ago, it is going to spoken word nights to support people I know instead of working on my own stuff. It is making excuses. It is occasionally finishing a piece of writing to the standard I can show another human.
So I plug away at silly stories (which is getting harder as the apocalypse draws ever closer, and the more factual books I read about the realities of structural racism and gender politics – but still).
I try to take time to ingest nonsense, to watch comedy (although even comedy is pretty bleak – we’ve all seen the new Rick and Morty, yeah?), and I tell myself it’s OK, I still have time to re-work that MS with all the jokes I apparently stole from 1996 Eddie Izzard before I submit it.
Which brings me to the second thing I noted down.
Note 2, On Perseverance
“It took ten or eleven years for me to make something that worked.”
In the context of the book, this is over a decade of Izzard putting himself out there constantly – street performing, coming up to Edinburgh to play the Fringe festival, plugging away at writing and performing and creating a unique stage look until he had something good.
There are a lot of articles on the internet about how long it takes writers to come up with their first or most famous book, but somehow it always helps me to hear it again.
When all around you are self publishing, winning prizes, or just giving up, it’s useful to be reminded that making something good takes time and practice and failure. It is OK to go slow, as long as you keep going.
I came up with my current book idea in 2011, wrote the first draft in 2013, made a list of agents I wanted to submit to at the end of 2015, then continued to work on the book until summer 2017. I thought at the end of July it was ready, but I need to proof it again to be sure. My query letter is still in progress. I fully expect that I will be rejected – but you have to be in it to win it. At least then these boring years of perseverance and plugging away will be punctured by a spike of interest.
With any luck, when that day comes I’ll get some useful notes to take away.