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Rules for Writers: Part One by R.M. Clarke

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RM Clarke

R.M. Clarke

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You have a book in you. You know it. You need to get it out, somehow. Not just anywhere mind; neither the gutter nor the pub will do. You need to get it onto a page, or series of pages, preferably. Maybe you’ve started. You might have even finished (for the eleventh time).

But then, it hits you: you’re not a writer. You can’t be. You’re not Edna O’Brien, or Hemingway, or Dickens, real writers who have written real books notorious enough to be banned, or have whole sections in academic libraries dedicated to them, or whose works have been turned into films and television shows over and over again. Sure no-one, apart from that one person, and your cat, has even read a word of what you’ve written. So how on earth can you even begin to think you can call yourself a writer?

Real writers wake up every morning and go straight to work, not stopping to draw breath for at least four hours in a frenzied homage to ‘the muse.’ You’ve heard about her, and googled how to find her, and made sacrifices to her under a full moon, but she still hasn’t shown up for you. Not to mention the fact that you maybe only write in the evenings for two hours after you get home from work, in that strip of unoccupied land between dinner and bedtime when you could be watching Netflix (and often do, if you’re honest). Or on Sunday evenings, when the kids have gone to bed, like a dreaded homework assignment you’d forgotten about until it’s almost too late.

Because wasn’t it Stephen King or someone who said that if you don’t do the write in the morning thing you’ll never make it as a writer, and he’s made it at least twenty times over, so it must be true? And you’re not even meant to show that one person and/or your cat anything you’ve written until you’ve spent 10,000 hours at it, because Confucius said so, but at the rate you’re going you’ll be carrying them over to the next life. You know you should start every new project on the same date each year, like Allende, who’s definitely a writer, but you can’t even finish this first one. You know you should only take cold showers – river bathing would be preferable, of course, but you live in a city high-rise – but it’s three degrees outside and the heating’s broken, write only by the light of pure beeswax candles and smudge your body with sage, but your housemates have been complaining. You really ought to take up smoking and practice alcoholism, and open your doors to a host of strangers you met on that Facebook ‘artist’ group to stimulate your creative juices, and hope they don’t wake up your three-year-old with their after midnight ramblings. You don’t have a writing cabin converted from an eighteenth century Orient Express train carriage down the end of the garden, like you’ve heard Kevin Barry has, because you don’t have a garden. You build a fort out of chairs and blankets at the kitchen table instead, and hope your partner doesn’t go looking for an annulment.

You hope to take comfort from the story of Alice Munro, who shares your Enneagram type, and started writing by stealing moments when her children were asleep. She didn’t win the Nobel until she was in her eighties! She did publish her first story when she was a teenager, and you’re thirty and a decade (and a bit) but it would be churlish to focus on that: the Enneagram, after all, never lies. She had to start somewhere after all, like they all did: Hemingway wasn’t always Hemingway, Dickens wasn’t always Dickens. Sure, most of the writers who make the countless ‘Book to Read Before You Die’ lists have the productivity of a hare who eats the waste materials at a Viagra factory, but what of it? None of those lists would be complete without the one great work of Harper Lee. And that is what you hold on to.

You resolve to stop reading articles called ‘Rules for Writers.’ Slowly, surely, you allow yourself to realise that there is no one rule fits all solution, that you are only scouring the successful for clues because you are in desperate need of an anchor in a tossing sea, a path already cleared in the wilderness. Gradually you come to know that there is no right way and it is never too late, that all you need do is show up, and trust yourself a bit more with each page, and know that because you are putting your blue-coloured fountain pen to the page (cream; handmade; 105 gsm), or your fingers to the dusty keys of the antique Remington the man in the shop insisted once belonged to E.B. White, or that pointy stick-thing to whatever app you use, or however it is you do manage it, that because you have a world in your mind and a dream you are showing up for that you have permission to call yourself a writer. You come to know that there is no book for this thing it is you’re doing, because you are writing it. And you turn over the next page, and keep clearing a path.

(c) R.M. Clarke

Parts Two and Three of this article to follow.

About The Glass Door:

Then the leaves whispered, the branches creaked. Something was up above, watching. Hello? She could feel eyes upon her. She knew she was not alone anymore: Who’s there? Then a voice came back to her: You found me. After all this time.

The Glass Door is a haunting investigation into the deep, complex and often frightening labyrinth of the human mind, where three generations of Irish women learn to tread the difficult path of reconciling individual identity with social approval. It is a novel about absence and brokenness and longing, and a small and fractured family trying to figure things, and each other, out.

Set in the 1970s and 80s between the east coast of Ireland and London, Rosie’s story unfolds as she and her unwed mother Sandra chase her reluctant father across the sea, where he slips through their grasp and disappears, leaving emptiness in Rosie’s hand where a work-roughened palm should be. Mother and daughter are forced by failure and poverty to return home to the bitter embrace of Rosie’s grandmother, Marie, whose love for her daughter and granddaughter is poisoned by her desire for social acceptance. But the strange child Rosie grows increasingly stranger, especially at night, when her unpredictable behaviour becomes both frightening and dangerous. Sandra, coming under growing pressure, both from Marie and the society she lives in, must find a new man to take Rosie’s father’s place. But once she does things only get worse for her and Rosie. After years spent enduring years an increasingly disturbed home life, everything comes to a deadly climax.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

R.M. Clarke began her career as an actress in 2006, moving behind the scenes into voiceover and writing some years later. Her stories have been published in The Irish Times, Spontaneity, Losslit, The Open Pen Anthology and written for Dublin 2020. Her debut novel, The Glass Door, won the ‘Discovery’ award at the Dalkey Book Festival and The Irish Writers Centre Greenbean Novel Fair 2016. She is editor of and contributor to The Broken Spiral anthology in aid of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, published in 2017 with the assistance of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature. She was part of the 2018 XBorders:Accord writing project in association with the Irish Writers Centre and Arts Council Northern Ireland. She holds a BA and the Gold Medal in English from Trinity College Dublin. She lives in Wicklow.

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