Today, while I perused the pens and pretty notebooks at my local newsagent’s, I resisted buying a writing magazine. Silently, I vowed to stop reading about writing and just write. At home, I have piles of Mslexia, Writing Magazine, Writers’ Forum, Write Right, Write On, and The Writer’s Block cluttering the flat surfaces of my living room and office (those last three titles, in case you’re wondering, are fictitious – hey! I’m a writer! – but if they existed in the real world I undoubtedly would have bought them, too).
Most of the writing magazines I’ve purchased over the years are lightly thumbed, with rings drawn round competitions I might enter, and the details of agents and publishers seeking new clients highlighted in neon green. At one time, I studied the articles intently, gleaning what I could about point of view and how to write a synopsis but over time I have seen the same topics discussed and the same advice repeated. I’ve been teaching Creative Writing for over a decade, now, and have published several dozen articles and short stories, and though I know I still have much to learn, I’m no longer convinced these magazines have anything new to teach me. And yet, I continue to buy them.
Several years ago, I tried to become a tidy writer, and found a place within my bookshelves for a stack - or three - of magazines which I told myself would be a useful resource, both for my own writing endeavours and when looking for ideas to use with my students. And there, for the most part, they have stayed. Recently, though, while preparing for a week-long visit by a friend from the States, I had a bit of a clear out. In my frenzied attempts to give the appearance of order, I cleared my shelves of a dozen lever-arch files containing handouts and lesson plans produced during my PGCE (2006), photocopied readings and writing exercises from my MA (2005), essays on the teaching of Basic Skills (2002), and countless reflective comments from a counselling course I did at the turn of the millennium. During this frenetic purge of a large part of my academic career I also managed to transport a short stack of writing magazines to the recycling bin. And it wasn’t easy: my inclination is to collect and compile not declutter.
Archives, after all, contain secrets and knowledge and wisdom, all of which I fear I lack. I’ve yet to publish my first novel, and though I have completed a fairly detailed outline of my second, I find myself struggling with some of the basics: characterisation, motivation, organisation elude me. You still need those magazines, a little voice whispers, for they contain the key to a successful writing career. It honestly feels like I’m trying to break an addiction. If only I search their pages long enough and hard enough, the voice tells me, I’ll find that key. But if I toss those magazines into the bin with my yoghurt pots and tin cans, what then?