I have no idea what I’m doing


The writer Emma Smith in Paris, 1948, from Persephone Books

Hunter S. Thompson learnt to write by retyping great American novels – Hemingway, Steinbeck. He wanted to get inside their language and reconstruct his own. The writer Carrie Oeding calls this retyping of books, the learning of a craft from scratch, ‘an “I had no idea what I was doing” confession’.

I think I can write well, sometimes, and occasionally I can describe something in an evocative or strange way that I think is good. But I struggle to put a story together, to construct a narrative or dialogue or characters that don’t make me wince a little.

Still, I wake up and I have been dreaming about being a writer. Mostly I don’t have to wake up; I have just been dreaming about being a writer.

Does this make me any more likely to be a good writer? What if I dreamed of being a high jumper or an architect? If it woke me up at night, would it be more probable that I could make a success of it? Unlike artistic heroes like Lorrie Moore, Emma Smith, Miranda July or PJ Harvey, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Now that I know this I feel a little relieved. I have to learn something. I can look for a different place from which to start.


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