When my beard was short I got a lot of comments that I looked like this guy
Last year I let my beard grow (mostly – it does get tidied now and then)
And now I think I look like
But what lots of other people think I look like
I mean, obviously a lot more comments around the festive season but I’ve been getting it throughout the year.
What’s all this got to do with writing?
I think you can teach people writing – the skill of crafting a good sentence (although I have met a couple of people who had a tin ear for prose and also couldn’t be taught) but it’s a lot harder to teach someone to have an imagination. Which ties into the ‘where do you get your ideas from’ question that all writers get asked.
Some people see me and think “Father Christmas” – fair enough, I’m a larger gentleman with Irish genes which means white hair and white beard. I suspect most people keep that observation to themselves and it is only a small subset who have to blurt it out. So why are they drawn to say ‘it’s Father Christmas’ as if it’s a) something that’s hilarious and b) at all original.
It’s the second one that has a bearing on writing. You want to be original (there are of course shades of originality from Avant-Garde to ‘Same-same but different.’) You want a balance, but be like Frost and take the road less traveled:
Because what first occurs to you might seem fresh and original – because it’s only just occurred to you. But if it’s the first idea to come to mind you can bet that it’s the obvious idea. I didn’t think the ‘it’s Father Christmas’ was amusing the first time I heard it so hearing it over and over has become incrementally less amusing… the more an idea is flogged the less interesting it becomes. OK so there’s only supposed to be seven plots but you’ve got to give it a fresh spin or the only people you’ll appeal to are the ones who haven’t heard it before.
Avoid banality and don’t just write the first idea that comes to you.