Everything is banal and jejune (or what I learned about writing by growing a beard)

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

john fowles

But what lots of other people think I look like

father xmas

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:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


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.


Published by suttope

Pete W Sutton is a writer and editor. His two short story collections – A Tiding of Magpies and The Museum for Forgetting – were shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards in 2017 & 2022 respectively. His novel – Seven Deadly Swords – was published by Grimbold Books. He has edited several short story anthologies and is the editor for the British Fantasy Society Horizons fiction magazine.

3 thoughts on “Everything is banal and jejune (or what I learned about writing by growing a beard)

  1. I totally agree with you about originality. I always try to do something different when I write a novel or short story.

    As regards the beard, I’m happy to compliment someone about their appearance (it might make a bad day a good one, I discovered, when I was about 12) but I do think it’s a bit offensive to make comparisons – you could find yourself being compared to someone you really dislike (though I think Father Christmas is probably OK!

    I remember a conversation quite a few years ago with a publisher who asked me who I write like. No problem there, you might think, and you might well be offended by such a question, as I was. I later realised it was because they were wondering who they could market me as ‘the new…’, but I think most writers would like to think they write like themselves. What’s wrong with being yourself? It ties in with the aim of being original.


    1. I think the publisher thing is, as you said, so they can find a mental bookshelf slot for you – a marketing thing. I had the same from an agent who wanted two writers you’re like 🙂


      1. I’m sure it is that, especially as you’ve had something similar. And they’re probably looking to find out who your influences are, rather than what your style is like.

        Keep on with the beard, it’s splendid!


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