#GrrrlCon: Denise Mina: “Just fucking do it.”

grrrlconDenise Mina is known from doing everything from her Garnethill trilogy to graphic novels, and she kicks off day two of Grrrl Con with an hour blending punk and publishing in the most brilliant of ways.

Some quick take aways:

  • Writing is about connecting to someone else
  • Just do it
  • Enjoy your writing because that’s what matters

“Just fucking do it.”
Punk is about the sense of going “fuck it”. The Sex Pistols famously did gigs that were crap with little turnout, but in the essence of punk they’d practise a few times and just go for it. They played a blinder for those that were there – and you need to remember, if you ever do a reading for a few people, put on one hell of a reading. Writing is about having one connection to another human being.

Denise worked with the graphic novel version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and found that people would tell her they bought the book because of it, but never read it. No writer wants that – if you write anything worth a damn you want people to read it, not see it as a product. Punk wasn’t about slapping skulls on scarves, it was about “making something with integrity for others to look at”, like zines.

Next, she comes to gender, though it’s not a topic she often focuses on. She was talking at a course on public speaking and realised that women tend to defer: we need to not do that, basically. “Chance your arm,” she says, don’t continuously pass people onto someone who may be able to talk better on something you know.

“You’re not going to get enough affirmation – just fucking do it,” she continues, on how people almost feel like they’re waiting for permission before creating, being sure they’re good enough to do so. “Punk says, just fucking do it.”

“Publishing is full of people who love books.”
Denise notes that she was not a good academic – in her head she had a secret life as a writer. “I was really in love with words, and I still am,” she notes, mentioning a notebook of beautiful phrases that she’d keep. She decided to chuck doing law and become a writer, thinking, “fuck it, I’m going to give it a shot.” It’s better to commit to try and be a failed novelist, than not trying and being a failed academic.

She wasn’t a failed novelist – by now it’s no surprise that it in fact went rather well. But the delicious moments are not being on TV, the book coming out, or prizes. It’s the yearning moment when someone gets your book – the moments you’ve really connected with someone. “All writing is a compulsion to connect with one other human being.”

But to get there, you need to jump through many hoops. There are so many variables – are you marketable? What’s your story? Do you even have a story? What if you’re just a responsible adult? “Make some shit up, it’s only stories,” she advises, turning to the topic of connections in the industry to get in press, and so on. “You don’t need any of that if your writing is worth a damn.”

“Publishing is full of people who love books, and who don’t get selling things,” she continues. They don’t get Twitter, or apps – but they’ll make your book be really great. “They love books like we do.”

Upon being published she was terrified, foolish and giggly – the normal and authentic reaction is to just giggle a lot when you think about it. But be aware that success will end – there’s another side of the hill. Some will do anything to get attention, like joining bands, but ultimately “enjoy your writing because that’s all that matters.”

“Forget about branding and have a nice time.”
“Nobody wants to publish you. Everybody wants to publish you,” she says. “Antithesis, thesis, assimilation.” Someone younger will be doing it better, everyone steals from each other whether you know it or not. It just takes reading one or two bad books to declare “I can do better than that” and work from there.

Denise talks on entitlement and responsibility for helping others up in the field like people did for you. Western women are massively entitled, we need to check our privilege. It’s about visibility, standing up and helping. She talks through incorrect perceptions that having kids will stop you writing, about branding (“forget about branding and have a nice time”), to do what you’re interested in and not let anyone change your course.

When it comes to where you go in your career, you need to ask yourself a simple question: do you want to be a writer, or do you want to write?

More posts from Grrrl Con.

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