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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Learning to Write I

Why do you want to do it? It might be the wish to connect with other people on a deep level. The need to speak of inner feelings. It could be the pressure of emotion, which you can’t ignore. What are your own reasons?

Remember the element of play in writing. Build it up and knock it down again. Build something else with the same feeling, the same mood. Use different words or the same words in different ways.

Writing is always about understanding. It addresses the need to make sense of your world. And because it is a celebration, writing, the act of writing, allows us to see our world in relief. We can look at it in close-up. It gives us awareness.

Where to start? We are in the process of feeling out a way of saying one thing in terms of another. We are searching for a metaphor.

Ezra Pound said, The natural object is always the adequate symbol. Write this down and stick it on the wall. It will keep you grounded and allow you to fly. The thing, the object, will always do the work of carrying feeling.

Seek out an objective correlative (Eliot), that is a working image, an outward sign of an inner state. These are examples:

There must have been a draft for the flame flickered and I thought it was out. But I shielded it with my hand and it burned up again to light me along the dark passage. Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea.

After my brother had been killed, my mother scarcely ever left this house and its grounds. I think she tried to forget that such a land as Germany existed. She began to study Hebrew and to concentrate her whole mind upon ancient Jewish history and literature. Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin.

He groaned again and sat up, running fingers through his tousled dark hair, squeezing his temples between the heels of his palms. His lips were dry and brownly encrusted. He ran his tongue over them and made a distasteful face. Then he rose, coughing a little, took off his gloves and overcoat, dropped them on the sofa, and went into the bathroom. Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key.

10 Responses to “Learning to Write I”

  1. I once tried to write, as I felt I had a story to tell. Simple as that. I had no greater/broader thought than that. Perhaps that’s why I failed in my endeavour? At about 45k words I became well bored with my protagonist and thought, “If I’m bored, everyone else will be.”

    Now I choose to leave the writing to the professionals – like you John and others. I can only dream of achieving your standards… A dream it remains.

    And in the mean time, anything really good I come across I will say so. This is because I think that many are unaware of good authors based in the UK; as I previously was. Now we all have to find time to read…


  2. Debi Alper says:

    Crimeficreader – I’m unconvinced!
    If you got as far as 45,000 words you’ve achieved an amazing feat and obviously have something to say. Good on you! Find a writers’ group or show it to someone you trust.
    Dreams CAN come true, as I know from my own experiences.
    And writing definitely DOESN’T mean an end to reading … quite the reverse. I’d say most writers write the kind of books they’d like to read.
    As for reasons for writing – I just can’t help meself, Sir … though it’s probably relevant that I didn’t start ’til after my children were born – the theory being that I needed to create a universe I could control since I so clearly didn’t control the real one. But then I discovered that writing fiction has its own trajectory and often feels like I’m just documenting an alternative reality rather than controlling it …

  3. Jennyta says:

    I too had a story to tell and wrote mine in 50,000 words for the NaNoWriMo challenge 2 years ago (You write a novel of 50,000 words during the month of November and post it in a blog.) At the time it was very therapeutic although, strangely, I found that the characters and storyline developed in ways unforeseen when I started. Since then I have been in the process of redrafting, revising, developing, extending etc and it will soon be finished. Then the fun begins……….

  4. Julia says:

    Thanks for this post – I couldn’t agree more.

    You’re not the John Baker who taught the excellent ‘Poetry & narrative’ course I took at Birkbeck a couple of years ago are you?

    Anyway, really like the blog. Will call back soon.

  5. john baker says:

    Not Birkbeck. No, not me. There are several clones of John Baker. And he’s not excellent, either. So, wrong on all counts.
    But thanks for calling by. Nice to meet you.
    Not excellent but he can be good sometimes.
    Or so I’ve heard.

  6. litlove says:

    Some think that the essence of creativity is to find ever more inventive and accurate material representations for the emotions. So if you think of an emotion and imagine what it might look like as a solid, or a liquid, or a person, it gives you a way to play that can be productive. That being said I’ve only ever written academic texts, and I know I’m no fiction writer.

  7. john baker says:

    Thanks for the tip. And for calling in. I’ll try anything once. Twice.

  8. I love this post, especially the quotes from novels at the end.

  9. Michelle says:

    Thank you Mr John Baker, Learning to write I, provided food for thought!
    I have been writing personally for the last 15 years or so.. or should I say recording accounts of experiences.
    This morning however, quite like no other sitting with a cuppa in one hand whilst, one finger typing with the other hand… I felt the surge of reason engulf my thinking.. words emerse me into a world that appears as another time & place.. No more of a reason than that to simply write…Oh & maybe the amusement of sharing my many adventures.. te he he..
    Alas, I lack the literary skill & poise displayed by many writers that captivate my thinking. I rest in the knowledge of life experiences being a kin to a good book.. and just as tangible…

    Sorry to waffle..

    jb says: Fifteen years doing anything will give you an enormous advantage over people who have only been at it for a year or two, Michelle. The thing that usually lets would-be writers down is stamina. But if you can keep it up for fifteen years that’s not one of your problems.

  10. Michelle says:

    Thank you.

    I rarely see anything in life a problem, that does not have a solution or an answer. I guess identifying the course one must take to reach the solution is, in many a case the beginining of a journey in itself. Some hunger to reach that destination, during the course of which one may pleasently find others who have already embarked on that journey. From this we can only be thankful for the shared knowledge & experience.